Boys basketball: Alexandria holds off Rocori in the Section 8AAA semifinals
Alexandria held off a comeback attempt from Rocori to earn a 69-57 win in the section semifinals. Alexandria is now set for a rematch in the Section 8AAA title game against the defending section champions, St. Cloud Tech.
ALEXANDRIA - In Friday's Section 8AAA Section semifinal game against the No. 4 seed Rocori, the top-seeded Alexandria Cardinals built a 20-point lead at halftime thanks to solid defense and big energy plays.
The Spartans didn't go down without a fight, as they made it a nine-point game with 12 and a half minutes left in the game.
The Cardinals weathered the storm and made the plays needed to win 69-57 and advance once again to the Section 8AAA title game.
"It's a game runs; it's playoff time, and all teams are going to give you their best shot," Alexandria junior Grayson Grove said. "Rocori is a very good team. They shoot the ball super well and have good guard play. So props to them; they were shooting the lights out for a bit of the game. That got them back in the game with us. But we came together, and we played good defense. And that's just what you got to do in this section."
Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said dribble drive penetration led to scoring chances for Rocori.
"In the second half, we didn't do a great job of containing the dribble, which created some open shots for them," Witt said. "They got some second chance opportunities because they got us out of rotation a few times. I think it started with the dribble drive, and we needed to contain that. They were much more assertive on that in the second half than they were in the first half."
Junior guard Bralyn Steffensmeier made some big shots in the game for the Cardinals as he finished with 18 points.
Witt said experience and leadership made a difference down the stretch for the Cardinals.
"You rely on your upperclassmen because they've been through situations like that," Witt said. "They're able to handle that, and I thought we handled it pretty well in stretches. We've got to be better for the duration of that eight-minute stretch where they picked up more pressure and got more aggressive with us. Rocori cut it down to single digits at a few points in the second half. They had all the momentum. We had a tough stretch where we didn't get the greatest of shots, missed free throws, and turned the ball over a few times. Then I thought our guys responded well. We had some timely stops and baskets, and then we hit a few free throws."
The Cardinals (23-4) and Spartans (18-10) met twice in the regular season, with the Cardinals winning 70-39 on Dec. 20, 2022, in Alexandria and 62-55 in Cold Spring on Feb. 14, 2023.
Alexandria held a 10-8 lead in the game's early stages and outscored Rocori 30-12 in the final 13 minutes of the first half.
The Cardinals built up their halftime lead thanks to hustle plays from players such as sophomore forward Chase Thompson.
"That was awesome," Grove said. "You gotta love when you have another big guy working hard. He just really gave us life. We wouldn't have made that run without him working as hard as he did for offensive rebounds. It's a huge part of the game, and he kept us ahead in that game."
Grove led all scorers on the night with 26 points.
"I come prepared a day before the game, especially at tournament time," Grove said. "There was tons of energy in the gym with a big student section, and that just makes it a little easier to play your best."
With this win, Alexandria faces the No. 2 seed St. Cloud Tech in the Section 8AAA Championship Game on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at Willmar High School at 7:30 p.m.
Cardinals set for rematch with St. Cloud Tech
For the fourth straight season, Alexandria has made it to the Section 8AAA title game.
Last season, St. Cloud Tech took home the section title with a 71-69 win over Alexandria.
With another crack at St. Cloud Tech (17-10) in this year's section title game, the Cardinals are hungry to get back to the state tournament.
"I'm so ready; I've been waiting for it," Grove said. "There's not much else to say, I guess. They got us on a buzzer-beater last year, which hurt a lot. We'll be ready."
St. Cloud Tech is the No. 2 seed in the section and defeated the No. 6 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice (11-16) in the section semifinals on Friday.
St. Cloud Tech led 51-34 midway through the second half, but Sauk Rapids-Rice made it a three-point game, 59-56, with 4:10 left in the game. St. Cloud Tech finished the game on an 11-0 run to earn a 70-56 win.
Alexandria aims to get its eighth state tournament appearance in program history, while St. Cloud Tech aims to get its 13th.
Alexandria and St. Cloud Tech faced each other twice in the regular season. Alexandria defeated St. Cloud Tech 81-66, on Dec. 16, 2022, on the road, but St. Cloud Tech topped Alexandria 67-57, in Alexandria, on Feb. 9, 2023.
"You've got to take care of the basketball because they're aggressive on-ball pressure," Witt said. "They get you sped up a little bit. You have to handle the ball; then you have to settle in and get into your offense with what you want to do and not let them dictate the tempo of the game and the shot selection you get."
Rocori - 20 37 - 57
Alexandria - 40 29 - 69
ROCORI SCORING - Jack Boos, 8; Thad Lieser, 7; Jack Spanier, 12; Andy Pedroza, 8; Eli Anderson, 19; Tyler Hibbison, 3
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Grayson Grove, 26; Chase Thompson, 10; Jaxon Schoenrock, 8; Bralyn Steffensmeier, 18; Mason Witt, 5; Dawson Roderick, 2