With a 48-46 victory over Montevideo Saturday afternoon in Marshall the Redwood Valley boys basketball team is headed back to the Section 3AA title game.
Down 44-40 with 7:44 to play, the Cardinals (26-1) outscored the Thunderhawks (22-6) 8-2 down the stretch to secure a spot in Thursday’s final against SWC rival Worthington.
“I’m proud of the kids,” Coach Markus Okeson said, “They really believe in each other and they weren’t going to be denied.”
Things looked dicey for the Cardinals after Phillips Ward’s lay-in gave Montevideo its biggest lead - 44-40 - with under eight minutes to go.
Redwood Valley would answer back however as Alec Koster drove the lane for two and Mike Busack added a short baseline jumper to tie the score at 44 with 6:30 to play.
The two teams would go scoreless in the next 3:30 before Busack came up with a huge three-point play.
The Cardinal standout drove the left baseline, missed his first attempt, grabbed the rebound and was fouled on the putback off the glass.
His free throw was gold and the Cards could breathe a little with a huge 7-0 run that reclaimed the lead.
Monte’s Brett Bergeson would counter with a pair of free throws on the other end to cut the lead to 47-46 with 2:20 left on the clock.
The Cardinals - after a timeout - looked to work the ball into Busack but couldn’t find an opening as the clock continued to tick down under a minute.
Montevideo would finally foul Koster, putting him to the line for a 1-and-1 with :41 seconds remaining.
Koster’s free throw was too strong and the T-Hawks would snag the rebound and a chance to take the lead.
Bergeson would drive the lane but the ball was swatted away by Busack leading to a scrum and a foul call on Montevideo that sent Steve Runkel to the line for another 1-and-1 opportunity.
Runkel would calmly sink the first but couldn’t convert the second, setting up Montevideo with another chance to either tie or take the lead in the final 18 seconds.
Following a timeout, senior Jake Douglas took the ball at the top of the key, running down the clock before driving for a jumper near the free throw line that was off the mark.
Busack would snag the rebound and was fouled with one-tenth of a second left on the clock to essentially end the game.
“I thought our kids did a great job of staying in control late in the game,”?Okeson said, “We were able to do a nice job defensively on them in the final minute and on those final couple shots.”
On a night where the defense reigned, it was Busack who carried the Cardinals to victory scoring a game-high 29 points on 12-of-18 shooting.
He also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out three assists and had four blocked shots.
“Mike is such a phenomenal player but he’s a great teammate too,” Okeson said, “He relishes the moment and knows he’s our go to guy but he always puts the team first.”
Koster added eight points and five assists, Adam Hengel had six points, Runkel finished with three points and two rebounds and Beau Stough had two points, seven rebounds and two assists.
“You have to give Montevideo credit,” Okeson said, “I think as a whole we’d like to be a little bit more balanced offensively but the shots just weren’t there.”
The?Cardinals - who had just four turnovers - shot 50 percent from the field (18-of-36) and were 8-of-12 from the charity stripe.
They struggled however to 4-of-15 shooting from downtown.
The T-Hawks had three players reach double figures led by Douglas with 12.  Bergeson added 11 and Colton Vien 10.
The T-Hawks - who had just three turnovers - were 18-of-37 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the charity stripe but also struggled from long range, going 3-for-18 including 0-for-10 in the first half.
It was an interesting first half as the Cardinals grabbed a quick 13-6 lead with Busack scoring eight points, including a two-handed baseline jam.
The T-Hawks would answer back to take a 23-20 lead with two minutes left in the half but the Cards would score seven unanswered to take a 27-23 lead into the break.
A scary moment occurred at the 16:22 mark of the second half as Busack picked up his third foul.
The standout was able to stay in control and didn’t pick up another foul the rest of the way which allowed him to come up big on a pair of blocked shots late in the game.
Adam Hengel banked in a big three in the second half that countered a Montevideo run where they hit all three of their trey’s in a short stretch.
The Cardinals will look to defend their Section 3AA-North title against Worthington - a 72-51 winner over Fairmont - Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. at the SMSU facility.

Section 3AA-North title
Redwood Valley        48
Montevideo               46
Cardinal scoring - Busack 29, Koster 8, Hengel 6, Runkel 3, Stough 2
T-Hawk scoring - Douglas 12, Bergeson 11, Vien 10, TeBeest 5, Ward 4, Erickson 4