WHS BOYS' BASKETBALL: Trojans take sub-sectionMARSHALL — Starting the first half with an impressive 22-5 surge Saturday afternoon, the top-seeded Worthington Trojans took control early and claimed a dominant 72-51 victory over the second-seeded Fairmont Cardinals in the Section 3AA South high school boys’ basketball championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Starting the first half with an impressive 22-5 surge Saturday afternoon, the top-seeded Worthington Trojans took control early and claimed a dominant 72-51 victory over the second-seeded Fairmont Cardinals in the Section 3AA South high school boys’ basketball championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
Worthington, which led 39-26 at halftime, improves to 20-6 overall and advances to the section finals Thursday night. The Trojans, who played in the Section 2AAA title game in two of the last three seasons, will take on the North-champion Redwood Valley Cardinals (26-1) — who earned an exciting 48-46 victory over Montevideo earlier Saturday — at 5 p.m. in Marshall.
The winner of Thursday’s game qualifies for the Class AA state tournament, which begins Wednesday, March 21 at either Target Center or Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Mitch Weg (20), Lucas Henning (12) and Morgan Traylor (seven) combined to score all 39 of Worthington’s points in the first half, as the Trojans were up 6-0 by the 16:28 mark and increased the margin to 22-5 with 10:58 showing on the clock.
Fairmont, which finishes a fine season with a record of 22-6 (most victories in school history), closed the gap to 10 — 28-18 and 30-20 — on two separate occasions in the last five minutes prior to intermission.
Worthington, though, quickly doubled its 13-point halftime advantage to 26 (56-30) by the 10:08 mark of the second half and cruised to the win behind superior size and strength — particularly in terms of defense and rebounding.
“We know that defense and rebounding are the keys to winning, especially at this time of the year,” Worthington head coach Ron Vorwald said after the game. “Our guys have bought into the idea of playing great defense and rebounding the ball effectively. We came out with a lot of energy and played really well on both ends of the floor for all 36 minutes.”
Weg finished with a typical huge statistical line — 36 points and 14 rebounds — in accounting for exactly half of Worthington’s points. Henning, who knocked down four of his five 3-pointers in the first half, netted 17 points and dished out five assists for the Trojans.
Traylor (10 points, seven rebounds), Marcus Potter (four points), Jon Reller (three points), Dan Wetering (two points, four rebounds) and Jon Vorwald (three assists) were the other statistical leaders for Worthington, which turned the ball over just six times and outscored Fairmont 21-0 from the free-throw line (21-for-27 compared to 0-for-0).
“Worthington has a very good team and really dominated inside with Mitch Weg — who is as good as advertised in the low-post area,” summed up Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson. “We can’t matchup with a team that big, and even though we tried like crazy to stop them, they were just too good. They also played great defense without fouling us, as we maybe lacked some aggressiveness and did not attempt a free throw all day long.”
Inside-out balance triggers hot start for Trojans
Weg, who scored nine of his 13 baskets in the first half and went 10-for-12 at the free-throw line overall, sank one of two foul shots 13 seconds into the game and then passed to Henning for a right-wing 3-pointer to put Worthington up 4-0 at the 17:04 mark.
Vorwald passed to Weg for a transition basket underneath 36 seconds later, and after Fairmont’s Kevin Hanson (seven points) scored on a putback chance to get the Cardinals on the board at the 16-minute mark, Henning buried another 3-pointer from the right wing.
Weg then scored on a back-down post move from the right block, pushing the Trojans’ lead to 11-2 and forcing a Cardinals’ timeout with 14:59 remaining.
“We wanted to come out with a lot of energy right away, as the other seniors and I didn’t want the season to end,” Henning said. “We took what their defense gave us and made some shots from both close range and the perimeter. We got off to a great start, grabbed the momentum and were able to keep playing well until the finish.”
Fairmont’s Ryan Noll (team-high 12 points) fired in the first of seven 3-pointers for the Cardinals 17 seconds out of the break to make it 11-5, but Worthington responded by ripping off 11 consecutive points.
