Boys basketball: St. Cloud Tech wins at the buzzer in a Section 8-3A title-game thriller against Alexandria
This group of Alexandria boys basketball players set a new standard for the Cardinals with 45 wins the last two seasons, back-to-back CLC titles and a runner-up finish at state in 2021. The relationships and memories made throughout that journey are what players say they will remember years from now after falling just short against a good Tigers team in Willmar on Thursday night.
Alexandria and St. Cloud Tech had played two games that ended in blowout wins for each program during the regular season, but neither team was going to run away on Thursday night. Not with a trip to the state tournament on the line.
Instead, these two programs gave fans as good of a basketball game as one will see. High energy. Big shots made back-and-forth almost the entire second half. The Section 8-3A championship in Willmar had it all down to the final second when St. Cloud Tech (19-9) won the game at the buzzer in a 71-69 final.
“There’s really nothing else like it,” Alexandria senior guard Myles Sansted said. “Section basketball, packed gym, loud as can be. It’s all you can ask for. It didn’t end up the way we wanted it to, but we worked our butts off, and that’s two (incredible) seasons we just had.”
Sansted, a player who has hit clutch shot after clutch the last two years, made a three with 19.7 seconds left that tied the game at 69.
After a timeout, St. Cloud Tech sophomore guard Tameron Ferguson fired a three from the left wing. The shot bounced off the front rim before multiple guys went for the rebound.
The ball deflected right into the arms of a wide open Devin Yeager who was standing under the basket. Yeager just beat the buzzer as his put-back layup sent the Tigers’ fan base storming onto the court as the Cardinals were left in disbelief.
“The ball just bounced their way,” Sansted said. “It bounced our way at the start of the game. At the end, it ended up being their way.”
Alexandria led by 15 points early when sophomore forward Grayson Grove hit a jumper to make it 24-9 with 9:07 left in the first half. The Tigers quickly whittled away from there.
Tigers’ senior guard Donald Ferguson was the catalyst. He had a game-high 26 points as he drained four threes, along with getting to the rim off the dribble.
Sansted found his brother, Peter Sansted, on a nice cut through the lane for a layup from Peter that gave the Cardinals a 65-64 lead with 2:20 left. Donald Ferguson came right back and hit a three from the left corner that put the Tigers back up by two.
“The biggest thing is not letting him get that first step on you,” Alexandria senior guard Carter Steffensmeier said of trying to slow down D. Ferguson. “If he gets that first step and you try to step in front of him, he’ll just step back and shoot it and make it 90% of the time. If you let him go past you, he’s going right to the rim. Props to that guy. He’s a really good ball player. I hope the best for him.”
Steffensmeier made one of two free throws in the final minute to cut Alexandria’s deficit to 67-66. The Tigers’ followed with two free throws from Garrisono Murray to make it 69-66.
That set up the game-tying three by Myles Sansted.
Sansted is as good of a late-game shooter as one will see at the high school level. He beat Richfield in the Class 3A state semifinals a year ago with a three in the final seconds that sent the Cardinals to the state title game.
On Thursday, he got the ball on the right wing and had just enough space to release a three over two defenders closing out on him. The ball hit nothing but net to tie the game with less than 20 seconds left.
“You just do it a million times. Then you do it the millionth-and-one time and hope it goes in,” Sansted said. “You just shoot the same shot every time, and either it goes in or it doesn’t. That one went in. Their buzzer beater for them, the shot went up, bounced their way and it went in. It’s really just basketball.”
The Cardinals had more than 20 turnovers when they lost to St. Cloud Tech in a 90-62 game on Feb. 28. It was a different story this time around as Alexandria handled the Tigers’ pressure much better behind the lead ball-handling of Steffensmeier and the Sansteds.
“The focal point all week was take care of the ball,” Steffensmeier said. “Be strong with it, and don’t turn the ball over. I think being able to clear things out and have that one-on-one matchup where we could just get the ball up the court helped a lot, rather than having them run two to the ball like they did last time.”
Steffensmeier played great in his final game in an Alexandria uniform by leading the team with 17 points. Myles Sansted had 13, while sophomore forward Grayson Grove added 16.
The Cardinals battled foul trouble throughout the night. Senior starters Erik Hedstrom and Zach Gundberg both fouled out late in the second half after the two had combined for 13 points. Peter Sansted had 4 points, and freshman Chase Thompson hit two big threes when the game was close for 6 points.
“I’m really confident in Alex producing good basketball teams (going forward),” Steffensmeier said. “We got coaches like (Tom) Miller, (Ty) Granning, (Nick) Jansen, Forrest (Witt). Those are great coaches, and then coming up we got Chase Thompson, Dawson (Roderick), my little brother Bralyn, Jaxon Schoenrock, Trevin (Hoepner). I think this team is going to be filled with a bunch of talent that definitely will be able to succeed in the next couple years.”
The group that is coming back saw exactly what it takes to be successful behind the leadership of a talented senior class. Steffensmeier, Myles and Peter Sansted, Turner Haar, Will Heydt, Wyatt Odland, Carson Froke, Hedstrom, Gundberg and Elijah Vanderveer made up a big senior class on this section-tournament roster.
Many of those guys were catalysts in helping this group of Alexandria players win back-to-back Central Lakes Conference titles for the first time in program history. They finished 23-6 this season. That’s a combined 45-8 record as primary players the last two years.
“The biggest thing is just being able to do this all with my best friends,” Steffensmeier said. “So many of these guys I got to play football with. We had an amazing run there. Last year being able to make it to the state championship. We fell short this year, but the biggest thing is just who we play with. I love these guys.”
A runner-up finish at state from 2021. The 45 wins, and the excitement that came along with those wins. Those are memories these players left with Alexandria basketball fans.
The practices. The bus rides. The day-to-day journey of the last two seasons. Those are the memories these players could lean on even after a heartbreaking end to that journey in the section championship game.
“We got to remember that it’s all for fun,” Myles Sansted said. “High school seems like such a long journey when you’re a 6th-grader, but it goes by in the blink of an eye. It’s about enjoying every day with your best friends being able to play a sport you love. That’s what I’m going to take away. That’s what I’m going to remember 20 years from now. I won’t remember how many points I scored or how many mistakes I made in a game. I’m just going to remember that I was able to go be with my friends each and every day.”
ALEXANDRIA 33 36 - 69
ST. CLOUD TECH 31 40 - 71
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carter Steffensmeier - 17; Myles Sansted - 13; Peter Sansted - 4; Erik Hedstrom - 6; Zach Gundberg - 7; Grayson Grove - 16; Chase Thompson - 6
ST. CLOUD TECH SCORING - Devin Yeager - 8; Tameron Ferguson - 12; Garrisono Murray - 15; Dontae Horshaw - 6; Donald Ferguson - 26; Jayln Simmons - 4