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Tied at the half, Alexandria boys storm past Sauk Rapids after the break in a 20-point win

Alexandria senior forward Zach Gundberg provided a spark defensively off the bench, and the Cardinals were too much over the course of 36 minutes for a Storm team that could be one of the top competitors for Alexandria in the Section 8-3A field.

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Alexandria's Erik Hedstrom puts up three fingers to fire up the Cardinals' student section after his made three midway through the second half extended Alexandria's lead to 40-26 over the Storm. The two teams were tied at halftime, but the Cardinals improved to 2-0 with the Section 8-3A and Central Lakes Conference win. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria boys basketball coach Forrest Witt said before the season started that Sauk Rapids-Rice looks like one of the top contenders with the Cardinals in the Section 8-3A field.

In the first matchup between the two teams on Thursday, the Storm were tied at the half against an Alexandria team that scored 93 points and won by 40 in the season opener at Detroit Lakes on Dec. 7. The Cardinals jumped out to a 10-0 lead on Thursday, but Sauk Rapids-Rice sat back in a zone defense and slowed Alexandria’s offense the rest of that first half.

It was 23-23 at the break. The Cardinals attacked things more aggressively in the second half as they pulled away for a 58-38 win to improve to 2-0.

“At halftime, we just calmed ourselves down,” Alexandria senior guard Myles Sansted said. “We were a little frustrated with ourselves. We were just throwing the ball over the top, and in the second half the adjustment we made was we made sure we could zip our passes and just take better angles. There was one play where we zipped a pass, got a post touch and I think Wyatt (Odland) hit a big three there. We have to zip the ball around and that’s how we get the zone moving and break it down. Then we get driving lanes for Kristen (Hoskins) and it’s easier for Erik (Hedstrom) and Grayson (Grove) to get post touches.”

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Alexandria senior guard Myles Sansted pressures Sauk Rapids-Rice's Elijah Moilanen during the Section 8-3A and Central Lakes Conference matchup on Dec. 9, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Sansted shot over 40% from the three-point line last season, and he hit three triples against the Storm on the way to 11 points. His second and third threes were the first two field goals Alexandria made after halftime as he gave the Cardinals a quick six-point lead that they never gave up.

“We were just trying to get the best shots possible, and if it’s a great shot I’m going to take it,” Sansted said. “I feel like we kind of settled there toward the end of the first half. In the second half, we got a great shot almost every possession. If you get great shots, the majority of them are going to fall.”

Alexandria had three players in double figures with Hedstrom leading the way with 15 and Hoskins adding 11. Hedstrom got the crowd going with a three from the right wing that made it a 40-26 lead with 11:30 left. Grove, a 6-foot, 8-inch sophomore forward, also had 8 points.

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Alexandria senior guard Kristen Hoskins floats to the basket for a layup in the first half against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Dec. 9, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Scoring won’t often be a problem for this team this year, but Sansted credits the defense for a lot of how the Cardinals can quickly turn a tie at halftime into a 20-point win.

“It doesn’t snowball without defense,” Sansted said. “Every time you get that defensive stop, if you get a quick transition layup with Kristen sprinting down the court or somebody hitting a three in transition, that’s huge. It’s just a crusher (on opponents) if you can get three stops in a row. The Minnesota men’s basketball team calls it a kill. Whichever team gets the most kills typically wins, so we just try to get as many kills as we can.”

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Senior forward Zach Gundberg led that defensive effort in the second half. He came in with the game still within reach for the Storm and pressured the ball all over the court in the Cardinals’ full-court press.

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Alexandria senior forward Zach Gundberg forces a turnover early in the second half against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Dec. 9, 2021. Gundberg came off the bench to provide a defensive spark for the Cardinals that helped them stretch their lead out against the Storm. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“Forrest always talks about all year how everyone has a role on the team,” Gundberg said. “I think that’s kind of been my role last year and probably will be this year, just going in and creating some chaos.”

Gundberg also added 6 points, and his defensive pressure helped to force multiple Sauk Rapids-Rice turnovers while energizing his Alexandria teammates. At 6-feet, 4-inches with the speed to keep up with many opposing guards, he looks like the type of player off the bench that could make the Cardinals all the tougher to beat against a lot of teams.

“That’s the goal,” Gundberg said. “I want to help the team win.”

Gundberg added that it was good for the Cardinals to get tested for a half and then show they could respond with their backs up against the wall a bit in the second half.

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Alexandria sophomore forward Grayson Grove gets a clean block near the basket against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Dec. 9, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Cardinals, ranked as the No. 4 Class AAA team in state in the initial Minnesota Basketball News polls, now turn their attention to a big game on a neutral court this weekend. Alexandria will go to Hopkins High School for the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic to face 10th-ranked Austin at 1:45 p.m.

Austin went 17-3 a year ago. The Packers are 1-0 after beating Mankato East 62-43 on Dec. 7. It’s a big early-season test between two of the top Class AAA programs in Minnesota right now.

“It should be great,” Sansted said. “They’re super tall and lengthy. They play that 31 zone really well, so we need to get back at it in practice and rest our bodies as much as we can so we can go back and get another one at 1:45 on Saturday.”

ALEXANDRIA 23 35 - 58

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE 23 15 - 38

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Myles Sansted - 11; Wyatt Odland - 5; Kristen Hoskins - 11; Erik Hedstrom - 15; Zach Gundberg - 6; Grayson Grove - 8; Carter Steffensmeier - 2

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE SCORING - Elijah Moilanen - 12; Hudson Omoke - 17; Bryce Lund - 1; Jayce Walrath - 5; Mason Rudolph - 3

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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