SLEEPY EYE - Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop had already secured the Tomahawk Conference title heading into Friday's game, but Sleepy Eye St. Mary's didn't care.
GFW made attempts at scaling the deficit after trailing by nine at halftime, but St. Mary's ran away with an 82-71 victory in the Tomahawk Conference finale on Friday night.
The Knights (14-7, 11-5 Tomahawk) were led by seniors Mike Hirsch and John Brandl, who scored 23 and 21 points apiece while making plays on both ends of the floor.
"They made good decisions, they both were able to hit some perimeter shots and also get to the basket," said St. Mary's coach Tim Milliard. "Overall, they both played like seniors."
The Thunderbirds (14-8, 13-3) suffered their first conference loss since Dec. 6, when they lost to Cedar Mountain/Comfrey 64-44. That was a span of a 12-game winning streak, which was snapped on Friday.
"After that CM/C game, it was not a very great performance on our part from an energy standpoint; we had a long conversation in the locker room about that following that game," said GFW coach Richard Busse. "We talked about what our goal was for the season and where we thought we could finish and who we thought we could play with.
"Since then, we've played more determined, we've played complete games, we've played with energy. I think we played determined and with energy tonight as well."
Sophomore Seth Schuette led GFW with a game-high 26 points on 10-of-22 shooting.
Both teams came out firing at each other - Hirsch opened with a 3-pointer that was soon matched with a 3 from Schuette at the other end. Hirsch followed the exchange with an inside bucket, but four-straight misses from 3-point range for St. Mary's gave GFW room to tie it at 5-5 with a basket from Cody Huiras.
GFW got its first lead at 12-11 with a basket from Jack Bussler, which was followed by a 3-pointer from Ryan Klabunde to extend it. But without missing a beat, Brandl drained a 3 to pull to within one.
The biggest lead GFW was able to muster up was 21-14 before St. Mary's took the lead for good from a 14-2 run to gain a 29-23 advantage. During that 14-2 run, St. Mary's had four players hit 3-pointers - Shaun Wensauer, Jared Rothmeier, Payton Adams and Scott DeMaris.
"This game and Monday's [upcoming] game against Mountain Lake, we're trying to treat them as playoff games," Milliard said. "They're both quality teams, GFW's a quality team. So we're just trying to play good, solid basketball at this time of the year."
The Knights sank nine 3-pointers from seven different players in the first half en route to taking a 45-36 lead into the locker room.
The 3s continued to fall for St. Mary's, which hit two to begin the second half to go up 51-36.
"I think we gave up 16 or 17 offensive rebounds," Busse said. "Extra chances for them were crucial on our part. We needed to have them go one shot and done; 17 offensive rebounds is too many."
The Thunderbirds skimmed into the lead with 10 minutes to go thanks to a 14-13 effort following the Knights' second 3-pointer. Seven-straight points cut the lead to 64-57, but a 3-pointer by Brandl kept GFW at an arm's length.
"I was concerned because we started to turn it over a little bit, we started to miss some free throws," Milliard said. "They missed some shots and we made just enough shots to hang on."
Klabunde got hot for GFW in the second half, sinking three of his four 3-pointers in consecutive scoring possessions. The only problem for GFW was that all three scoring possessions were separated by St. Mary's baskets.
Klabunde's 3s still managed to pull GFW to within nine at 77-68 with 4:07 to go. However, that arm's-length distance for St. Mary's did not shrink from then until the end of the game.
Both teams have proven opponents in nonconference games on Monday - GFW will play at Redwood Valley (19-5, 9-3 Southwest), while St. Mary's will play at No. 5 Mountain Lake Area.
Busse said the similar playing styles of Cedar Mountain/Comfrey and St. Mary's has prepared his team for the fast attack offered from Redwood Valley, which is ranked No. 7 in Class AA.
"We've had some games that have been similar in that standpoint," Busse said. "We're excited for that opportunity. They're in our section, it's a game that we could come back and play again in a couple of weeks."
G-F-W 36 35 - 71
S.E. St. Mary's 45 37 - 82
Schuette 10-22 1-1 26, C Huiras 2-4 0-0 4, Bussler 3-15 2-3 8, L Sullivan 5-9 1-1 11, Timm 0-2 0-0 0, Klabunde 4-6 0-1 12, Schwecke 1-1 0-0 2, N Huiras 3-8 2-4 8, Howe 0-0 0-0 0, S Sullivan 0-1 0-0 0.
S.E. ST. MARY'S (82)
Hirsch 7-10 6-6 23, Brandl 8-18 3-6 21, Surprenant 2-9 1-2 7, Rothmeier 3-6 0-1 9, Adams 4-11 0-2 9, J Helget 1-4 0-0 3, Hoffman 0-1 0-0 0, Wait 2-3 0-0 4, Wensauer 1-3 0-0 3, DeMaris 1-1 0-0 3.