MARSHALL - Alec Koster and his 'undersized' Redwood Valley teammates played a near perfect second half of basketball on Thursday night to earn the program's second state bid in the last three seasons.
Koster, a 5-foot-11 human pogo stick, produced a game-high double-double performance of 20 points and 11 rebounds as Redwood Valley scorched the R/A Facility's nylon nets from both the field and free throw line to generate a 72-53 victory over the Fairmont Cardinals in the Section 3AA championship game in Marshall.
Redwood Valley (24-5), which reached the 2011 Class AA state tournament, will tip off the state quarterfinals on Wednesday night at either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. at either Williams Arena or The Target Center in Minneapolis. The Cardinals will await the results of Sunday's state seeding meeting.
ELEVATING — Redwood Valley’s Steven Runkel (55) elevates to fire a jumpshot over Fairmont’s Jay Ruen (left) and Josh Eversman (25) during the Section 3AA basketball championship game on Thursday night at the R/A Facility on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall. Photo by Leanna Becker
Fairmont ended its record-setting season with a 23-6 mark.
"We just couldn't stop them off the dribble tonight and they hit nearly every shot, especially during the second half," Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson said in reference to Redwood Valley's blistering 12-for-16 field-goal shooting performance - 75 percent - during the final 18 minutes of sectional play. "After that, we felt some pressure offensively to keep pace with them and that took us out of rhythm."
Trailing 33-24 with 4 seconds remaining in the opening half, Fairmont sixth-man extraordinaire Josh Eversman delivered a clutch 3-pointer off one of point guard Ryan Noll's three assists to trim Redwood Valley's lead to only six points by intermission.
Unfortunately for Thompson and his coaching staff, the late trifecta did not trigger another trademark cardiac comeback - like during its sub-section semifinal win over Jackson County Central and its South Sub-Section championship victory over Worthington - for Fairmont in the second half.
In fact, the diminutive Redwood Valley lineup - with only one starter standing taller than 6 feet even - actually improved on its 13-for-27 first-half shooting performance directly out of the lockerroom.
Steven Runkel, who delivered 12 points to the balanced winning attack, buried one of the Cardinals' eight 3-pointers off Thane Widmer's drive-and-kick assist to open the second-half offensive blitz.
Jay Ruen nailed a 3-pointer to answer for Fairmont before Koster swooshed a pivotal trey off a floor-burning hustle play by point guard Mitchell Fischer. Fischer tracked down the loose basketball in traffic before scooping a pass to Koster at the top of the key.
Ruen, who finished with nine points, later sank two free throws for Fairmont before 6-3 forward RJ Juell tossed in a low-post leaner for Redwood Valley. Widmer, who chipped in 10 points, nailed another 3 off one of Fischer's game-high four assists to extend Redwood Valley's edge to 46-32 with 13 minutes remaining.
Mitch Pfingsten, who produced 20 points and six rebounds to top Fairmont, and Ruen then countered coming out of Thompson's timeout. Pfingsten swooshed a 14-footer off Justin Barnes' assist before Pfingsten threaded a perfect pass to Ruen for a 15-footer.
Ryan Noll later knocked down a 3-pointer to inch Fairmont within 49-41 before Redwood Valley countered behind runners in traffic from Jordan Ford and Koster.
Fischer and Pfingsten traded 3s before Redwood Valley displayed its free throw-shooting prowess during the final 5:52 of regulation.
Fischer converted a pair of one-and-one situations before Koster added four more charity tosses down the stretch to put the game in the win column.
Fischer netted 10 points to complement his four assists for Redwood Valley, while Taquez Perkins went 4-for-4 from the floor to contribute eight points off the bench.
Eversman supplied seven points off of the Fairmont bench.