PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Huskies fall to CardinalsWINDOM — Presenting a balanced scoring attack, which included a trio of players connecting on 3-pointers on three straight second-half possessions Thursday evening, the top-seeded Fairmont Cardinals finished strong and claimed a 65-56 victory over fourth-seeded Jackson County Central in the semifinals of the Section 3AA South high school boys’ basketball tournament.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
WINDOM — Presenting a balanced scoring attack, which included a trio of players connecting on 3-pointers on three straight second-half possessions Thursday evening, the top-seeded Fairmont Cardinals finished strong and claimed a 65-56 victory over fourth-seeded Jackson County Central in the semifinals of the Section 3AA South high school boys’ basketball tournament.
The Cardinals (22-5) advance to the South sub-section finals for a championship rematch with Worthington, which ended Fairmont’s season last March.
The Trojans earned their way back to Saturday’s finals with a dramatic, 62-59, comeback win over Martin County West in Thursday’s second semifinal at Windom.
Tipoff time at the R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall is 8 p.m. — the fourth of four sub-section title games Saturday at SMSU.
After twice trailing by six points (37-31 and 39-33) early in the second half Thursday, Fairmont rallied with strong offensive rebounding and sharp long-range shooting to offset the remarkable driving performance of JCC senior guard Taylor Christopher who was sensational in the game’s final 18 minutes.
Christopher utilized his lightning-like quickness and commanding ball-handling skills to score 23 second-half points, including a sequence when he swished eight consecutive free throws.
“We didn’t have an answer for him,” exclaimed Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson after the game. “Our game plan was to control Jon Harmening inside, which we did pretty well. But, we could not stop Christopher’s drives in the second half. He did a great job going to the hoop and either scoring or drawing fouls. Fortunately, we were able to score enough points ourselves to come out on top.”
Christopher finished the game with 31 points on eight penetrating field goals and a 15-of-21 performance at the free throw line.
“Taylor’s about as quick with the ball as there is,” praised JCC head coach Trent Sukalski about the 5-10 Christopher, who concluded an exceptional career at JCC. “He was unstoppable on most of those drives, either scoring a layup or getting fouled.”
Christopher and Austin Hinkeldey each scored eight first-half points for the Huskies, while Harmening tallied six, helping the Huskies claim leads of 2-0, 14-12, 20-16 and 22-19 prior to intermission.
A drive by Christopher, an inside bucket by Harmening — off a loose-ball pickup — and back-to-back baskets by Hinkeldey produced an impressive 8-0 run for the Huskies, which had changed a 12-6 deficit into a 14-12 advantage.
Hinkeldey scored twice more on drives before Christopher took the ball to the hoop for a 20-16 JCC lead with 3 minutes to play in the first half.
Fairmont, which spread its first-half scoring among seven players, held leads of 5-2, 8-4 and 12-6 before JCC’s strong early surge.
The Cardinals battled back to tie the score at 14 and 16 before the Huskies pulled away again.
A left corner 3-pointer by Fairmont’s Luke Becker (assist Mitch Pfingsten) with nine seconds left tied the score at 22-all as the first half came to an end.
Christopher’s drives spark JCC to pair of six-point leads
With the Huskies effectively employing a box-and-one defense on Pfingsten, who is Fairmont’s leading scorer, JCC gradually began to spread the score early in the second half.
Darnell Taylor-Breck and Josh Thaemlitz alternated guarding Pfingsten man-to-man, working hard at denying the Cardinal ace the ball, while four other Huskies effectively played a box zone defense.
The tactic had limited Pfingsten to just six first-half points and JCC stuck with its game plan after intermission, with Taylor-Breck guarding the Fairmont sharpshooter the majority of the time.
Meanwhile, Christopher was on a mission.
Starting with a jump-stop drive at the end of a Huskies’ fastbreak, Christopher scored JCC’s first 11 points of the second half — over a span of 5 minutes, 27 seconds — capping the burst with a dazzling left-side drive.
