WILLMAR - The Willmar Cardinals are in the 2AAA championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday in Mankato against Hutchinson - barely.
A jump shot by a well-guarded Sam Esboldt overcame the Scarlets 43-42 on Saturday evening before the largest crowd of the year in the Willmar gym. Willmar had squandered a 12-point lead with just under nine minutes left to fall behind the No. 3 seed 42-39 with under two minutes left.
Esboldt scored after losing the ball and regaining possession on a save by Sam Spaulding. His game-winner from about 16 feet came with seconds left. West got a time out at 1.6 seconds but a half-court shot by Preston Brunz, who had 20 points, was short.
No. 2 seed Willmar (19-9) got 16 points from Taylor Filipek, 13 by Esboldt and eight from Jimmy Unger.
Willmar and Hutchinson (24-3) will be meeting for the first time this season.