BOYS BASKETBALL: Cardinals oust TrojansFairmont uses second-half rally to capture 3AA South title
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
MARSHALL — Starting the second half with an 11-2 burst that tied the score at 39, top-seeded Fairmont swung the momentum in its favor and went on to claim a 64-57 victory over third-seeded Worthington in the championship game of the MSHSL Class AA Boys Basketball Section 3 South Division Tournament on Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University’s R/A Facility.
The Cardinals (23-5) advanced to the section finals in Marshall at 8 p.m. Thursday, when Fairmont will play Redwood Valley (23-5), which earned a 57-50 win over Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial in the North Division title game Saturday.
Meanwhile, Worthington ended its season with a fine record of 17-9. The Trojans led the entire first half and went into the locker room with a 37-28 advantage, as Morgan Traylor (10 rebounds) dominated by scoring 18 of his game-high 28 points before the break.
Fairmont, though, started the second half hot and utilized its depth and balance to take control down the stretch. The Cardinals effectively used 10 players and gained their first lead of the contest (50-47) when Jay Ruen buried a long 3-pointer with 8 minutes, 48 seconds remaining.
That shot was a big part of a the Cardinals’ 9-0 surge that changed a 47-43 deficit into a 52-47 lead for Fairmont, which then extended its margin to 64-52 with less than a minute to play.
“Give a lot of credit to Fairmont, as they did a very nice job defensively,” said Worthington head coach Ron Vorwald after his final game on the sideline. “We struggled to put the ball in the basket in the second half, but I’m really proud of our guys. We have a great group of guys who were a joy to coach all year long.”
Traylor scored 12 of the first 17 Worthington points, as the Trojans took early leads of 4-0, 8-4 and 10-6 before later going up 17-9 with 10:13 left in the opening half. Traylor hit a pair of 12-footers in the lane, had a couple of offensive-rebound baskets and also scored twice from the right block, as Worthington executed and got the ball inside.
Will Dudley’s mid-range jumper and Spencer Grafing’s 3-pointer also sparked Worthington out of the gate, while Marcus Potter (11 points, three assists) scored on consecutive drives to the hoop — the first in transition going coast-to-coast and turned into a 3-point play — to widen the Trojans’ lead to 22-9 at the 8:53 mark.
Fairmont rallied with a brief 8-2 run to trim the gap to 24-17 with 4:54 to go, as Justin Barnes (seven points) scored twice and Luke Becker knocked down a 3-pointer for the Cardinals.
Worthington pushed its lead to 31-19 with 2:46 remaining after Will Mulder hit an 18-footer from the top of the key, and Potter meshed two free throws.
Ruen (seven points), Josh Eversman (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Lukas Hested (five points) each scored in the closing minutes to keep the Cardinals within striking distance, while two more buckets inside by Traylor and a putback by Potter with 3 seconds left helped keep the Trojans out in front (37-28) as the first half came to an end.
“We executed really well in the first half,” Vorwald said. “We got the ball inside to Morgan and were able to drive to the hoop for some good looks, as well. And we did a good job on the other end of getting defensive stops.”
Fairmont scored the first eight points of the second half, as Mitch Pfingsten (with a team-high 21 points, 15 poinst after halftime) hit a baseline floater and a corner 3-pointer — both from the left side — before Levi Becker (five points) delivered a 3-point play off a drive to make it 37-36 at the 15:28 mark.
A basket off a hesitation drive by Traylor was followed by a left-wing 3-pointer by Pfingsten, knotting the score at 39 with 14:40 on the clock.
Jon Vorwald (eight points, five assists) passed to Traylor for a hoop inside and, then, connected on a catch-and-shoot 17-footer along the left baseline to put Worthington up 43-39. Another hoop by Vorwald — this time a pull-up 12-footer in the lane — later gave the Trojans a 47-43 lead with 10:19 to play.
However, Fairmont put a string of consecutive defensive stops together and scored nine straight points. Pfingsten, Eversman, Ruen and Bryce Holm (four points, seven rebounds) each scored for the Cardinals, who surged to a 52-47 lead with 8:08 showing.
“We challenged our guys at halftime to play harder and smarter defensively,” Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson said. “Our depth was a key factor, as we got contributions from 10 guys and maybe wore Worthington out a little bit. But, our hats off to the Trojans and Coach Vorwald on another outstanding season.”
Traylor snapped Worthington’s long scoring drought with a basket at the 6:45 mark to make it 52-49. Vorwald drew a charge on the defensive end a bit later, as the Trojans tried to work their way back.
It was 55-49 with under 3 minutes to go, and the Trojans pulled to within four (55-51) after Vorwald passed to Dudley (five points, three steals) for a basket off a steal in the backcourt at the 2:31 mark.
Fairmont, though, countered by scoring nine of the next 10 points to go up 64-52 with 48 seconds remaining. A strong offensive-rebound basket by Eversman and a 3-point play by Pfingsten off a Cardinals’ press breaker sparked that clinching run.
Vorwald (3-pointer) and Traylor (basket inside) — who along with Josh Vander Veen, Randy Traylor, Dylan Gravenhof and Jake Woll are seniors for Worthington — each scored in the last 20 seconds to create the final score of 64-57.
“We had a great group of seniors who led by example every day in practice,” said Ron Vorwald, who is retiring after a 24-year career as head coach of the Trojans. “We had great chemistry and will be able to look back and reflect on a lot of fond memories. I’m going to miss coaching and having the opportunity to be around the kids every day — it was certainly my pleasure.”
MSHSL CLASS AA BOYS BASKETBALL
SECTION 3 SOUTH DIVISION TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP
At R/A Facility, Southwest Minnesota
State University, Marshall
FAIRMONT 64, WORTHINGTON 57
WORTHINGTON (17-9): Vorwald 3 1-2 8, Dudley 2 1-4 5, Potter 4 3-3 11, Mulder 1 0-0 2, M. Traylor 13 2-8 28, Grafing 1 0-0 3. Totals: 24 7-17 57.
FAIRMONT (23-5): Pfingsten 8 3-4 21, Holm 2 0-0 4, Barnes 3 1-2 7, Lu. Becker 1 0-0 3, Hested 1 2-2 5, Eversman 5 2-3 12, Noll 0 0-2 0, Le. Becker 2 1-1 5, Ruen 3 0-0 7. Totals: 25 9-14 64.
Worthington 37 20 — 57
Fairmont 28 36 — 64
3-Point Goals: Worthington 2 (Vorwald, Grafing); Fairmont 5 (Pfingsten 2, Lu. Becker, Hested, Ruen). Rebounds: Worthington 20 (M. Traylor 10); Fairmont 30 (Eversman 11). Turnovers: Worthington 6, Fairmont 14.