The Annandale boys basketball team went into the subsection finals facing the same team in the same playoff round at the same gym as it did one year earlier.
Brett Ahsenmacher made sure the result was different Tuesday night.
The senior guard finished with 29 points as the Cardinals knocked off St. Cloud Cathedral 84-74 in the North Subsection 6-2A finals at Dassel-Cokato High School.
Annandale’s victory avenged a 52-50 loss to Cathedral in the 2012 championship, also held at Dassel-Cokato.
“Last year, we shot awful (against Cathedral),” Ahsenmacher said. “Tonight, we knocked down shots all game, we hit free throws and that helped big-time.”
Annandale (19-9 overall) will face Mayer Lutheran in the Section 6-2A championship at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Halenbeck Hall. Cathedral finishes 22-7.
Ahsenmacher was the main reason the Cardinals were able to grab a six-point halftime lead, shooting 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half.
The Cardinals shot 8-for-16 on 3-pointers as a team in the first 18 minutes.
“We probably shoot 700-750 shots in practice every day and half of those are 3-pointers,” said Annandale coach Skip Dolan. “We’re married to the 3-pointer a little bit.”
Added Ahsenmacher: “We spend a lot of time shooting before practice starts and that came in handy. All of us are confident that we can knock down shots and tonight that showed.”
While the Cardinals seemed to hit everything behind the 3-point line in the first half, their success behind the free-throw line in the second half kept the Crusaders at bay after Annandale built a double-digit lead.
Annandale didn’t shoot a free throw in the first half but went 20-for-27 after halftime and hit nine in a row during one stretch. Ahsenmacher made 10 of 11 free throws.
The Cardinals shot 43 percent in their first 17 games this season.
“We made an honest commitment to get 60-70 free throws off in practice,” Dolan said. “We knew it would come down to free throws at some point in time.”
Only four of Annandale’s last 20 points came off field goals. One of those field goals was Matt Miller’s 1,000th career point that put Annandale up 69-59 with 3:17 left.
“That was a very happy moment,” Miller said. “It took a lot of hard work. It was really fun having all of my friends and teammates cheering for me.”
The Crusaders, who trailed by as many as 13 early in the second half, cut the deficit to six points after the midway point of the second half. Sophomore Brindley Theisen paced Cathedral with 34 points, including six 3-pointers.
“(Theisen) played outstanding for us tonight,” said Cathedral coach Matt Meyer. “He shoots it well, he always shoots it well and he’ll continue to get better.”
The Crusaders didn’t have their big guy, 7-footer Conor Voss, in the game for a long stretch after halftime. All eight of Voss’ points were two-handed dunks and the senior finished with three blocks.
“We had to sit (Voss) a little more in the second half because we were trying to get a different matchup,” Meyer said. “(Annandale) was pulling their big guys out to the perimeter and they were hitting shots.”
Tuesday’s win felt good for those on the Annandale side, considering the outcome of last year’s final in an identical setting exactly 364 days earlier.
“Last year was a horrible feeling,” Miller said. “I remember being in that locker room in the same building. It was the worst feeling in the world and then we lost to (Cathedral) again at the beginning of this year.
“It became our goal to get better and stronger each game and beat these guys tonight.”
ANNANDALE – Brett Ahsenmacher 29, Matt Miller 24, Andrew Fort 11, John Kalthoff 10, Brett Fobbe 5 (5 assists), Kyler Fobbe 5.
CATHEDRAL – Brindley Theisen 34, Brady Schmit 18, Jalen Braegelmann 8, Conor Voss 8, Steven Neutzling 6.
Halftime score: Annandale 34, Cathedral 28