The Alexandria boys basketball team had a good idea of what would happen if it were to overlook sixth-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday night in the Section 8AAA opener.

The third-seeded Cardinals (19-8) beat Sauk Rapids-Rice by 30 points in Alexandria on Feb. 19, only to lose to the Storm (5-22) by three in Sauk Rapids a week later.

That was the lone blemish in an otherwise solid end of the regular season for Alexandria. The Cardinals were not going to have another letdown against the Storm as they cruised in the second half Tuesday on the way to a 68-43 win.

“Nothing changed in the gameplan much,” Alexandria senior guard Anders Hedstrom said. “The one loss we had against them, we just didn’t come together as a team and didn’t play well at all at Sauk Rapids. There was no doubt in my mind that we could come and play with them and beat them.”

The Storm gave the Cardinals a bit of a scare through 20 minutes. Junior guard Kobe Lee knocked down three first-half triples to keep them within five points despite a Trey Hoepner jumper at the buzzer. Another Lee three right after the break helped make it a 28-28 game.

That’s when the Cardinals separated themselves. After battling early foul trouble, sophomore Treyton Thompson had a six-point run of his own with three straight buckets around the rim. Hedstrom hit a shot, and senior guard Trey Hoepner added a three that quickly boosted Alexandria’s lead back to double digits.

“I thought our energy level was good from the start,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “The thing that kind of threw us off was Carrson (Jones) and Treyton got in foul trouble early. I thought the guys who came in responded well and stayed the course. Then in the second half, we were able to get back to some more depth and cause some disruption with our zone.”

Thompson, Alexandria’s 6-foot-11 forward, was hardly a factor in the first half after being forced to the bench with two quick fouls. He made up for it in the second half by being aggressive in looking for his own shot and moving the ball out of double teams. Thompson finished with a team-high 17 points on a perfect night from the floor (7-of-7 FG, 2-of-2 FT).

“I thought Treyton did a good job in the second half,” Witt said. “He just gives us another element with his size and his skill from a defensive standpoint and offensive standpoint. He gave us a nice spark that we needed there.”

The Cardinals had four players finish in double figures. Hoepner had 14 points, three assists and three steals. Jones added 11 points and Hedstrom had 10 points and five rebounds.

That depth offensively has guided Alexandria all season, but Witt and Hedstrom both came back to their defense as to why the Cardinals were able to pull away against the Storm.

“I thought our defense was solid, and then offensively due to our defense, we got some good looks at the basket,” Witt said. “I think at that point, everyone was playing a little more loose and free. When you have a little bit of a lead, it’s easier to play that way. It all started with our defense.”

Alexandria will try to take a similar approach into the section semifinals later this week against second-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen (19-8). That game was originally scheduled to be played on Saturday, but forecasted bad weather has moved it to Friday at 7:45 p.m. at Moorhead High School. Top-seeded Bemidji and fourth-seeded St. Cloud Apollo will play before that at 6.

The Cardinals and Sabres split their regular-season matchups, with Sartell winning 66-61 on Dec. 18 and Alexandria taking a 65-54 game on Feb. 18. Sabres senior forward Thomas Gieske did not play in the second game and is back now after returning from an ankle injury.

“They’re a very good basketball team,” Witt said. “Gieske is a very good player, gives them size and is just a solid senior for them. They’re a well-balanced team and disciplined. Our game plan will start with Gieske and then (junior guard Matt) Sieben and then (senior forward Luke) Tillotson. I think they have three guys who can score high-teens, into the 20s on a regular basis. Our game plan has to be centered around those three.”

This will be a new experience for a lot of these Alexandria players. Hoepner is the only one for the Cardinals who has played big minutes in a section semifinal game. Witt would not be surprised to see a few nerves early for his guys, but he expects them to settle in and play the kind of game he saw them play in the second half against the Storm.

“I like the way these guys compete, and they’ve played a lot of basketball,” Witt said. “I don’t think they’ll be phased by it.”    

ALEXANDRIA       28 40 - 68

SAUK RAPIDS     23 20 - 43

ALEXANDRIA TOTALS - FG - 24-46; Three-point FG - 8-19; FT - 12-19; Assists - 16; Rebounds - 26; Steals - 12; Turnovers - 9

ALEXANDRIA - Trey Hoepner - 14 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 3 steals; Cody Branson - 1 assist; Josh Wegner - 1 point, 1 block, 1 rebound, 1 steal; Carrson Jones - 11 points, 1 assist, 2 rebounds, 1 steal; Chance Thompson - 2 points, 1 rebound; Kristen Hoskins - 4 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals; Anders Hedstrom - 10 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals; Erik Hedstrom - 3 points, 1 assist; Colton Roderick - 6 points, assists, 1 block, 10 rebounds, 2 steals; Treyton Thompson - 17 points, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 4 rebounds, 1 steal