WILLMAR -- The underdog Eagles of New Ulm gave Willmar a surprise test Tuesday as the Cardinals held on to collect a 63-57 win in the quarterfinals of the Section 2AAA playoffs in boys basketball.
The No. 2-seeded Cardinals (18-9), who will host No. 3 Mankato West (17-8) Saturday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals, relied on their defense to advance as their offense missed some close-range looks and shot 46 percent from the field.
No. 1 Hutchinson and No. 4 Mankato East meet in the other semifinal Saturday. The championship is scheduled for March 18.
"We're up 13 with about a minute left and all of a sudden they're within six," said Willmar coach Steve Grove. "I don't know if (the kids) looked past this one, but give New Ulm a lot of credit."
New Ulm (6-21) did have opportunities down the stretch to stay within striking distance, but numerous shots rolled in and out of the basket as Willmar altered the Eagles' looks with its 2-3 zone.
Brian Reeves gave Willmar a 63-50 lead after making a two-handed dunk and a free throw to complete a three-point play with 1:08 left. The Eagles didn't seem to get fazed by the double-digit deficit as they netted seven points in a 26-second span to pull within six with 23 seconds left.
But an ill-advised three-point attempt from well behind the arc in the closing seconds fell short and New Ulm ran out of time to possibly pull off an upset.
A balanced offensive attack paced Willmar as Taylor Filipek led the Cardinals with 17 points. Brian Reeves followed with 16 and Sam Esboldt 14.
New Ulm's Zach Quiring led all scorers with 20 points.
Esboldt gave the Cardinals a boost in the first half with his three-point shooting as the senior connected on three treys, including one with five seconds left in the half that allowed the home team to take a 34-26 lead into halftime. Jimmy Unger, Andrew Bangen and Sam Spaulding also drained a three-pointer in the half as Willmar fought off the Eagles' interior defensive pressure with its outside shooting.
Willmar was 12-for-16 at the free-throw line in the second to maintain a three-to-five possession lead for much of the second half with Filipek going 7-for-7.
Willmar 63, New Ulm 57
New Ulm (6-21) 26 31 -- 57
Willmar (18-9) 34 29 -- 63
NEW ULM - 24-48 FG (5-14 3-pt); 4-6 FT; 20 rebounds; 14 fouls ... Scoring: Justin Brethorst 5, Elliot Backer 4, Brett Gieseke 7, Drew Dauer 3, Zach Quiring 20, Kevin Clancy 7, Nate Folkens 3, Michael Huber 8 ... 3-point shots: Gieseke 1, Dauer 1, Quiring 2, Folkens 1 ... Rebound, assist ands steal leaders not available
WILLMAR - 21-46 FG (7-19 3-pt); 14-18 FT; 37 rebounds; 11 fouls ... Scoring: Jimmy Unger 3, Jake Rambow 2, Andrew Bangen 5, Brian Reeves 16, Sam Esboldt 14, Sam Spaulding 5, Taylor Filipek 17, Jake Damhof 1 ... 3-point shots: Unger 1, Bangen 1, Esboldt 4, Spaulding 1 ... Rebound leaders: Spaulding 8, Esboldt 7, Filipek 7, Bangen 5, Reeves 5 ... Assist leaders: Filipek 4 ... Steal leaders: Spaulding 2