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Alex boys score seven points in 40 seconds to shock Apollo

Alexandria's Joe Gorghuber goes up over the defense of St. Cloud Apollo's Michael Ashwill in the season opener on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria boys’ basketball team was in a lot of close games last season only to come up short. It didn’t take the Cardinals long to reverse that trend this season.

Alexandria found itself down by six points in overtime to St. Cloud Apollo before John Vogeler hit a three with 36.9 seconds left that made it 71-68. The Cardinals’ defense took over from there, forcing three turnovers in a span of almost 15 seconds that led to a dramatic 72-71 win in the season opener.

“We’re down six like that and it’s tough, but we’re a new team this year,” senior co-captain Brandon Bistodeau said. “We came together, fought through adversity and pulled it out. It’s real fun. We haven’t had it for a long time. It’s going to be a good time in the locker room.”

Bistodeau and Vogeler were dominant after halftime when Apollo held a 33-26 lead. Vogeler finished with a game-high 28 points, with 21 of those coming after the break. Bistodeau added 15 after halftime for a total of 18. It was his tip-in after an Apollo turnover that made it a one-point game and made the comeback feel all the more possible for this team.

The Eagles still had a chance to make it a three-point game, but the missed front end of a one-and-one was all the Cardinals needed to take its final lead. The rebound bounced deep off the iron and the ball ended up in the hands of Vogeler after a quick pass from a teammate. He knew what to do with it as Vogeler saw his defender on his heels and glided through the lane to his right hand for a lay-up that proved to be the game winner.

“The coaches and me personally, we’ve really tried to change my game a little bit,” Vogeler said. “Not just be that three-point shooter. Create my game in more areas. I don’t remember, I think Chase or Travis or Joe made an awesome dive on the floor and got the ball up to me. That was pretty much my goal, just to get to the hoop and see if I could get the foul or make the shot.”

The Cardinals’ defense had a lot to do with Apollo getting loose with the ball in the second half as they applied pressure in the full court and jumped passing lanes that led to a lot of easy buckets.

From there, Bistodeau and Vogeler had the look of guys who weren’t going to let their team lose. At one point, Bistodeau used two straight three-point plays to give Alexandria a two-point lead in regulation by driving aggressively to the basket. Vogeler followed that same plan, seldom settling for jumpers and instead getting into the lane for lay-ups. That’s a sign of the experience this team has back this year in those two, along with fellow starters Chase Kohler, Joe Gorghuber and David Krivanek.

“I think their experience really took over with our perimeter all being back as well as Joe and Chase having started much of last season as well,” head coach Forrest Witt said. “You could see the experience starting to come through a little bit in the latter part of the first half and into the second half…there were some first-game jitters, but I like to think that the confidence and the experience showed a little bit too with our guys.”

The Cardinals needed all they got from everyone to overcome the big nights from Apollo’s Ethan Novacinski and Jeremy Koffi. That duo controlled the post for most of the night as the 6’5” Novacinski had 25 points and Koffi (6’4”) added 18. The Cardinals know they need to get contributions from all over the court in rebounding and defending the post with no true center on the roster after the graduation of Logan Doyle.

“We’re going to be outsized a little bit,” Witt said. “But I thought once we settled in, Chase and Joe made it tough for them. [Novacinski and Koffi] had some points and did some things offensively. They rebounded the ball very well. That wasn’t a strength of ours tonight, but I thought from a standpoint of when they were in their motion offense, we defended pretty well and made them work for it. It was just the second chances that got us.”

The Cardinals showed an ability to overcome that on this night. It might have been a different story a year ago with most of these same guys just getting their feet wet at the varsity level. It’s just one win, but it felt like a big one for these players after the way they fought back down the stretch.

“You’re going to have times when you have to persevere over the course of a game or the course of the season,” Witt said. “We certainly were in that position tonight. For them to be able to step up and just continue working is a good sign for us…they were excited in the locker room and I think they sense that this could be a good group of basketball players. We have a good team in there and we have high aspirations for this season.”

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.

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