The Alexandria boys basketball team had an eight-game winning streak snapped on Saturday night in the final game of the Breakdown Winter Lakes Classic at AAHS, but it came against one of the state’s best teams.
Delano is 17-2 now and ranked seventh in the Feb. 5 Class AAA polls through Minnesota Basketball News. The Tigers have a long and talented group, and they opened up a close game midway through the second half on the way to an 80-68 win.
“They’re a great team,” Alexandria sophomore forward Erik Hedstrom said. “We know them well, and we’re kind of sad that we lost, but I saw our guys hustling out there. I’m not disappointed. We take it as we can learn from this. They’re a great team, and we just want to learn from this opportunity.”
The Cardinals (15-5) played right with Delano through most of the night. Colton Roderick’s three at the buzzer pulled Alexandria to within 36-33 at the break.
Hedstrom hit one of his three triples on the night to give Alexandria a 53-52 lead with 8:45 left. It was still a Cardinals’ lead at 57-56, but that’s when the Tigers rattled off an 11-0 run that wasn’t halted until two Carrson Jones free throws. That made it a 67-59 Delano advantage with 3:30 left.
“I think we got caught a couple times in rotations in our zone where we had two to the basketball, a post and wing,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “They swung it two passes, and that guy was open as a result. I think there were two of those that we got caught on. In a game that’s tight like that, those are factors that are maybe going to decide the game, even if it’s at the six, seven-minute mark.”
Until Saturday, the Cardinals had not lost in nearly three weeks. That 8-0 stretch from Jan. 14 through Feb. 6 came with Alexandria cruising through every opponent by double digits.
“I think it’s been just playing as a team overall,” Hedstrom said of the key to that success. “When we’re out there playing as a team, we get the ball moving and we have a lot of weapons. We can run it up on teams.”
Hedstrom has been a big part of that. The sophomore forward has grown into being a vital piece of this team now more than halfway through the season after coming into the winter with little varsity experience. He had 19 points, including 11 in the first half.
“I’m very comfortable with this,” Hedstrom said. “My older brother, Anders, graduated last year, and he kind of taught me the ropes. I love playing out there with this team, and I’m never out there alone. We’ve got four other guys on the court who know how to play together.”
The Cardinals had four players in double figures. Sophomore guard Kristen Hoskins used his quickness to get to the basket for 20 points, while Jones had 13 and Roderick added 12.
Delano matched that kind of depth with all five of its scorers getting at least eight points. Terron O’Neill led all scorers with 24, and Trey Longstreet added 21.
Delano features a long starting lineup, with Longstreet, O’Neill, Keagan Smith, Jack Balsiger and Max Otto all measuring over 6-feet, 5-inches. Alexandria can’t match up with that size, so the Cardinals had to try to use their quickness to overcome it.
“We felt that our 1-2-2 (zone defense) was a little more advantageous for us,” Witt said. “In the second half, I thought we did a good job for a good 10-minute stretch where we forced some contested three-point shots. We just didn’t rebound as well as we needed to. They probably had 13, 14 offensive rebounds, so that was the one thing that was a little bit disappointing because we needed to secure the ball and not give a good team like that second possessions.”
That proved to be costly for the Cardinals, but Witt took a lot of positives from playing a team as good as Delano as well as they did.
“Delano is a very good basketball team,” he said. “One of the better AAA teams in the state, and we did play very well in stretches. Better than some games we’ve won, for sure. This one is going to help us more down the stretch than we maybe even know right now. You have to execute very well and do things the right way all the time against a team like Delano, and we did that for stretches tonight.”
Alexandria will have to turn around and do it again on Tuesday night when the Cardinals welcome in another good team. This time, it’s Section 8AAA and Central Lakes Conference rival St. Cloud Apollo coming to AAHS for a 7:15 tip.
The Eagles are 14-5 overall and 7-3 in the CLC. Alexandria is 10-2 in the conference and sitting atop the league, tied with Fergus Falls in the loss column, but a game up in the win column. Apollo lost four straight games from Jan. 23 through Feb. 1, but that was without some key contributors available. The Eagles figure to have a full squad coming into Alexandria.
“We got to take care of the basketball against Apollo,” Witt said. “They’re aggressive. They got a lot of guys who can score, good athletes and length inside. We just have to be sharp. We’re not going to change anything. We just need to be solid on both ends of the floor.”
ALEXANDRIA 33 35 - 68
DELANO 36 44 - 80
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carrson Jones - 13; Ethan Patience - 4; Kristen Hoskins - 20; Erik Hedstrom - 19; Colton Roderick - 12
DELANO SCORING - Trey Longstreet - 21; Keagan Smith - 16; Terron O’Neill - 24; Jack Balsiger - 8; Max Otto - 11