Alexandria shows its growth by closing out a 10-win Brainerd team over the final few minutes
Freshman forward Hadley Thul had a game-high 21 points against the Warriors, including a couple of big buckets down the stretch to turn a tie game at 47 into a 57-49 win over the Warriors (10-3).
Alexandria girls basketball coach Wendy Kohler said after a win against Bemidji on Jan. 14 that youth should not be used as an excuse anymore for this year’s team due to the experience they have gained to this point of the season.
That was after the Cardinals beat the Lumberjacks by 20 points after they had lost to Bemidji by two just 10 days earlier.
Alexandria (6-7, 3-3 Central Lakes Conference) started four freshmen again on Thursday night with a 10-win Brainerd team in town. Those girls have a lot of games under their belts now, and they showed plenty of composure down the stretch in beating the Warriors (10-3, 6-1 CLC) by a 57-49 final.
“I definitely think they’re learning how to relax a little bit and have a little more composure,” Alexandria senior guard Tessa McGrane said of the young nucleus for the Cardinals. “The whole team is having more composure, and that brings that calm and collected feel on the court. That gives us more control in what we’re doing. We can get a lot more organized as a group too.”
Brainerd is in the midst of a good season where the Warriors are ranked 18th out of 64 Class 4A teams through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net. Their losses before Thursday came against fellow Class 4A programs in Moorhead (3-8) and Rogers (11-2).
“I think our team works super well together,” Alexandria freshman Hadley Thul said. “We’re finally ready and mentally prepared to get these wins and stay focused all game. I think on defense we’re staying locked in. In practice, we’re staying locked in and getting ready to play these good teams.”
Thursday’s game could have gotten away from the Cardinals after Brainerd rallied to take a 30-27 halftime lead. Alexandria led by 11 early, but the Warriors caught fire from three the rest of the half as they knocked down six triples before the break.
Emma Tautges had three of those, and Olivia Tautges added two more. The Cardinals held Emma Tautges without a point in the second half as they outscored the Warriors 30-19 over the final 18 minutes.
Alexandria freshman Chloe Scholl hit back-to-back threes from the left corner to give Alexandria a 47-45 lead with 5:50 left.
The Warriors tied the game at 47, but Thul scored back-to-back layups to make it 51-47 with almost 3 minutes left. The Cardinals never trailed again as Thul and McGrane combined to go 5-of-6 from the free-throw line over the final 1 minute, 37 seconds.
Thul finished with a game-high 21 points, and she credited her teammates for a lot of her success so far this season. The second of her key baskets late in the game came on a beautifully-placed pass from sophomore guard Elle Heydt from the left wing.
“I still get that freshman feel, kind of getting nervous right before games, but I know I can rely on my teammates,” Thul said. “They give me great passes. It’s really due to them that I can get those shots.”
Scholl, another freshman forward, joined Thul in double figures with 13. McGrane had 9 points, and freshman guard MaCee Linow had 8. Olivia Tautges led the Warriors with 17.
“Once we started managing the ball more it gave us a lot more control, and we could run our offense a lot more,” McGrane said. “Once we started connecting on defense, we locked in as a unit. We got a lot more stops and rebounds.”
The Cardinals have won back-to-back games to come within a win of .500 after going through a stretch where they lost four of five.
So many of those games could have gone either way with Alexandria falling by single digits this season to Hill-Murray (6-5), Willmar (9-6), St. Cloud (7-7), Cambridge-Isanti (9-3), Bemidji (4-7) and Hutchinson (10-5).
Four of those losses came in one possession games. It has helped this group learn how to play with each other on the varsity level, and McGrane is confident all of the close games against winning teams will be good for them in a little more than a month when the playoffs start.
“I definitely think we’ll be prepared due to the competition we’ve played,” McGrane said. “It’s good for us, and even though we’ve lost a few, it just makes us better in the end.”
The Cardinals are off until next Tuesday when they go to Sauk Rapids-Rice (3-10). That’s part of a three-game week against Section 8-3A opponents as Alexandria hosts Detroit Lakes (1-7) on Jan. 27 before going to Willmar on Jan. 28.
ALEXANDRIA 27 30 - 57
BRAINERD 30 19 - 49
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Tessa McGrane - 9; Hadley Thul - 21; Chloe Scholl - 13; MaCee Linow - 8; Allie Haabala - 4; Lilly Thul - 2
BRAINERD SCORING - Kate Stadum - 4; Myah Nelson - 3; Meghan Smith - 8; Mya Tautges - 8; Olivia Tautges - 17; Emma Tautges - 9