Third time’s a charm?
The Alexandria boys’ basketball team has been in the section semifinals each of the last two years. This time, the Cardinals hope to break through and write a different ending to the story.
Alexandria lost those previous games, to Detroit Lakes two years ago and to Fergus Falls last March. A lot of those same players who went through that last year are key contributors to this year’s team that will face Albany on Saturday after beating Little Falls 64-55 in the 8AAA quarterfinals on Tuesday night.
“It’s kind of a new situation this year,” senior forward Chase Kohler said. “We had [Logan] Doyle last year. We counted on him quite a bit to win the game. This year we all know our own roles, and we all step up. If we have confidence in each other, I feel like we can beat anybody.”
Kohler was the catalyst against the Flyers on Tuesday night as he helped to make sure his team lived to see another day. The Cardinals scored just 16 points in the first half and were trailing by four at the break.
Head coach Forrest Witt decided to move senior guard John Vogeler to the high post in the second half to try and attack the Little Falls’ zone. That let Kohler find open spots around the three-point line where he flourished. The 6’4” forward drained five triples and scored all of his game-high 19 points after the break.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since kindergarten, before that,” Kohler said. “We were down, and I just told myself we can’t lose this game because I did not want to stop playing basketball yet. We were all pretty tense in the first half. We just needed to relax and play basketball.”
Those nerves started to lift once a few shots went down. The Cardinals trailed by six before Kohler hit back-to-back threes from the corner on consecutive possessions to tie the game. That eased the tension a little bit as Krivanek and Vogeler also added big threes to give the Cardinals seven triples in the second half.
“Chase stepped up for us and hit some big three-point shots and released some pressure for everybody else too,” Witt said. “You could just tell when he hit some of those that everyone else was just much more relaxed and attacked more and was able to step up and be confident. We didn’t do that in the first half.”
Two others joined Kohler in double figures. Vogeler had 16 points, while fellow senior David Krivanek had 11 and junior Joe Gorghuber added eight. Senior Sebastian Sowada led the Flyers with 16 and Bryce Zowatzke poured in 15.
Alexandria’s reward for that big second half is a matchup with third-seeded Albany at St. Cloud State University this Saturday at 3:45 p.m. The Huskies are 21-5 now after beating sixth-seeded Thief River Falls 61-55 on Tuesday night in their opening-round game of the tournament.
Albany is new to the section after moving up to the AAA level from Section 6AA a year ago. Alexandria knows the opportunity is there and the Cardinals hope to draw on their experience of playing in this type of game the last two years.
“They kind of know what’s at stake and the situations that are going to come about,” Witt said. “In the playoffs, everything is a little bit different because if you don’t make a series of plays it could end your season. There’s a little bit of added pressure for both teams, but having been through that with several guys, I think it should help us out.”
Once again, the 8AAA field seems to be wide open. The top four seeds all remain with fourth-seeded Fergus Falls taking on top-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen on the bottom half of the bracket.
“I feel like when we’re playing good basketball like we were for a good portion of the end of the season and for a good chunk there tonight in the second half, that we’re going to be difficult to beat,” Witt said. “And there’s other teams that are kind of in the same boat. I don’t know that there’s necessarily a front runner. Everybody at this point after tonight is certainly capable of winning it.”
Albany and Alexandria never met in the regular season, but Witt said the coaches have seen the Huskies play twice this year. The Cardinals also had somebody at Albany’s quarterfinal game against Thief River Falls on Tuesday.
“They got some good players on the perimeter, a couple big kids inside, so they’re a pretty well balanced team,” Witt said.
The Alexandria players have been here before. The Cardinals had a lot of confidence going into last year’s semifinal game as winners of nine of their last 10 games before Fergus Falls won 70-60. They know Saturday’s game will ultimately come down to playing together and whichever team can make the plays during the critical moments of the game.
“Don’t take anything for granted and play every game like it’s your last,” Krivanek said of lessons learned from those previous section semifinals games. “We all know it’s wide open. We’re excited to get into the playoffs here and make some noise.”
ALEXANDRIA 16 48 – 64
LITTLE FALLS 20 35 – 55
ALEXANDRIA TOTALS – FG – 17-34; Three-point FG – 9-18; FT – 21-32; Assists – 9; Rebounds – 19; Steals – 2; Turnovers – 7
ALEXANDRIA – Brandon Bistodeau – 4 points, 5 assists, 1 block; Vogeler – 16 points, 1 assist, 4 rebounds; Gorghuber – 8 points, 2 rebounds; Travis Krueger – 2 points, 1 rebound; Krivanek – 11 points, 1 assist, 5 rebounds; Tyler Owen – 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal; Kohler – 19 points, 2 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal