Looking like a well-oiled machine the Redwood Valley boys basketball team destroyed favored Fairmont 72-53 to capture the Section 3AA crown Thursday night in Marshall.
With the win, the Cardinals (24-5) advance to the Class AA state quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons beginning Wednesday night in Minneapolis.
It was a dominating performance by the Cardinals boys and Head Coach Markus Okeson who picked up his 100th career win at Redwood Valley in just his fifth season at the helm.
In five seasons under the direction of Okeson the Cardinals have gone 100-39, including 72-16 over the past three seasons.
Following a lackluster, yet gutty win over Lake Crystal Welcome Memorial in the Sub-Section finals, you had to wonder if the Cards were ready to bring their ‘A’ game into a contest against a veteran, seasoned Fairmont team that entered the Section 3AA tournament as the team to beat.
Early on Redwood Valley established it was there strictly on a business trip to get the win, as Steven Runkel – who didn’t score in the win over LCWM – buried a pair of three pointerss to give Redwood Valley a quick 14-7 lead just five minutes into the game.
Fairmont would manage to cut the deficit to as little as three at 18-15, but four straight points from Taquez Perkins and a Jordan Ford jumper would give Redwood Valley a 24-17 lead with 7:19 to go in the half.
Again Fairmont would chip away, closing the deficit to 27-23 with 4:20 to play, but Redwood Valley would respond with a Perkins lay-in on a great feed from Runkel. Alec Koster would drive the lane for two, and Thane Widmer added a pair of free throws to increase the lead to 33-24 with 2:20 to go in the half.
Josh Eversman would hit a big three for Fairmont in the waning seconds to cut the Redwood Valley lead to 33-27 after 18 minutes of play, but the second half tone was set immediately by Redwood Valley.
Runkel and Koster would bury three pointers, Koster would add a sweet baseline jumper and RJ Juell added a floater to put Redwood Valley up 43-32.
Redwood Valley would continue to control the momentum, countering any Fairmont makes with a make of their own, and, with another Ford jumper, Redwood Valley would lead 51-41 with 8:14 to play in regulation.
From there, Redwood would blow the game open, as Mitch Fischer canned a three and knocked down a couple big 1-and-1 free throws, Perkins scored inside and Ford would come up with a back-breaking steal and lay-in to increase the lead to 62-46 with 4:45 to go – essentially putting the game out of reach.
A strong finish in the final minutes would give the Cards the 19-point win and a berth in the state tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Page 2 of 2 - “I think we came into the game focused on one thing, getting the win,” Steve Runkel said. “We weren’t gonna let what happened last year happen again, and our energy was like no other thanks to the fans and our coaching staff.”
Statistically and aesthetically it was probably as solid of an effort as the Cardinals had put together all season long.
There were four players in double figures. The Cards shot over 60 percent from insider the arc (17-of-28) and 50 percent from downtown (8-for-16) and hot 14-of-17 from the charity stripe (two of the misses coming in the final 20 seconds).
“We did the little things tonight to win the game,” Jordan Ford said. “I thought we played our best game of the season, and you could just see the heart and passion from everyone on our team and how bad we wanted to win.”
Koster would finish with 20 points and six rebounds.
Runkel had 12 points and two assists, Widmer added 10 points and four assists and Fischer had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Perkins scored eight points off the bench, Ford had six points and three boards and Juell finished with four points and two rebounds.
“So many different kids contributed tonight, and I thought we played one of our best games of the season on both ends of the court,” Coach Okeson said. “We were able to get out to an early lead, and the kids just kind of took over from there.”
The Cardinals now head to state for quarterfinal action beginning Wednesday night at either the Target Center or Williams Arena.
On Sunday morning the eight Section winners were seeded by the coaches, with the top five earning a 1-5 seed and the remaining three put into a random draw to select first round opponents.
“This has been a great group of kids to coach and we’ll be ready to go whoever we draw in the first round,” Okeson said. “These kids had a goal in mind to get back to State and they deserve to be there.”
Section 3AA Championship
Redwood Valley 72