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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In a game that demonstrated the value of having a senior-laden ball club, it was a freshman who rose to the occasion with some of the biggest shots in a 71-66 double-overtime win for West Central Area over Brandon-Evansville. The Knights and Chargers both got solid play from their upperclassmen, but it was WCA's Dakotah Kashmark who gave his team the big shots it needed to force two overtimes and eventually pick up the win. The 5'10" guard hit a free throw to force the first extra session and nailed a three with 24 seconds left that tied the game at 64 apiece in overtime.
The Marshall girls' basketball team found out just how suffocating Alexandria's defense can be in a 70-55 loss in the championship game of the Cardinals' Holiday tournament last Thursday night. The Tigers jumped out to a 5-0 lead but could not overcome the 30 turnovers Alexandria forced in the game. The Cardinals swarmed the ball and quickly turned that early deficit into a 29-22 lead by the break. Alexandria has made a habit of putting away teams early in the second half. The Cardinals did that again against the Tigers.
The Alexandria Blizzard fell victim to a reoccurring theme against Coulee Region in its first game back after the holiday break. Alexandria's two weekend games against Aberdeen and Austin were postponed to a later date because of the snow and ice that blanketed much of Minnesota. That did not affect the Blizzard's date at Coulee Region last Thursday as the two teams played their sixth game against each other since November 5. In those games, the Chill has developed a trend of scoring early and making enough plays late to earn the wins.
The Cardinal boys' basketball team showed what a couple wins in a row can do for the confidence of a team in its 69-68 win over Red Wing last Tuesday night. Alexandria could have folded after a three by the Wingers' Pat Kelly gave his team a 67-64 lead with almost four minutes left in the game. Instead, the Cardinals held Red Wing to just one free throw the rest of the way and got a clutch free throw of their own from Chris Curry to secure the win. Curry took advantage of a second chance in the game's final seconds.
Sometimes it's better to fly under the radar. That has seemed to work for the Alexandria girls' basketball team so far this season. The Cardinals were ranked in the top-10 coming into the season last year, and for the most part, lived up to that ranking. The end result was not what they wanted, though, as they fell short in the section championship game against Sartell. The loss of some key seniors from that team left this year's group with some questions to answer.
The Blizzard put together a three-point weekend and showed off some mental toughness in the process before heading into its Christmas break after its game in Aberdeen last Saturday. Alexandria played one of its best games of the season in a 6-0 win over the Wings on Friday night. The two teams then traveled to Aberdeen, where the Blizzard fought back from a 5-3 deficit in the third before falling in overtime, 6-5. Rebounding for that point on Saturday was more significant because of what the Blizzard had to overcome to get it.
Alexandria Blizzard players Alex Altenbernd, Steve Zierke and Brent Bain all had the same reaction when head coach Doc DelCastillo approached them with a rare opportunity last Wednesday. None of them could believe it when DelCastillo talked to them before practice and presented them with a chance to play one game with the USA Under-18 team on Saturday. The opponent for that game happened to be one of the top five teams in the country in the University of North Dakota. "At first when he told me, I was like, 'Say that again,' " Bain said. "I couldn't believe it.
The Brandon-Evansville girls played just five players and had just three of them score but that was enough to edge Osakis in overtime last Thursday night. Heather Strese had another big night for the Chargers. Her three-point play on a basket and a free throw with 11 seconds in regulation forced overtime. She then scored all four of her team's points from the free throw line in the extra session as Brandon-Evansville held on for the 45-43 win. "I was happy for the kids that they could pull it out under those circumstances, injuries and just five playing," head coach Dick Simpson said.
The Alexandria Blizzard made the idea of taking third place in the Central Division an uphill battle after two slow starts ultimately resulted in two losses on its home ice against Coulee Region this past weekend. The Blizzard fell behind 4-0 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. Alexandria made things close in 6-4, and 6-3 games but could never fully recover as it watched the Chill move seven points ahead in the division standings. The Blizzard came into the weekend with a shot at gaining sole possession of third place in the Central.
Parkers Prairie was challenged early last Friday night before showing why it is one of the top Class A teams in the state with a strong second half against Brandon-Evansville. A young Chargers team did everything it could to stick with the Panthers in the opening 18 minutes in Brandon. They came out firing behind seven early points from Tasmine Okerlund. Heather Strese added 13 in the opening half as Brandon-Evansville trailed by just four at the break. Parkers Prairie head coach John Noga asked his team to up its intensity on defense at halftime.