As the clock hit zero, the St. James bench erupted, and stormed the court in a flash-mob fashion, now knowing they’re just one game away from a state tournament birth with a 76-72 win over Jackson County Central.
Each of the Saints’ wins in postseason play has come in single-digit form, and it took a full team effort to overcome a second-half onslaught by Rudy Voss.
While the Saints held the junior guard in check in the first half, St. James found three starters in early foul trouble, forcing them to the bench early.
“We have a lot of experience on this bench and there’s a lot of guys we can go to,” said coach Spencer Monson. “A couple of them are young players but they don’t play like it. I was confident in them enough to keep us in it even though we’ve had some guys out.”
The bench did their job, as Logan Carlson provided two threes and defensive energy, while Hayden Jones provided eight points from the pine.
“Logan always brings energy, he’s all over the place. That’s a strength of his and he’s a spark. He’s capable of making a big shot at any time.”
Despite the solid bench production, the Saints still found themselves down by one, 29-28, at halftime.
“We knew we were in a good spot. We would have liked the lead going in but it’s okay and things worked out fine. It was a one-point game without Parker (Jones) playing most of the first half so we were in good shape,” said Monson. “I knew he was going to be hungry in the second half.”
The senior guard would come alive in the second half for St. James, scoring five of the Saints’ first seven points in the first half.
Derrick Halvorson and Peyton Hanson connected on triples in quick succession, and the Saints held a four-point advantage with 12:30 left to play in regulation.
Halvorson added another quick five points, and the Saints found themselves up 50-44.
Voss answered, trimming the St. James lead to four with 9:15 remaining in the half.
A quick 7-2 jump from St. James, led by Halvorson and Parker Jones, forced a timeout by Jackson County Central with St. James threatening to pull away with just under seven minutes remaining.
Out of the timeout, Voss took over, answering every punch thrown by the Saints with one of his own, scoring 13 straight points for the Huskies, cutting the lead to just two.
With the Saints leading by just three with 5:00 left, Voss knocked down a cold-blooded three, tying the affair at 63.
Peyton Hanson momentarily gave the Saints the lead, but once again, Voss answered first tying, then giving Jackson County the lead with 3:20 left.
“Rudy is one of the best players we’ve seen all year,” said Monson. “He’s just a competitive player and it’s too bad that either him or Parker had to lose tonight. I’m glad we came out on top.”
Voss finished with a game-high 36, 27 of which came in the second half.
A free throw by Andrew Hesebeck made it a 68-65 game.
But this time, Kobe Mohwinkel and the Saints had the answer, tying the game with a corner three.
The senior sniper struck again with 1:56 left, canning another corner three, putting the Saints on top for good.
“I just told our guys to keep our head and stay level headed,” said Monson. “We knew they were going to make their runs and we just had to go out there and give ourselves a chance."
“Kobe’s threes helped out a little bit too,” said Monson with a smile.
Derrick Halvorson led the charge for the Saints on offense, finishing with 18 points, with 15 coming in the second half. Parker Jones scored 12 of his 15 in the second half. Hayden Jones scored 14 off the bench. Kobe Mohwinkel connected on four threes, totaling 12 points. Peyton Hanson added nine, while Logan Carlson accounted for six off the bench.
The Saints victory over the Huskies gives the Saints an opportunity to go to the state tournament for the first time since 2003 when they were beaten by Zumbrota-Mazeppa, 63-61 in overtime. The Redwood Valley Cardinals provide the last hurdle for St. James.
The Saints defeated the Cardinals 64-60 in the Big South Showcase in early December.
Tip-off for the 3AA section final is scheduled for Thursday night at Southwest Minnesota State at 5 p.m.