Boys basketball: Key second half run punches Alexandria's ticket to the state tournament
Alexandria was held to 18 points in the first half, but a 38-point second half and strong defense gave Alexandria its second section title in three years. Alexandria is now headed to the Class AAA State Tournament.
WILLMAR - The Alexandria boys basketball team found itself in a 23-18 hole at halftime against the St. Cloud Tech Tigers in the Section 8AAA Championship game on Wednesday in Willmar.
But starting with a 9-0 run in the first 4:55 of the second half, the top-seeded Cardinals flipped the momentum of the game and have now earned a trip to the state tournament after earning a 56-44 win in the section title game.
"They're a good group of kids who have worked hard all year," Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. "We've battled through some ups and downs over the course of the season, but they stayed the course. We've had multiple guys step up on different occasions in different situations and just happy for them when the opportunity to compete in the state tournament."
Alexandria's last run to the state tournament finished with a state title game appearance. Now the team is excited to be headed back to the state tournament.
For Alexandria, this section title win is sweeter after what happened last season.
St. Cloud Tech beat Alexandria, 71-69, in the section title game off a buzzer-beater.
This time around, Alexandria got its revenge and is headed to the state tournament for the eighth time in program history and the second time in three years.
"It feels good to beat them," Witt said. "Obviously, they beat us in a close game last year. I'm happy for this group and all the work that they put in. I was proud of their ability to persevere through a poor half offensively and to come out better in the second half while keeping their defensive energy."
Witt said that the team came out in Wednesday's game a bit tight in the first half.
"We were tight in the first half," Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. "We had some good looks at the basket, but we just couldn't convert. We just got some shots to go, and that loosened us up quite a bit."
Witt's message to the team at halftime was simple, just play ball.
"I told them, 'just play and attack their pressure,'" Witt said. "You can't be afraid to make a mistake. You've got to attack pressure with pressure, and then again, big opportunities that are there. We had to be a little bit more fearless than we were in the first half, and we were. I thought our kids regrouped in the second half and played with more confidence on the offensive end."
The Cardinals outscored the Tigers 38-21 in the second half to seal the win.
"Our played crowd played a big part in the game, especially during that run in the second half," Witt said. "It was definitely a big boost for our team."
Alexandria set the tone defensively early on Wednesday as it held St. Cloud Tech to three points in the first eight minutes of the game, but the Tigers, who were the No. 2 seed in the section, made the adjustments needed to take the lead at the halftime.
"I thought defensively we were very good throughout the first half, and I thought we'd had just a few breakdowns," Witt said. "In the second half, our defense remained solid throughout."
However, Alexandria got going offensively in the second half and did what it needed to do, in order to win the section title.
Junior forward Grayson Grove led Alexandria's offense with 17 points, while sophomore forward Chase Thompson added 12, along with senior guard Jaxon Schoenrock's nine.
12 of Grove's 17 points came in the second half, while Thompson scored nine in the second half, and Schoenrock did as well.
The Cardinals played a clean game defensively, as they only committed seven fouls the entire night.
The MSHSL Class AAA State Tournament runs from March 21-25, 2023, at different locations in the Twin Cities.
Alexandria plays in a quarterfinals game on Tuesday, March 21, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis against an opponent that has yet to be determined at a time that is yet to be determined.
Alexandria heads into the state tournament with a 24-4 record and a 12-game winning streak.
The Cardinals were ranked No. 6 in the Class AAA QRF rankings on Minnesota-scores.net, coming into the night, and were ranked No. 7 in the final Class AAA rankings in the Minnesota Basketball News Poll (March 8).
St. Cloud Tech - 23 21 - 44
Alexandria - 18 38 - 56
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Grayson Grove, 17; Chase Thompson, 12; Jaxon Schoenrock, 9; Bralyn Steffensmeier, 6; Jacob Balcome, 5; Mason Witt, 5; Dawson Roderick, 2