Eric Morken is the sports editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
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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 Blizzard goaltender Jacob Meyers became the first NAHL goalie to earn the Goaltender of the Month Award multiple times this season after he won the award earlier this week for the month of February. Meyers was honored with the award in November and has done nothing since then to diminish his claim as one of the league's top goaltenders this season. The Minnetonka native went 5-1 in February and turned aside 171 of the 178 shots he faced. Meyers' goals against average for the month was 1.17 and his save percentage was .961.
Whitney Gesell's face lit up when asked how motivated she and her Alexandria girls' basketball teammates were to get another shot at Fergus Falls in the section title game. That smile said it all after the Cardinals earned the opportunity to face the second-ranked Otters for the third time this season after beating Thief River Falls 69-46 in the 8AAA semifinals on Saturday.
The Brandon-Evansville girls' basketball team saw its season come to an end in the Section 6A South semifinals on Saturday but not before a little history was made by one of the best players in school history. Heather Strese went into the game against Hancock needing 13 points to become the first player in Brandon-Evansville history to reach 2,000 points for her career.
The Brandon-Evansville boys' basketball team entered the Section 6A South tournament this past Monday with a 9-14 regular-season record after splitting its final two games of the regular season. The Chargers came up short against Henning 55-52 last Friday, a day after edging Hancock 51-49 on Senior Night. Brandon-Evansville trailed by four at the break against the Hornets and couldn't make up enough of that after halftime. The Chargers shot 22-of-48 from the field but got to the free throw line just four times in the game.
One would be hard pressed to find a more complete game that the Alexandria Blizzard has played in recent memory than the 10-0 win over Coulee Region last Saturday night. Alexandria was coming off another great performance from goaltender Jacob Meyers in a 2-0 win from the night before. It was a game that could have come a little easier had the Blizzard capitalized on a few more of its 41 shots. Alexandria made up for that on Saturday night. The Blizzard blew the game open with six goals in the second period.
Things came so easy for the Parkers Prairie girls' basketball team for two and a half months. The Panthers dominated opponents on their way to 23 straight wins to open the season. The ease with which those wins came was something that head coach John Noga admitted he didn't really expect. That's why the last three games of the regular season were so important for the Panthers. Parkers Prairie played Sebeka, Hancock and Upsala over the course of seven days, three teams with a combined record of 66-9.
The atmosphere at Jefferson High School was as good as it has been in years for a match-up between the top two girls' basketball teams in the Central Lakes Conference last Thursday night. Fans packed the gymnasium hoping for an upset as second-ranked Fergus Falls came to town in the regular season finale. The Otters finished the season 16-0 in the CLC for a reason, though, as they pulled away for the 68-53 win. "Fergus is a very good team," Alexandria head coach Wendy Kohler said. "They're very seasoned. They're a veteran team.
The Brandon-Evansville boys ran into the top team in the Little Eight Conference and couldn't keep up in a 52-28 loss to Battle Lake last Friday night. The Battlers (22-0, 12-0 LEC) have scored just less than 60 points per game this season, but their defense has been stifling. Battle Lake used that to its advantage again against the Chargers, holding them to nine points in the first half on their way to a 16-point lead at the break. "I think we scored the first two points of the game and it was pretty much downhill after that," Brandon-Evansville head coach John Holsten said.
Alexandria's Garrett Skinner couldn't hide his frustration as he hit the top of the net with his stick after his attempt to sneak one in trickled off the post and back behind the net in the final seconds on Tuesday night. At that point, the senior defenseman knew Alexandria's fate. Willmar came into the Runestone Community Center as the seventh seed in the Section 6A tournament and played like it had nothing to lose in rallying from a 3-1 deficit with three unanswered goals.