With 12:33 to play, JCC held a 33-31 edge.
Then, following a steal by Shadrack Wacker and a rare miss by Christopher, Hinkeldey was fouled as he tried to score on his third offensive rebound of the game. He made one of two shots from the line, lifting the Huskies up by three.
Moments later, Hinkeldey buried JCC’s only 3-pointer of the game and with 11:45 on the clock, the Huskies had a six-point lead, 37-31.
Pfingsten answered with his third field goal of the game, but Harmening — who has 996 varsity career points with a season remaining — countered for JCC and lead was still six, 39-33.
A bit later with the Huskies holding a 40-36 cushion, a pair of free throws by Pfingsten (after a JCC technical foul) and an inside hoop by Justin Barnes tied the score at 40-40 with 8:12 to play.
Christopher quickly scored for the Huskies and a baseline jumper by Hinkeldey (15 points) put JCC up by four, 44-40.
Four straight free throws — off of fouls on drives to the basket — by Christopher offset four points by Fairmont’s Levi Becker and with just over six minutes left, JCC’s lead was still four, 48-44.
Ruen, Eversman, Levi Becker drill 3-pointers for FHS
A 3-pointer by Fairmont’s Jay Ruen sliced the gap to one and with 5:32 on the clock, a trey by Josh Eversman gave the Cardinals a 50-48 edge — their first lead since a 3-pointer by Luke Becker had given FHS a 31-29 advantage more than eight minutes earlier.
Christopher tied the score at 50 with a pair of free throws, but Levi Becker connected on Fairmont’s third straight 3-pointer — on as many possessions — with 5:08 showing, as the momentum of the game began to shift.
“Those were three big possessions in a row for us,” praised Thompson of the Cardinals’ ability to hit clutch shots at the right time. “We began to have better player movement and were able to get some shots to go down. Having three different guys hit them was nice.”
Neither team scored for nearly two minutes until Christopher sank two free throws, trimming Fairmont’s lead to 53-52 with 3:12 to play.
Twenty-four seconds later, Pfingsten made two free throws, pushing the lead to three again.
Pfingsten came up big a bit later with a steal, which was followed by a drive from Ruen and with 2:22 to go, the Cardinals were leading 57-52.
Both teams continued to play hard, but the Cardinals continued to pull away as Ryan Noll sank two free throws with 1:34 left, increasing Fairmont’s lead to 59-52.
Christopher scored on another drive, but a free throw by Ruen and two more from Pfingsten increased Fairmont’s advantage to 62-54 with 43 seconds left.
Wacker converted on a drive with 17 seconds left, making the score 63-54 before Eversman made a layup in the closing seconds, completing Fairmont’s game-finishing 19-8 run.
Pfingsten (8-of-10 at the line) finished with 15 points for the Cardinals, while Eversman, Ruen and Levi Becker each scored 11 points.
JCC, which had a four-game winning streak snapped, finishes a fine season at 16-10 after having won seven of its last nine games.
“I was so proud of our kids,” summed up Sukalski. “We always played hard and these kids all had great efforts and a top-notch attitude all season long.”
JACKSON COUNTY CENTRAL 56
JACKSON COUNTY CENTRAL (16-10): Christopher 8 15-21 31, Wacker 1 0-0 2, Hinkeldey 6 2-5 15, Harmening 4 0-0 8, Schmit 0 0-2 0. Totals 19 17-28 (61%) 59
FAIRMONT (22-5): Pfingsten 3 8-10 15, Holm 1 0-0 2, Barnes 1 1-2 3, Luke Becker 2 0-0 6, Eversman 4 1-2 11, Noll 2 2-2 6, Levi Becker 4 2-2 11, Ruen 4 1-2 11. Totals 21-52 (40%) 15-20 (75%) 65
JCC 22 34 — 56
Fairmont 22 43 — 65
3-Point Goals: JCC 1 (Hinkeldey), Fairmont 8 (Luke Becker 2, Eversman 2, Ruen 2, Pfingsten, Levi Becker).