By Denny Weller
Special to The Free Press
Maple River’s balanced offensive attack and improved effort on the glass in the second half fueled a 66-62 win over Fairmont Saturday night in the championship game of Pepsi Holiday Tournament at Bethany Lutheran College’s Sports and Fitness Center
Five Eagles — Ben Larson, Michael Lewis, Jaron Denn, Zach Krengel and Brian Doering — hit for double digits to offset junior guard Mitch Pfingsten’s 23-point burst for Fairmont.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to do it one on one,” said Lewis, who finished with a team-best 14 points. “Jaron has been our leading scorer all year, but sometimes others have to step up and help out, too.
“I thought early on in the second half we showed were ready to go and get after it on the boards. You know Pfingsten is going to get his points. You just have to get a hand in his face, and hopefully you can get him to miss enough”
Pfingsten fired in 16 first-half points to keep the Cardinals within 37-32 at the break. Larson, a senior guard, tallied 10 points for the Eagles, including a 3-point play off a twisting drive and a long-range 3-pointer.
Maple River (7-2) stretched its lead to 51-39 on Denn’s right-wing triple with 11:46 remaining. However, Pfingsten’s three-point play, a 3-pointer and a 10-footer from Lukas Hested sparked a surge that enable the Cardinals to draw even at 53 on Pfingsten’s 12-foot runner with 3:39 to go.
Denn, who ended up with 12 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals, then buried a right-side 3-pointer, and Doering put though a pair of inside baskets. Lewis’ pull-up 3 stretched the lead before three foul shots from Lewis sealed things.
“We had to use all of our players tonight,” Maple River coach Chad Ostermann said. “They did a good job of switching man to man, so some of our sets didn’t work like they normally do. We had different guys step up, and that’s a tribute to how deep our team is.
“Rebounding was a point of emphasis for us at halftime. I thought they hustled and scrapped a little better than us in the first half, especially on the boards.”
Fairmont held a slight 29-28 rebounding advantage and committed more turnovers, 13-10. Maple River connected on 26 of 50 from the field compared to the Cardinals’ 22 of 47.
“I just looked for opportunities to either go to the rack or hit and open outside shot,” Lewis said. “Sometimes Jaron needs help scoring and we had quite a few guys step up tonight.”
Krengel scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds for the Eagles, who play Thursday at home against St. Clair.