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Junior Brandon Bistodeau (right) went up for two of his 15 points over the defense of Little Falls' guard Collin Eckman on Wednesday. Eric Morken, Echo Press

Section 8AAA boys' basketball: Alexandria clicking at the right time

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Cardinals Alexandria, 56308
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

WHAT

Section 8AAA boys' basketball semifinals

Alexandria vs.

Fergus Falls

WHEN

Saturday, March 9,

7:30 p.m.

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WHERE

MSU-Moorhead

The close leads that slipped away from the Alexandria boys' basketball team earlier this season seem like a distant memory right now.

That's good news for the Cardinals and potentially bad news for the rest of the Section 8AAA field. Alexandria continued to play inspired basketball on Wednesday night as the Cardinals broke open a close game against Little Falls to punch their ticket to the section semifinals on Saturday with a 66-51 win over the Flyers.

"It's fun to see the kids step up and make plays and take care of the basketball," head coach Forrest Witt said. "At points in the game when there's that four, five minutes left, you're kind of at that point of, should we be attacking, should we pull it out? I thought the kids made great decisions of when to attack and when to pull it out, and then we made free throws to seal it."

It was that five-minute stretch at the end of the game where Alexandria broke things open. Both teams went back and forth through much of the night as the Cardinals held a five-point lead with 4:52 left. That's where games started to slip away from this team a couple months ago. On Wednesday, they showed how much they have grown since then to win their eighth game in the last nine tries.

Junior guard John Vogeler played a big part in that on his way to a game-high 30 points. He did everything for this team offensively. Vogeler hit four threes, including a couple from well beyond the arc in the first half. He finished the night 7-of-11 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free throw line, where he lived in the final two minutes to put the game away.

"It escalates my confidence pretty high right away when I can hit those shots," Vogeler said. "But from where I started when I came back from my injury, I was not attacking, I was hesitant. I didn't have the confidence in my ankle as I do now. And I can't hit those shots without my teammates setting screens. I can't do anything without my teammates."

It's the improved play of those guys around Vogeler and 6'8" senior Logan Doyle that has made this team so dangerous down the stretch. Junior guard Brandon Bistodeau ran his streak of consecutive games in double figures to four after finishing with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He was especially aggressive taking the ball to the basket in the second half.

Vogeler and Doyle called Bistodeau a completely different player from the one that started the season. Witt called him the team's best perimeter defender and said he has made more strides offensively than any player he has coached in five years.

"The last five games, I've been gaining a lot of confidence on the offensive end," Bistodeau said. "I started out pretty slow this game, forcing turnovers, but then I settled down and got my groove going...about the first half of the season, I wasn't confident and then I just got confident and it rolled from there."

Bistodeau has gotten more comfortable with being looked upon as another scorer on the perimeter. It just took some time for a lot of these guys to figure out their roles on this team. Even Doyle has had to adjust from the kind of player he maybe thought he would be coming into the season.

The South Dakota State University signee came in with a lot of hype after a big summer saw him gain recognition on the AAU circuit. Some guys feel the only way to justify that attention is by scoring the ball.

Doyle has accepted that he might not put up those big numbers offensively every night. Instead, he says he is trying to focus on other ways to help the team. He did that on Wednesday by controlling the paint, finishing with 17 rebounds and six blocks to go along with his 11 points.

"Everyone wants to be the scorer on the team," Doyle said. "But you have to know your role on the team. If they're doubling me, assists look just as good as points in my book...you can always rebound well, you can always play defense, you can always do the fundamentals right. Scoring, sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not."

The willingness of guys to accept their roles has helped the chemistry and the confidence of this group to go sky high. The Cardinals feel as good about themselves as they have all season heading into the semifinal game against Fergus Falls on Saturday.

The Otters are 2-0 against Alexandria this season. They won by one point on December 11 and by five in the rematch on January 24. But those losses seem like ages ago for a team that is playing its best basketball of the season.

"We've changed so much as a team," Vogeler said. "Our team chemistry, we're playing together so well, it's crazy. We're not the same team as when we faced them during the regular season. I think that should have a big effect when we play them again."

GAME STATISTICS

ALEXANDRIA 22 44 - 66

LITTLE FALLS 18 33 - 51

TOTALS - Alexandria - FG - 18-38; Three-point FG - 5-15; FT - 25-36; Assists - 7; Blocks - 7; Rebounds - 34; Steals - 5; Turnovers - 14; Little Falls - FG - 20-52; Three-point FG - 5-24; FT - 6-11; Rebounds - 17; Turnovers - 6

ALEXANDRIA - Bistodeau - 15 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound; Vogeler - 30 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals; Joe Gorghuber - 2 points, Chase Kohler - 2 points, 1 block, 2 rebounds; David Krivanek - 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal; Doyle - 11 points, 2 assists, 6 blocks, 17 rebounds; Ted Deitz - 2 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal

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