Section 8AAA boys' basketball: Playoffs help renew hope for AlexandriaThe Cardinals' most lopsided win of the season has them believing in a winnable 8AAA field
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
It’s amazing how one win at tournament time can change the outlook of an entire season.
Alexandria boys’ basketball players admit they didn’t always do the little things it takes to win on a consistent basis this season. They didn’t always play as a team, defend as hard as they could have or play with the toughness that it takes to win at this level. As a result, the Cardinals entered the 8AAA tournament with a 9-15 record and as losers of five of their last six games.
They also knew that all of that was wiped clean on Tuesday night. Alexandria welcomed in Sauk Rapids-Rice, a team that had already beaten the Cardinals twice this season, and played like a group that had been given new life. The end result was a 67-40 win over the Storm that will send Alexandria into the section semifinals this Saturday in a wide open 8AAA field.
“We’re a good basketball team and I’m just happy for the kids and proud of them,” head coach Forrest Witt said. “It didn’t go the way we wanted this year, and to be able to resurrect that and win this game was huge.”
It marks the first time since 2006 that the Cardinals have advanced past the first round of the playoffs. The players knew all about that extended losing streak. Coaches told them to concentrate on what they could control – things like effort and playing with energy on both ends.
Alexandria took that to heart when the two teams hit the court. The Cardinals were aggressive with the basketball, getting to the line 20 times. They also showed the toughness coaches were looking for in outrebounding the Storm 39-30.
AJ Anderson was the catalyst in the opening minutes. He had seven early points, including a three from the right wing that gave the Cardinals their first lead of the night at 9-6.
John Vogeler began to take over after that. The sophomore guard had four threes before the break, the last two coming from near NBA range as he helped his team to a 32-13 lead at the half. He drained another three on Alexandria’s first possession of the second half on his way to a game-high 21 points.
“If I get my first shot, I start to feel the rhythm,” Vogeler said. “I feel how the ball needs to come off and then I keep trying to mimic that out there…I told my point guard, ‘just get me the ball and I’m going to pull up.’ I pulled up and just knocked that deep three down twice. I just felt it. I had confidence and just knocked it down.”
That helped open up the lane for Anderson and Logan Doyle. Anderson had 13 points and was instrumental in Alexandria building some early momentum. Doyle came to life in the second half. Sauk Rapids had cut a 20-point lead to 12 when he got the ball in the post and jumped off both feet to throw down a two-handed dunk.
That proved to be the spark Doyle needed to get going. The 6’7” junior fought for an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback with a little more than six minutes left in the game. The basket and the free throw pushed Alexandria’s lead back to 15 points and all but put an end to the Storm’s comeback hopes. Doyle finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds on a night when eight players scored in all for the Cardinals.
“Tonight, we played the best team defense and offense [that we have played all season],” Doyle said. “We were unselfish, everyone just passing to everyone. When all five of your guys, and bench included, are team first and you second, I think it really helps. We didn’t care how we did it. We said in the locker room, we know we can get to state if we play good, team basketball.”
That is the common goal that brought this group together. The Cardinals have looked at the Section 8AAA field and thought, ‘why not us?’ The South’s top seed, Little Falls, lost to fourth-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen on Tuesday night and Alexandria has already beaten the North’s top seed, Detroit Lakes, during the regular season.
“I think looking at it, even from the beginning of the year and then throughout the year, it’s been wide open the whole way,” Witt said. “Little Falls and Detroit Lakes have the best records, but at any time, they’ve been knocked off…in the playoffs it’s one and done if you catch somebody on an off night. But you can’t go in with that mentality. You have to go in and do that – force somebody to have a bad night.”
The Cardinals certainly did that against the Storm. Now they hope to build on the win against Detroit Lakes this Saturday at St. Cloud State University when the two teams tip off at 6 p.m.
A week ago, a run at a section title might have seemed far-fetched as the Cardinals wrapped up the regular season with their third straight loss. The playoffs have a way of renewing hope in every team. One win in the tournament was all it took for Alexandria to find that out.
“We play as a team, I mean anything’s possible,” Vogeler said. “We have the right players. We have the right pieces, execute our plays and stuff can happen. If we work together, we can make it.”
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE 13 27 – 40
ALEXANDRIA 32 35 – 67
ALEXANDRIA – Jordan Smith – 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal; Austin Storm – 9 points, 1 rebound, 2 steals; John Vogeler – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals; Tanner Rice – 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists; Chase Kohler – 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block; Logan Doyle – 14 points, 16 rebounds, 1 assist; Ted Deitz – 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 block; AJ Anderson – 13 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
NORTH TEAMS – 1. Detroit Lakes, 2. Fergus Falls, 3. Thief River Falls, 4. East Grand Forks.
SOUTH TEAMS – 1. Little Falls, 2. Alexandria, 3. Sauk Rapids, 4. Sartell.
OPENING ROUND, TUESDAY, MARCH 6
Detroit Lakes 75, East Grand Forks 50
Alexandria 67, Sauk Rapids-Rice 40
Sartell 71, Little Falls 63
Fergus Falls 64, Thief River Falls 60
SATURDAY, MARCH 10
HALENBECK HALL, SCSU
Detroit Lakes vs. Alexandria, 6 p.m.
Sartell vs. Fergus Falls, 7:30 p.m.
THURSDAY, MARCH 15
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.