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Cards, Otters ready for another section finals clash

Alexandria junior Justin Balcome shoots over the defense of Bemidji's Caleb Carlson during Saturday's section semifinals game at Moorhead High School. Balcome and the Cardinals have one more game with Fergus Falls standing between them and a state tournament berth. (Eric Morken | Echo Press)

The Alexandria boys basketball team was faced with adversity in certain spots during Saturday's Section 8AAA semifinals game against Bemidji that was back and forth for much of the night.

The Cardinals played some of their best basketball in those tense moments to come away with an 84-74 victory.

They will likely find themselves in similar spots tonight at St. Cloud State University against top-seeded Fergus Falls. Alexandria needs one more big performance amid the pressure of a section finals games to punch their eighth trip to the state tournament and first since 2014.

Head coach Forrest Witt knows there is a lot of anticipation heading into tonight's 7:30 tip between these two teams. It's a rematch of last year's section finals — a game that is hard to forget for anyone in the gym that night.

Alexandria led by 10 points with just more than three and a half minutes left before Otters' guard Nathan Rund carried his team back for a 63-60 win. Rund scored 13 of his game-high 34 points during the final 3 minutes, 41 seconds.

Witt doesn't want his guys thinking about that heading into tonight's rematch.

"I think we just have to approach it like any other game and just focus on their key personnel and what they do well as a team, what they're going to try to do to us defensively and how we want to attack," Witt said after the Bemidji win on Saturday. "It's going to be a talked about game. We had obviously a very close game last year. It's become a rivalry and it's going to be a very good game."

The Otters (24-4) made easy work of Detroit Lakes in a 79-55 final during the semifinals in Moorhead this past Saturday. Fergus Falls hit 10 threes that night and put five players in double figures, led by junior Harrison Christensen's 16.

The Cardinals (21-7) do have some success to look back on in this series. They won the previous two matchups against the Otters during the regular season with a 69-66 home win on Jan. 3 before going on the road for a 64-48 victory on Jan. 27.

Alexandria wants to take what it did well from those games while also understanding that tonight is a new opportunity for both teams.

"You watch the film and see what things went well," Witt said. "That was awhile ago. We're 2-0 right now and they're 2-0 in the playoffs. That's really what it boils down to. It was nice that we beat them, but it's going to be a different basketball game and we have to prove we can do it a third time."

The Cardinals can beat a lot of teams when they play like they did on Saturday. Their 84 points marked the fifth time they've passed 80 points on the season. They did it with everyone chipping in as four players finished in double figures.

"I think we just have to keep playing like we are right now," sophomore point guard Trey Hoepner said after putting in 15 points against Bemidji. "Every game against Fergus is tough because they're a good team. We just want to come out with a win."

Senior guard Jaran Roste has some motivation heading into Thursday after fouling out late in last year's comeback win for the Otters. He knows the challenge this Otters' team presents and is excited for another shot at them in a setting like the section finals.

"Every game with Fergus is fun," Roste said. "They bring out a great crowd, we bring out a great crowd. It's going to be a great game. I'm excited for it personally after fouling out last year. Kind of have some unfinished business we got to settle.The goal is a state tournament every year. We're in the section final, so we're on our way."

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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