Alexandria’s Kristen Hoskins and Colton Roderick had quiet nights offensively as the Cardinals withstood a bit of a scare against eighth-seeded St. Cloud Tech in the playoff opener on March 19. There were no such issues on Tuesday night.

Hoskins and Roderick combined for 38 points, and this whole Alexandria team settled in and played the kind of basketball that helped it cruise through the regular season. It led to a 66-37 win over fifth-seeded St. Cloud Apollo (8-12) that sends the Cardinals to the section championship on Friday night on their home court.

“They got us last year, so this was a personal game for us,” Roderick said, referencing last year’s 72-70 win for St. Cloud Apollo in the section title game. “We just wanted to come after them right away, attack right from the start.”

Colton Roderick looks for an open teammate near the wing during Tuesday's Section 8-3A semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Colton Roderick looks for an open teammate near the wing during Tuesday's Section 8-3A semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The rivalry between these two programs was evident on Tuesday. There was some talking back and forth within the game, but there were also players from each team who were quick to embrace each other after the final buzzer sounded.

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“Them boys got fight,” Hoskins said of the Eagles. “The whole team loves playing against them. We know what they can bring to the table, especially during playoffs. They’re a really good team, and we matched them.”

Apollo got here by winning with a shot at the buzzer against fourth-seeded Detroit Lakes in its playoff opener. The Eagles carried that momentum into the opening minutes in Alexandria as they were within six at the half.

Alexandria senior Kobe Jenson makes a move in the lane during the Cardinals' win over St. Cloud Apollo in the section semifinals on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria senior Kobe Jenson makes a move in the lane during the Cardinals' win over St. Cloud Apollo in the section semifinals on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

It would have been three if not for Alexandria’s Myles Sansted draining a pull-up triple from the top of the key at the halftime buzzer. The Cardinals then outscored the Eagles 37-14 in the second half.

“We brought energy,” Roderick said. “We had subs coming in and putting in good work. We stopped their best players, and on offense we just started moving the ball and finding open shots. That’s really what got us there.”

Alexandria forced an Apollo timeout when Hoskins made a long pass to Sansted as Sansted got behind the defense for a layup and a 46-30 lead with 11:33 left.

A few possessions later, Hoskins found Sansted on the right wing for a three that felt like the knockout punch. Sansted broke into a big smile as Hoskins gave him a playful shove on their way down the court with the Alexandria crowd on their feet.

Alexandria's Kristen Hoskins races to a loose ball with St. Cloud Apollo's Azayah Washington on Tuesday night in the section semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Kristen Hoskins races to a loose ball with St. Cloud Apollo's Azayah Washington on Tuesday night in the section semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“I love seeing my teammates happy. If they’re not happy, I’m not happy,” Hoskins said of that moment. “I love seeing my players succeed. I try to contribute as much as possible, and I just love seeing them happy, man.”

Apollo had a hard time staying in front of Hoskins defensively, as he got all the way to the basket for a lot of easy layups. There are nights when the junior point guard gladly distributes more, but he was aggressive scoring the ball against the Eagles.

“I don’t want to rush anything,” Hoskins said. “I’m a playmaker, pass-first type of guy. If I got that look first, I got that look. If I go to the hoop, then that’s the look I got. I just go with the flow.”

Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt was proud of the Cardinals’ defense against St. Cloud Tech in the 55-43 win in the quarterfinals. A round later, Alexandria’s offense came to life, but it’s defense was equally as good as the Cardinals held an opponent in the 30s for the fourth time.

“That’s how I’ve grown up playing basketball. It’s been in the organization forever,” Roderick said of Alexandria leaning on its defense. “They’ve been teaching us it since we were young, and defense wins games. That’s what got us here.”

Roderick said it’s what needs to be the focal point in the most important game of the Cardinals’ season on Friday night. Alexandria plays second-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice (11-6) at home with an 8 p.m. start time after the Alexandria girls play Bemidji in their section title game at 5..

Alexandria's Erik Hedstrom (right) and Myles Sansted get in position for a rebound in the first half on Tuesday night against St. Cloud Apollo. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Erik Hedstrom (right) and Myles Sansted get in position for a rebound in the first half on Tuesday night against St. Cloud Apollo. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“We’re really locked in,” Roderick said. “We feel like this year is our year. This is probably one of the best teams that I’ve ever played with, so we’re ready to get it.”

The Cardinals beat Sauk Rapids-Rice 72-59 on Jan. 28 and 53-43 on March 1. One more win over the Storm will secure an eighth trip to the state tournament in program history and first since the 2014 season.

“We’re hungry,” Hoskins said. “We want to ball out, give it 100%. This group we have right now is very special, and I think we got it in us.”

ALEXANDRIA (19-1) 29 37 - 66

ST. CLOUD APOLLO (8-12) 23 14 - 37

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carter Steffensmeier - 6; Will Heydt - 2; Myles Sansted - 10; Wyatt Odland - 3; Kristen Hoskins - 20; Erik Hedstrom - 3; Zach Gundberg - 1; Tommy Nichols - 1; Colton Roderick - 18; Kobe Jenson - 2

ST. CLOUD APOLLO SCORING - Darien Lewis - 5; Azayah Washington - 4; Quamar Gresham - 11; Haykel Billow - 2; Tethloach Chuol - 1; Hassan Doumbia - 2; Thomas Diew - 11