Vorwald’s lob pass to Traylor for a hoop down low and Weg’s second-chance basket off an interior feed from Traylor preceded Henning’s third 3-pointer in the initial five minutes — this one from the left wing at the 13:01 mark.
Traylor then scored twice in the paint — once off a strong offensive-rebound opportunity and once after tracking down a loose ball — to put the Trojans up 22-5 with 10:58 to play.
“We played hard and got after every rebound and loose ball,” Ron Vorwald said. “Lucas had a great night shooting the ball early on, and that helped open up some things inside. We had lots of good possessions and were able to score in a variety of ways.”
Henning dialed in his fourth 3-pointer — a catch-and-shoot trey from the left wing — and fed Weg for a bucket with an over-the-top pass to help make it 28-10 with 5:40 to go, but Fairmont answered with a brief 8-0 run to pull within 10 (28-18) at the 4:35 mark.
Michael Forster (seven points) and Jay Ruen (six points) each connected from behind the arc to key that burst, and the Cardinals were still within 10 (30-20) with 3:41 left.
Weg scored Worthington’s final nine points of the half, beginning when he elevated for a 12-footer in the lane at the 3:25 mark. He then converted on a 3-point play off a high-low find from Traylor and scored on a post move from the left block.
Weg scored again just before time expired, making a great catch on a high diagonal pass from Wetering and getting a close-in shot up and through the net as the buzzer sounded.
“My teammates do a good job of passing me the ball,” Weg said. “We just ran our offense well and executed the way that we’re supposed to — passing, cutting, screening and getting open looks. It’s a team game and everybody contributes.”
WHS stays in control, advances to finals
The Trojans, who were 18-for-21 from the free-throw line in the second half, quickly increased their 39-26 halftime lead to 48-28 by the 13:30 mark. Henning hit a 15-footer and passed to Weg for a basket underneath to highlight Worthington’s opening 9-2 spurt.
Weg (8-for-9 on free throws in the second half) scored six of the game’s next 10 points, meshing four foul shots and drilling an 18-footer from the top of the key. Traylor added two free throws, as the Trojans were up 56-30 with 10:08 remaining.
A breakaway layup by Fairmont’s Levi Becker (eight points) made it 56-35 moments later, but the Cardinals were never able to sustain a rally or threaten to get back into contention.
Worthington got defensive stops more often than not and held Mitch Pfingsten — Fairmont’s leading scorer who delivered a 37-point performance earlier this season — to just two points on a pull-up jumper late in the first half.
“Fairmont has some good shooters, but I thought we got out on them and contested most of their shots,” Ron Vorwald said. “We talked well and did a nice job of switching screens defensively. We also helped each other out and rotated well, as they didn’t get too many great looks.”
Wetering, Potter and Reller each got into the scoring column in the second half for the Trojans, combining to go 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. Potter also scored on a 15-foot runner along the left baseline.
Worthington, which led again by 26 (72-46) after Henning drilled his fifth 3-pointer with 3:44 to go, will now get a third crack at Redwood Valley.
The Cardinals claimed a 68-60 home victory on Jan. 13 and earned a 65-56 road victory on Jan. 27 in their two Southwest Conference meetings with the Trojans.
Fairmont 26 25 — 51
Worthington 39 33 — 72
Fairmont (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Pfingsten 0-1-0-2, Barnes 0-2-0-4, Forster 1-2-0-7, Eversman 1-0-0-3, Hested 0-1-0-2, Noll 2-3-0-12, Le. Becker 0-4-0-8, Ruen 2-0-0-6, Hanson 1-2-0-7. Totals: 7-15-0-51.
WHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Henning 5-1-0-17, Potter 0-1-2-4, Wetering 0-0-2-2, Traylor 0-3-4-10, Weg 0-13-10-36, Reller 0-0-3-3. Totals: 5-18-21-72.