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Boys basketball: What to watch for between Alex and Sartell

Alexandria senior Anders Hedstrom floats to the bucket for a layup against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday. Hedstrom and the Cardinals will play in the Section 8AAA semifinals on Friday night in Moorhead at 7:45. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Section 8AAA boys basketball field has been considered a multiple-team race all season, and that parity should make for a couple of entertaining games in Moorhead on Friday night.

Bemidji (21-4) and St. Cloud Apollo (15-12) open up the two games at Moorhead High School at 6 before Alexandria takes on Sartell-St. Stephen at 7:45.

The Cardinals and Sabres are almost mirror images of each other when looking at the numbers. Both teams are 19-8 entering their matchup. Alexandria averages 67 points-per game and allows 57.5. Sartell averages 66.6 PPG and gives up 60.4.

Players to watch: Alexandria

Alexandria's young core of players get a lot of attention, and for good reason. The Cardinals feature two talented sophomores in 6-foot-11 forward Treyton Thompson and 6-foot-4 guard Colton Roderick. Junior guard Carrson Jones has also stepped nicely into an expanded role for this team this year.

Around that core are a couple seniors who have made big plays for the Cardinals all season. Guard Anders Hedstrom is proof of the kind of improvement a player can make from his junior to senior season. He went from playing a limited role a year ago to getting huge minutes and making big plays for this team in his final campaign.

Trey Hoepner has been there and done that during deep playoff runs. As a sophomore, he hit five threes, many in huge spots in a close game, during Alexandria's 84-74 win over Bemidji in the section semifinals in 2017.

Hoepner will likely have to be good in this setting on Friday night, but it's really about depth for this Cardinals team. Alexandria had four players in double figures in the win over Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday, and that's been the case all season. The Cardinals have a legitimate five guys who can reach double figures on any night.

Players to watch: Sartell-St. Stephen

Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt did not hesitate to say senior forward Thomas Gieske will be the primary focus of the Cardinals' defensive gameplan on Friday.

Gieske got off to a huge start to the season for the Sabres, averaging more than 20 points per game, but an ankle injury sidelined him for a while. He did not play in Alexandria's win over Sartell on Feb. 18, but he's back now and led his team with 17 points in a 70-46 win over Little Falls on Tuesday after the Sabres trailed by one at the break.

Gieske is a physical presence for Sartell, and he has good players around him. Senior Luke Tillotson led the Sabres with 16 points the last time they played Alexandria. He added 15 in the win over Little Falls, while six guys finished with at least five.

Witt also named junior guard Matt Sieben as a guy Alexandria has to focus on in its gameplan. The Cardinals holding Sieben to three points on Feb. 18 is one of the big reasons Witt felt Alexandria was able to get out of that game with a win.

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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