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Senior John Vogeler (third from right) and Brandon Bistodeau accept the Section 8AAA championship trophy from Alexandria athletic director Dr. David Hartmann after the Cardinals beat Fergus Falls 59-50 in Moorhead last Thursday night. Alexandria will now play Austin in the first round of the state tournament at 2 p.m. today. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Sweet taste of state

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Even in the midst of losing eight of nine games from December 13 through January 17, the Alexandria boys’ basketball players and coaches never felt like they couldn’t be exactly where they find themselves this afternoon.

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Head coach Forrest Witt said it started with a renewed focus in practice that led to better habits in games. The reward for the Cardinals is a trip to the Class AAA state tournament and a game against a 26-3 Austin team at Williams Arena after taking care of Fergus Falls 69-50 in the 8AAA championship.

“It’s going to be a fun experience for the kids, and I’m glad all the hard work has paid off,” Witt said. “They can enjoy this and look back at the times when we were yelling and hollering at them, telling them to push harder and telling them to go harder in June and July. They’re sweating when everyone else is home sleeping. That’s what it’s about.”

The Cardinals never left much doubt against the Otters in what Witt and senior guard John Vogeler felt was the team’s best-played game of the year. Vogeler had 19 points in the first half and a game-high 30 when all was said and done.

He was in a zone that started by getting a couple quick three-point plays in the paint early on. Vogeler added a fade-away jumper from the right sideline before stepping out beyond the arc and hitting three triples in the first half.

It wasn’t those 30 points that drew the praise of Fergus Falls head coach Dave Rund after the game. Instead, it was a play with one minute, 22 seconds left and Alexandria up 15 points. Vogeler tipped an Otters’ pass and sprinted the length of the floor before diving to corral the ball and call a timeout.

“He just said, ‘We’re going to state, and I’m going to make a statement,’ ” Rund said to Chris Murphy of the Fargo Forum after the game. “What a fitting ending to a great career for him.”

Witt met Vogeler near the free throw line and gave him a hug as he and an excited group of teammates showed their appreciation. The Cardinals won battles to loose balls all night, and it didn’t stop until the final seconds ticked off the clock.

“When your best player is your hardest worker, something good is going to happen,” Witt said. “We’ve been on John, and he has, we’ve seen him on the floor this year more than ever. To make that play and get a timeout, I don’t care what juncture it is, you play until it says zero, and that’s what he did.”

The Otters did everything they could to not let Vogeler touch the ball in the second half. That opened things up for his teammates, who were ready to step up when Fergus Falls went on a 10-0 run to cut its deficit to eight points with around 10 minutes left.

Bistodeau quieted the crowd out of a timeout with a runner off the backboard that made it a 10-point game again. It was the start of a 12-0 run for the Cardinals that was capped off by a no-look pass from David Krivanek to Joe Gorghuber, who finished on a fastbreak.

“It was just the adrenaline,” Bistodeau said after scoring six points during that stretch. “All of us wanted it really bad. The seniors, we didn’t want it to be our last game, so we brought it all and played our hearts out.”

Bistodeau scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half. Gorghuber added eight points and five rebounds and drew the praise of Witt for his defense on the Otters’ Austin Rund.

Rund, a senior forward, had 22 points but had to work for everything he got on 7-of-16 shooting. The Cardinals also forced him into seven turnovers.

The numbers painted a pretty clear picture on Thursday night. The Cardinals shot 17-of-17 from the free throw line, outrebounded the Otters 30-20 and committed only seven turnovers.

“Everyone was super focused and ready to go,” Vogeler said. “It was just a huge team win.”

The way they played also sends the Cardinals into the state tournament with some confidence.

“I don’t know if there’s a dominant team, aside from De La Salle in the state,” Witt said. “If we play like that, we’re going to be in the basketball game. There’s just no question about that. I want to go down there, play hard and get after it and try to win basketball games because I think we’re certainly capable of that.”

Witt saw that even in the midst of a tough stretch earlier this season. The Cardinals refocused and have now won 11 of their last 14 games.

Their reward for that is the program’s first state tournament appearance since 2002. Now they want more as they step foot on the University of Minnesota campus today.

“We’re not going to take anything for granted,” Vogeler said. “We’re not going to settle. We’re going to go as far as we possibly can.”

GAME STATISTICS

FERGUS FALLS      20 30 - 50

ALEXANDRIA        34 35 - 69

TOTALS - Fergus Falls - FG - 18-41; Three-point FG - 3-11; FT - 11-15; Rebounds - 20; Assists - 8; Turnovers - 13; Alexandria - FG - 24-49; Three-point FG - 4-12; FT - 17-17; Rebounds - 30; Assists - 9; Turnovers - 7

FERGUS FALLS - Drew Pearson - 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist; Jake Western - 5 points; Isaiah Lemke - 14 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists; Rund - 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks; David Schneck - 2 points, 2 rebounds; Matthew Monke - 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Joel King - 3 rebounds

ALEXANDRIA - Bistodeau - 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists; Vogeler - 30 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals; Krivanek - 6 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal; Kohler - 4 points,  2 rebounds, 1 assist; Kris Setterstrom - 2 rebounds, 1 steal; Krueger - 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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