WINDOM -- The Luverne Cardinals nearly pulled off one of the more improbable comeback victories of the 2019-20 boys basketball season Thursday night, but favored Fairmont escaped with a 61-59 victory.

LHS never led in its South Section 3AA semifinal game at Windom Area High School, but it whittled a 10-point Fairmont lead at the four-minute mark down to one with 8.6 seconds to go. Even then, Luverne had another opportunity to win. But a deep lob pass failed, and Luverne felt the pain of what might have been a comeback win for the ages.

“That’s a tough one. We kept battling. We never had a lead the entire game,” said head coach John Sichmeller. “The kids just kept making plays. You gotta give ‘em credit. We made so many runs -- we could never get over the hump.”

Two South Section 3AA semifinals were played in Windom Thursday. In the first game, top-seeded Jackson County Central survived a sluggish start to thwart Pipestone Area, 70-54.

The sub-section finale between JCC and Fairmont will be played Saturday at 8 p.m. at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall. The Huskies beat second-seeded Fairmont 68-64 in a Jan. 7 regular season game.

JCC 70, PA 54

Jackson County Central seniors Rudy Voss and Andrew Hesebeck combined for 53 points in the Huskies’ victory.

It was a slog. The Huskies trailed 24-17 in the first half.

The 6-3 guard Voss, with 30 points, and the 6-4 center Hesebeck, with 23 points, worked together like clockwork in the second half becoming a potent pass-and-catch and scoring combination.

“I’m not much for excuses, but I felt very tired for some reason,” Voss said, referring to the first half. We haven’t played for a week, and we were a little rusty.”

That’s what getting a first-round bye will do. But the Huskies heated up after intermission.

“I felt a little more tuned in, and I felt, ‘I gotta play if we’re going to win,” said Voss, who made several fine passes for assists while driving through traffic for scores of his own.

Hesebeck, a smooth post player with dependable hands and a quick shot, has played with Voss since grade school days.

“He knows what I’m gonna do. He knows where I am going to be, and when he’s open I find him and he scores 70 percent of the time,” Voss said.

The final result overshadowed an exceptional game for 6-6 Pipestone Area junior forward Dawson Kellen, who meshed 12 first-half points with 11 second-half points for a total of 23. Kellen made several very nifty pivots near the basket for some beautiful shots, sometimes with hands in his face. And he was consistent.

Still, it wasn’t enough. JCC head coach Alex Hein said his team increased the pace coming out of halftime and produced more points off transition.

“That’s how we like to play,” he said.

It’s hard to beat a good team like Pipestone Area three times in a season, which is what the Huskies did.

“I have so much respect for Pipestone,” Hein explained. “I was a little worried when they slid down to five (in the seeding). They’re a real good team and they played their guts out tonight.”

JCC 32 70

Pipestone Area 29 54

JACKSON COUNTY CENTRAL (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Brinkman 1-0-2-5, Voss 3-8-5-30, Hesebeck 1-10-0-23, Post 0-0-0-0, Bargfrede 0-2-0-4, Bretzman 0-0-0-0, Carr 0-2-4-8, Buhl Jr. 0-0-0-0. Totals 5-22-11-70.

PIPESTONE AREA (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Tinklenberg 1-3-1-10, Zephier 1-0-0-3, Kellen 0-11-1-23, Lingen 2-0-0-6, Fey 0-2-1-5, D.Johnson 1-2-0-7. Totals 5-18-3-54.

Fairmont 61, Luverne 59

The final seconds in this game defied common sense.

With 1:13 to go, Luverne was on the free throw line with a chance to cut its 59-54 deficit to three points, but came away without a make. Moments later, Fairmont turned the ball over but with :44 to go, Luverne’s Bailey Cowell traveled on a drive to the basket. Seconds later Luverne stole the ball, but a pass to Cowell skipped out of bounds with 37.4 seconds remaining.

At 24.5, Fairmont’s Carter Bell missed at the free throw line. With 14.4 seconds left, Luverne’s Nick Feit converted a long 3-point shot while falling backward onto the floor, putting his team within two at 59-57.

Fairmont’s Wyatt Frank was fouled on the in-bounds pass and made one of two free throws with 13.2 showing on the clock. Cowell was fouled at 8.6 and he made both free throws to pull his squad within 60-59. Fairmont threw the in-bounds pass deep to a wide-open player, but he missed an easy layup just before a pass was deflected out of bounds to give Luverne one more opportunity.

Just 2.6 remained for Luverne’s in-bounds pass. Cowell lobbed it deep but it was caught by Fairmont’s Jack Hested, who fell to the floor in the lane. Luverne wanted a traveling call, but didn’t get it. With one second to go, Hested made the second of two free throws, and that’s how the game ended.

Luverne’s fine 6-6 senior, Isaiah Bartels, scored 24 points. And he emerged from the locker room like several of his teammates did -- with wet eyes.

“We’ve been a family all year. It’s been such a group effort. We really love each other,” he said, adding, “We made a strong push at the end. Everybody stepped up.”

Sichmeller was asked if he considered having Cowell miss his second free throw with 8.6 seconds left on purpose, hoping a teammate could get the rebound.

“I thought we had some time to foul yet,” he said. “(Fairmont) missed some shots down the stretch. I thought we still had plenty of time, and a time-out.”

The loss finished third-seeded Luverne’s season at 12-14.

Wyatt Frank, a 6-7 senior who battled Bartels inside throughout the game, led Fairmont with 20 points. Bell and Joey Flohrs had 11 apiece. Cowell scored 12 to help Luverne’s effort.

Fairmont 35 61

Luverne 29 59

FAIRMONT (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Frank 0-6-8-20, Baarts 0-1-2-4, Hested 2-1-0-7, Jorgensen 0-2-4-8, C.Bell 3-1-0-11, Flohrs 3-1-0-11. Totals 8-11-15-61.

LUVERNE (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) -- Cowell 1-3-3-12, Bartels 2-7-4-24, Sehr 0-1-0-2, Ahrendt 1-2-0-7, Feit 1-3-0-9, Rops 1-1-0-5. Totals 6-17-7-59.