By Chad Courrier email@example.com
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MINNEAPOLIS — The ride was fun, it just didn't end the way Tom Steidler wanted.
"My goal all season was a state title," the St. Peter senior said. "This was fun, one of the best times in my life. I'm blessed to be part of it."
St. Peter's surprising postseason run ended Wednesday, as Fairmont won 58-54 in the quarterfinals of the Class AA boys basketball tournament Wednesday at Williams Arena. It was Fairmont's third victory over St. Peter this season, though this was the toughest one.
"They were a hot team; we were a hot team," Steidler said. "They got a couple more rolls, a couple more calls. I'm so proud of my team.
"Going to the state tournament with a .500 record is quite a feat. We lost to one of the top teams in the state. I couldn't be prouder."
Unlike the section championship game against Le Sueur-Henderson, where the Saints tried to keep it a halfcourt game, St. Peter didn't shy away from the pace. Steidler nailed a 3-pointer to start the game, and St. Peter went up 9-6 after three minutes.
"The kids were ready to play," St. Peter coach Sean Keating said. "We know (Fairmont) so well, but we had a lot of confidence. The opportunity to play at Williams Arena .. we were tied at halftime, and I thought we outplayed them."
But from then until halftime, there were eight leads changes and four ties, ending the first half even at 34. St. Peter, which shot 60 percent, was able to build a five-point lead late in the first half, but Mitch Pfingsten, who averages 24 points, scored 11 of Fairmont's last 13 points, making two free throws in the final seconds to tie game at the break.
The second half was just as close. Fairmont was able to build a 45-39 lead in the first six minutes, but Steidler made a steal and dunk, then got another steal and layup, with a free throw, to put the Saints on top 46-45.
Fairmont responded with an 8-2 run, but the Saints weren't done as Steidler made two free throws with 20.7 seconds to play to pull within 55-54. However, Jay Ruen made three free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory.
"We needed a couple layups to go in, and we could have cut out a couple turnovers," Steidler said. "Our defense was great. It was an exciting game. It just sucks to be on the losing end."
Steidler finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four steals to lead St. Peter (14-15).
"He's done that all year for us," Keating said. "He's a playmaker, and he made some big plays in a big game. He's had a great senior season."
Kolin Bartlett added nine points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
Ruen and Pfingsten each scored 17 points to lead Fairmont. Ruen also had six rebounds and four assists and made 5 of 6 free throws.
Fairmont (25-4) advances to the Class AA semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at Target Center. The opponent will be Esko, which defeated East Grand Forks 57-54 in overtime.