Alexandria junior guard Myles Sansted has been the Cardinals’ three-point marksman off the bench all season long, so the ball couldn’t have ended up in better hands with Alexandria down one in the final seconds during Thursday’s Class AAA semifinals against Richfield.
The Spartans (16-5) led the Cardinals (22-1) for 27 minutes, 12 seconds of game time. Their biggest lead was 51-38 in the second half. Alexandria stormed back to stun Richfield in a 66-64 win that secured the Cardinals’ spot in the state championship game on Saturday night at 6 against top-ranked Minnehaha Academy back at the Target Center.
“The kids have to enjoy this. It doesn’t happen often,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “They certainly are enjoying it right now, as they should. They’ve had a fantastic season to this point, and we’ve got one more here to go.”
Sansted was fouled on a three-point attempt with almost 10 seconds left and his team down three. He sank the first two free throws before the Spartans called a timeout.
Sansted missed the third shot off the front iron. Alexandria’s Erik Hedstrom deflected the ball back toward the three-point line where Colton Roderick chased down the rebound.
Sansted slipped out to the left corner as Roderick was double teamed at the wing. Roderick found Sansted with the pass. Sansted rose up with no hesitation with his foot on the NBA three-point line as he drained the shot for the go-ahead bucket.
“It’s pretty crazy. Every kid dreams of it when they’re young, hitting a game winner like that,” Sansted said. “We honestly wanted to win by more and be in control of the game, but I’m just so thankful for this team and everybody who has helped me get to this moment.”
The Cardinals had to make one more stop after a timeout. Richfield’s Ryan Miles raced the ball up court and got a shot off from near the right wing that rattled out as Alexandria’s bench erupted.
Sansted immediately ran to the wall on the edge of the court behind the Cardinals’ bench. He pulled himself up onto a rail and pointed to his mom, dad and grandma in the stands around an Alexandria fan base that was still in a frenzy.
“My dad has been a coach my whole life,” Sansted said. “My mom and dad met coaching basketball, so basketball is just in my blood. I’m just really thankful for that and my family.”
Sansted had eight points, going 2-for-2 from beyond the arch. He said the timeout before the third free throw did not affect him. He just missed. Instead of hanging his head, he immediately found the open spot to make sure he got another chance.
“Off a free throw like that, it’s just really hard to match up,” Sansted said. “I went on instinct and went to the open spot...This time it was me, and the next time it might be someone else.”
Hedstrom hit big shots down the stretch and finished with 13 points. Roderick added 12 points and seven assists, and senior center Kobe Jenson was instrumental in battling a strong and athletic Richfield front line. Jenson had 15 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
“Kobe was huge with his scoring and just his physicality,” Witt said. “They were physical inside, probably more than we anticipated. They won the loose-ball battle. They had a lot of offensive rebounds, and Kobe was instrumental in just limiting some of those opportunities for Richfield. He came up with some big shots and some big offensive rebounds himself.”
There were moments in the second half when it looked like the Spartans would pull away. Star senior guard Lamar Grayson had 22 points, and four of those came during a 6-0 run for Richfield after Alexandria had cut its deficit to five with almost four minutes left.
Witt kept telling his guys in timeouts to keep chipping away. Hedstrom’s basket made it 61-57 with 1:55 left before Grayson made 1-of-2 free throws. Hedstrom sank two free throws on Alexandria’s next possession to cut it to 62-59.
Junior guard Carter Steffensmeier followed with the biggest steal of his career. He gathered up the ball and raced down court where he was fouled on his way in for the layup. Steffensmeier hit both free throws to make it 62-61 Richfield. Grayson hit two free throws of his own, but that just set the stage for Sansted’s heroics.
“They just didn’t quit,” Witt said. “We didn’t play particularly well. We turned the ball over a little too much that led to some run outs. We got beat on some loose balls and didn’t shoot well. A lot of that stuff has to do with Richfield, but we just kept talking at timeouts, ‘Let’s get it to six. Let’s get it to a two-possession game and see what happens.’ To the kids’ credit, that’s what they did.”
The Cardinals celebrated with a team meal after the game before heading back to Alexandria Thursday night. They won’t be there long before returning to the Target Center to play one of the best high school teams in the country in Minnehaha Academy on Saturday.
The Redhawks (19-1) beat DeLaSalle (15-6) 79-58 in the second game of the Class AAA semifinals. Their only loss is against IMG Academy, another dominant national program out of Florida, on Feb. 6.
Minnehaha features a loaded lineup of Division I recruits led by 7-foot center Chet Holmgren. Holmgren is the No. 1 rated player in the country for the 2021 class and is projected to be a top pick in the NBA draft in a couple of years.
“We obviously know their story and tradition and the players they got, but we got some pretty darn good players too,” Sansted said. “We’re just going to go out there and give it our best shot. We have practice (Friday) and we’ll work hard at it. Hopefully some shots will fall and some things will bounce our way and we can catch a win on Saturday night.”
Alexandria knows nothing will come easy against this Minnehaha team, but that’s to be expected. Nothing should come easy in a championship game.
The Cardinals are eager for this opportunity after a win they will never forget.
“We respect (Minnehaha Academy), but we’re not going to back down and roll over,” Witt said. “We have to have a good game plan and execute to give ourselves a chance. There’s always a chance with a team. We’re expecting to go in, make it a basketball game and see what happens.”
ALEXANDRIA 23 43 - 66
RICHFIELD 29 35 -64
TOTALS - Alexandria - FG - 25-58; Three-point FG - 6-22; FT - 10-14; Rebounds - 31; Turnovers - 11; Richfield - FG - 25-62; Three-point FG - 2-7; FT - 12-18; Rebounds - 44; Turnovers - 12
ALEXANDRIA -- Carter Steffensmeier - 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals; Wyatt Odland - 2 rebounds; Kristen Hoskins - 7 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists; Erik Hedstrom - 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 4 steals; Colton Roderick - 12 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 block, 2 steals; Myles Sansted - 8 points, 3 rebounds; Kobe Jenson - 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 5 blocks
RICHFIELD LEADERS - Lamar Grayson - 22 points; Mitchell January 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists; Jaden Wollmuth - 15 points, 12 rebounds