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Senior guard Jess Syvrud (back) consoled junior Amanda Christianson with a hug after Christianson was unable to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded on Alexandria's one-point loss in the secion finals. (Eric Morken, Echo Press)

Section 8AAA girls' basketball: Alexandria so close to state

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

The look of frustration mixed with sadness on junior Amanda Christianson's face said it all as Alexandria's upset bid fell just short in the Section 8-AAA title game on Friday at St. John's University.

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Christianson gave the Cardinals exactly what they wanted coming into the night - a chance in the closing seconds against undefeated Fergus Falls. Alexandria trailed by just one after a couple missed free throws by Otters' star guard Brianna Rasmusson with 5.8 seconds left.

After a timeout, Christianson caught the ball near the baseline and turned up court before getting bumped near the scorer's table. That knocked her off course just enough that she wasn't able to gain complete control the rest of the play. Christianson gathered the ball and got it into the lane where she was met by a host of Otters' defenders.

Christianson fell to the floor as the ball was knocked away again. The hopes of a state tournament appearance and an upset of top-ranked Fergus Falls went with it as the Otters hung on for a 55-54 win to capture their second straight 8-AAA title.

"The coaches told me to get it in and go to the hoop," Christianson said. "Try to get fouled or make a lay-up or something. They didn't call any fouls on the last play. I think I got fouled a couple of times."

Fans of Fergus Falls were screaming for a foul on Alexandria just seconds earlier. Both teams went hard for the rebound after Rasmusson's second miss from the line ended with players on the ground and the Otters being ruled out of bounds. It was going to take something blatant for a whistle to be blown in the closing seconds.

"I think Amanda did get fouled a couple of times," Cardinals head coach Wendy Kohler said. "But the refs, it was going to have to be a bigger foul than that for them to call the foul. She was off balance. She wasn't able to make those pitches [to shooters] like she wanted to make because of that reason. It kind of affected that whole play. It just wasn't to be, but our kids battled, and we played a heck of a ball game against a very good team."

Maybe the best game they played all season. This was an Otters team that beat Alexandria by 30 points when they met for the first time on December 4. One would never believe that after seeing how well they matched up with Fergus Falls on Friday night.

The Cardinals played with a fire in the second half after Rasmusson had given her team a nine-point lead at halftime with an off-balance three at the buzzer. Alexandria responded by scoring the first five points after the break.

That set the tone for what was a back-and-forth game the rest of the way. Junior guard Karly Betterman tied things up at 46 apiece on a lay-up with almost four and a half minutes left in the game.

The Otters came back with a 5-0 run that was capped off with another Rasmusson three from the top of the key. She picked up her fourth foul on a charge with 9:58 left and never came out of the game. She finished with 19 points, while fellow junior guard Bailey Strand had a game-high 20 after going 11-of-13 from the free throw line.

That still wasn't enough to fend off a late charge from an Alexandria team that used its depth to wear down the Otters. Christianson had 19 points, five assists and four rebounds to lead the way. Senior center Kalli Bowser scored nine of her 11 points in the second half, while Betterman poured in eight of her 10 points after the break. Sarah Bruzek added eight points, including a big bucket late that made it a one-possession game.

"With Alex, no matter what the score, it always feels like they're close and in the game," Rasmusson said. "They were hitting some shots, and we weren't at one point. They went on a little run, but we kind of stopped that and held the game and finished it out."

It wasn't before the Cardinals gave them the biggest scare of their season. Fergus Falls (29-0) came into the night beating teams by almost 27 points per game and had never been pushed like they were on Friday. In a one-game situation, the Cardinals played with confidence, knowing anything can happen in March.

"All you want is to have a chance sometimes," Kohler said. "We had our chance at it, and it didn't work out. But it's one of the most rewarding years I've ever coached in terms of the development of players and the trust in the coaches from players and the trust in players from the coaching staff. Where they came from in the beginning of the season to the end of the season, I think is truly remarkable."

The Cardinals were able to take some solace in that. The tears that welled up immediately after the final buzzer rang had been replaced by smiles for a lot of players as friends and family joined them on the court after the awards ceremony.

The Cardinals finished with an overall record of 18-9 after winning 10 of their last 12 games. Their 13-3 mark in the CLC was good for second in the conference and was the fourth straight year they have finished in either first or second place in league play.

"I'm so proud of how we progressed throughout the season," Christianson said. "We did so well, and we worked so hard on the practice court. It showed in our games how much we worked, how much we loved to play this game and how much we wanted to win and go to state."

GAME STATISTICS

FERGUS FALLS 31 24 - 55

ALEXANDRIA 22 32 - 54

TOTALS - Fergus Falls - FG - 18-44; Three-point FG - 4-12; FT - 15-24; Rebounds - 23; Assists - 6; Steals - 11; Turnovers - 15; Alexandria - FG - 22-40; Three-point FG - 1-6; FT - 9-12; Rebounds - 27; Assists - 11; Steals - 5; Turnovers - 21

FERGUS FALLS - Devonie Smith - 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal; Strand - 20 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals; Hanna Swenson - 5 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists; Anna Monke - 9 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals; Kristin Sawtell - 1 rebound, 1 assist; Kristin Traiser - 2 points, 2 rebounds

ALEXANDRIA - Christianson - 19 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal; Dani Strater - 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal; Betterman - 10 points; Jessica Syvrud - 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal; Bowser - 11 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block; Emily Thul - 2 points; Macy Hatlestad - 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 steals; Sarah Bruzek - 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

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