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Fairmont, Jackson Co. Central to clash for South hoops crown

INSIDE FORCES — Fairmont center Wyatt Frank, shown shooting between Luverne defenders Isaiah Bartels (12) and Matt Sehr (right) during Thursday night’s Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinal basketball game in Windom, and Fairmont forward Zach Jorgensen (far left) combined for 33 points during the Cardinals’ narrow regular-season loss to Jackson County Central on Jan. 7. (Photo by Greg Abel)

MARSHALL — When southern Minnesota prep sports enthusiasts talk about Fairmont and Jackson County Central playing for a postseason championship, the topic has normally pertained to the game of football during the past decade.

Tonight, however, Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson’s Cardinals and JCC mentor Alex Hein’s Huskies will change the conversation when the two Big South Conference rivals square off for the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section basketball championship at 8 p.m. on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall.

Ironically, while head football coach Mat Mahoney’s Cardinals and mentor Tom Schuller’s Huskies have clashed for the Section 3AAA gridiron championship for the past five consecutive years, tonight’s South Sub-Section basketball showdown will be the first time in five seasons since the two storied hoops programs have battled in the playoffs.

“I remember we beat them by two points for the sub-section championship that season (2014-15),” Thompson said in reference to the Cardinals’ 56-54 victory over the Huskies at SMSU.

Fast forward to tonight’s tipoff in the same locale, where No. 1-seeded JCC steps onto the hardwood court in Marshall with an 18-7 record against No. 2-seeded Fairmont, who sports a 17-9 mark.

The Huskies squeezed out a 68-64 victory over the Cardinals back on Jan. 7 in Jackson during the two lineups’ only head-to-head battle of the current campaign.

Wyatt Frank delivered 18 points to pace Fairmont’s regular-season cause, while teammate Carter Bell connected on five 3-pointers to pace his 17-point performance. Zach Jorgensen supplied 15 more points for the Cardinals’ balanced offensive attack, while teammate Jack Hested hit three treys to net 10 points.

Meanwhile, Rudy Voss erupted for a game-best 23 points to top the Huskies’ winning ways, with Andrew Hesebeck tossing in 16 more points. Dominic Bargfrede generated 12 points in JCC’s victory, while Nathaniel Post posted 10 points.

“The interesting side note to our previous game was that we were both missing a player who’s a key contributor for each of us currently,” Thompson said in reference to Fairmont’s Joey Flohrs and JCC’s Noah Carr.

Flohrs went 4-for-4 from the field, including three trifectas, to produce 11 points off the bench during Fairmont’s 61-59 sub-section semifinal win over Luverne on Thursday night in Windom. Likewise, Carr netted nine points during JCC’s 70-54 sub-section semifinal triumph over Pipestone Area two nights ago in Windom.

Fairmont, which enters tonight’s postseason contest with a four-game winning streak, has primarily relied on its defense this winter, while JCC prefers a more frenetic pace – demonstrated by the fact the Huskies have scored more than 90 points on eight occasions, including eclipsing the century mark five times.

The Cardinals, however, have cleared the 80-point barrier twice — the second time via an 80-47 sub-section quarterfinal rout of Windom Area on Feb. 29.

The South Sub-Section champion advances to square off against the North Sub-Section winner — either the No. 1-seeded Minnewaska Area Lakers (20-6) or the No. 3-seeded Redwood Valley Cardinals (19-9) — at 8 p.m. Thursday night back at SMSU in Marshall for the Section 3 championship and a bid to the Class AA state tournament.

Minnewaska, which sports an eight-game winning streak, narrowly edged Redwood Valley — 72-70 — during the two teams’ regular-season clash on Dec. 7 in Glenwood.

Redwood Valley enters tonight’s 6 p.m. North Sub-Section finale with a six-game winning streak.

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