Boys basketball: Alexandria overwhelms St. Cloud Apollo in playoff opener
The top-seeded Cardinals didn't waste much time in their playoff game against St. Cloud Apollo on Tuesday, as they jumped out to a 52-10 lead at halftime in what ended up being a 54-point win.
ALEXANDRIA - It would've been easy for the top-seeded Alexandria boys basketball team to overlook a 1-win St. Cloud Apollo team in Tuesday's Section 8AAA quarterfinal game.
But that's not what the Cardinals did against the Eagles.
The Cardinals were locked in and focused from the get-go as they cruised to an 89-35 win and advanced to the section semifinals.
"My thought process is, 'It's March Madness, anything can happen,' and if you lose, you're done. So I didn't want to let this one slip away," senior guard Bralyn Steffensmeier said.
Alexandria (22-4), ranked No. 7 in the Class AAA Minnesota Basketball News poll, jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the first couple of minutes and never looked back. Alexandria led 52-10 at halftime.
"We did a very good job executing the game plan, which in the playoffs, that's an important piece of your game," Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. "I thought we did a very good job of adjusting and making some small little changes in our zone defense that really disrupted Apollo."
35 points are the second-fewest that the Cardinals have allowed this year.
Alexandria held Fergus Falls to 20 points in a 44-point win on Jan. 12, 2023.
"If you don't play defense, you're not winning," junior guard Dawson Roderick said.
"Our defense kind of gets our offense going, too," Steffensmeier said.
The Cardinals were in sync on offense as ten different players scored and 15 players played in the game.
"It was fun to be able to get multiple guys in," Witt said. "All those guys work hard in practice, and getting rewarded in a playoff game with some playing time is always fun to see."
Junior forward Grayson Grove led the Alexandria scoring with 18 points on Tuesday, while senior guard Jaxon Schoenrock had 15, Steffensmeier had 13, Roderick added 12, and freshman guard Mason Witt finished with 10.
The Eagles (1-24) were led in scoring by sophomore guard Azayah Washington, who had 24 points of their 35 points.
The Cardinals came into Tuesday's playoff opener with some momentum as they had won nine games in a row, including a nice 62-45 win on the road over Moorhead (19-8) on Feb. 28 and a 68-54 win at home over Brainerd (22-5) on Friday, March 3, to end the regular season.
"We needed to win those ones, and it felt good to win those," Steffensmeier said.
With Tuesday's win, Alexandria is now on a 10-game winning streak.
"We've been playing with good energy and have played good defense," Roderick said. "We've been playing hard defense instead of just letting them get easy buckets on us. We're doing the simple things right."
Alexandria now faces the No. 4 seed Rocori (18-9) on Friday at home at 7 p.m. Rocori beat the No. 5 seed Little Falls (14-13) 65-48 on Tuesday.
The Cardinals swept the Spartans in the regular season as they won 70-39 in Alexandria on Dec. 20, 2022, and 62-55 in Cold Spring on Feb. 14, 2023.
"We'll go back, watch our previous games, watch some of their recent games, and put together a game plan," Coach Witt said. "We have to execute and be solid, and we have to be sharp and execute what we want to do."
Alexandria beat Rocori 76-53 in the Section 8AAA semifinals last season.
Alexandria also was the No. 1 seed in last season's section playoffs and made it to the section title game but lost to St. Cloud Tech, 71-69.
This time, the Cardinals are looking to get back to the section title game and go further.
"We have to take things game-by-game, show up for practice, show up in the games, play our hearts out, and then let the rest be decided," Steffensmeier said.
On the other side of the bracket, the No. 6 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice (11-15) meets the No. 2 seed St. Cloud Tech (16-10) on Friday in the other Section 8AAA semifinal after upsetting the No. 3 seed Detroit Lakes (17-9) on Tuesday, 70-67.
The Section 8AAA Championship game is set for Thursday, March 16, 2023, at a site that has yet to be determined.
St. Cloud Apollo - 10 25 - 35
Alexandria - 52 37 - 89
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE SCORING - Azayah Washington, 24; Koryom Puoch, 7; Jupree Rogers, 3; Tristan Kowolski, 1
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Grayson Grove, 18, Chase Thompson, 6; Jaxon Schoenrock, 15; Bralyn Steffensmeier, 13; Bryce Paffrath, 4; Jacob Balcome, 4; Mason Gray, 4; Talan Witt, 3; Mason Witt, 10; Dawson Roderick, 12