ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — As soon as the game-winning 3-point shot left Dominic Aguilar’s hands, the entire Fergus Falls bench called “bank.” They knew it was going in.
The trey kissed off the glass and into the basket to lift Fergus Falls to a 47-44 victory over Annandale in the Minnesota Class 2A boys basketball quarterfinals on Tuesday at Alexandria Area High School.
“We had a perfect line from our bench looking down the line and it looked like it had a pretty good chance,” Fergus Falls coach Matt Johnson said.
North No. 3 seed Fergus Falls (16-7) advances to the state semifinals at 5 p.m. next Wednesday, April 4, at the Target Center in Minneapolis. They’ll play the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal game between South No. 4-seed Morris Area-Chokio-Alberta (19-2) and South No. 1-seed Waseca (20-1).
After an Annandale travel, the Otters got the ball with 3.6 seconds to go. The Otters inbounded the ball to 7-foot center Chance Fazio across half court and called a timeout after just half a second expired.
Kaden Conklin threw a cross-court in-bounds pass to Luke Newman in the right corner. Newman passed to Dominic Aguilar who put up a long 3 with a hand in his face to win it.
“We knew exactly what we were going to do,” Johnson said. “That’s a play we’ve practiced probably 50 times and never run in a game. That’s something we’ve practiced enough times to know how to execute. You need a little bit of luck there, but the kids did a great job.”
Without that travel by Annandale, Aguilar never would have gotten the chance to make the game-winner for the Otters. The Cardinals passed the ball around the perimeter for nearly two minutes as they tried to hold onto possession for the last shot in a tie game.
The Otters put pressure on the Cardinals for that full final stretch and forced them to make a mistake without fouling.
“You’re holding your breath a little bit. You just hope they make an error,” Johnson said. “I thought our kids did a great job of pestering them. You don’t want to foul in the bonus. We’d have loved to have the ball with a little more time, but 3.6 seconds was just enough to finish the game.”
It was all but certain that the game which featured 17 lead changes and five ties would come down to the wire. The largest lead for either side was four points.
Johnson said it put a little added pressure on his player to keep making shots. But they kept just making baskets. Every time Annandale pulled ahead, Fergus Falls answered and vice-versa.
There were six lead changes in the final 5 minutes, 30 seconds of the first half alone. And six total in the second half.
“It just amplifies how important each possession is,” Johnson said. “We had a couple back-to-back possessions late where we had a couple baskets where it rimmed out. Credit to our kids and our kids made stops on the other end. It shows the toughness and the grit of our guys. They never quit.”
Annandale scored 29 points in the first half as it seemed like neither side could miss a basket. But the Otters defense picked up as the game wore on, holding them to just 15 points in the second half. They held them off the board for a stretch of about five-and-a-half minutes through the middle of the second.
“Having Chance Fazio on the back end certainly helps but kids like Luke Newman and Abel Aho were tremendous defensively,” Johnson said. “We made some adjustments to take away their cutters. Our guys did a good job in the second half of limiting them to one good look and getting rebounds to try to get one now on the other end.”
Fazio led the Otters with 16 points, while Aguilar scored 14. Aguilar scored 11 of his points in the first half and didn’t score in the second until his game-winning 3.
In a normal year, the state quarterfinals would either be played at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena or at Target Center, the home of the Minnesota Timberwolves. But in order to limit travel as much as possible, the Minnesota State High School League opted to have quarterfinal games at regional high school gyms with the semifinals and finals at Target Center.
“As the coach, you wish for your kids to have the ultimate experience,” Johnson said. “Playing in Alexandria, you wish your kids would get the chance to play in Williams or in Target Center. For them to get the chance to run out of the tunnel and play on the Timberwolves’ floor is going to be special for them.”
Halftime: Fergus Falls 30, Annandale 29
FF: Fazio 16, Aguilar 14, Aho 2, Conklin 10, Newman 2, Pribbenow 3.
A: Purcell 10, Miller 13, Spaulding 8, Boltz 1, Gagnon 6, Braun 5, Jones 1.