State boys basketball: Cardinals advance to semis with 76-70 win

State boys basketball: Cardinals advance to semis with 76-70 win

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State boys basketball: Cardinals advance to semis with 76-70 win

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MINNEAPOLIS

Everyone at Annandale had seen this before. This time, however, the stage was different and definitely more dramatic.

Against a familiar opponent on very different floor, Annandale earned its way into the state Class 2A semifinals for the second straight season.

The Cardinals beat New London-Spicer 76-70 Wednesday night at the Target Center.

It was top-seeded Annandale’s third straight win over the Wildcats this season, the other two coming in Wright County Conference play.

“We know each other really well,” said Annandale’s Chase Knickerbocker, a 6-foot-6 junior who had 23 points and nine rebounds. “It’s become a pretty good rivalry.”

Annandale plays Caledonia at 6 p.m. Friday at the Target Center in the state semifinals. Fourth-seeded Caledonia (27-2) beat fifth-seeded St. Paul Academy (20-8) 73-53 in Wednesday’s late game.

As it has throughout the playoffs, the Cardinals (24-6) trailed at halftime, this time 36-33. Annandale had deficits in Section 5-2A games with Braham, St. Cloud Cathedral and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted that it all eventually won.

No one in Cardinal red and white seems to know why. Senior post Matt Miller had an idea.

“I think we come out a little too intense at times,” said Miller, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Whatever the reason, the Cardinals seem to make up for it in the second half. This night, they kept their composure when New London-Spicer (19-11) threw a full-court press at them and came up with enough key plays down the stretch to win.

“Annandale certainly won this game; we didn’t lose it,” New London-Spicer head coach Chad Schmiesing said. “They out-played us, especially in a few cases in some key stretches.

“Their transition offense was fantastic.”

The Cardinals, of course, love to run, though that has taken a bit of a back seat at times this season because Annandale is a little bigger up front than most teams and perhaps not as deep as it was last season, when Brett Ahsenmacher, now at Wisconsin-River Falls, was running the show.

This season’s team centers its offense on Miller and fellow 6-3 post Andrew Fort (14 points, 11 rebounds).

When the Cardinals get really tough, however, is when Knickerbocker is hitting.

That’s something the 6-foot-6 junior wasn’t doing in the playoffs. Annandale head coach Skip Dolan calls him the best pure shooter in the state (in Class 2A). But his shots didn’t fall throughout the section tournament.

“It was nice to finally shoot well,” said Knickerbocker, who was 6-for-14 from the field and 4 of 7 from 3-point range. “I haven’t shot well the last three games.”

He said he did some extra shooting Sunday on his own with the help of his father, Todd.

“I got my confidence back,” Knickerbocker said. “It really helped.”

Dolan said it was all “between the ears.”

Miller was just happy to see his teammate shooting well.

“It’s good to have Chase full of confidence for the next two games,” Miller said. “We need him.

“He’s a big part of our offense. When he’s hitting his shoots, it’s hard to stop us.”

Annandale and New London-Spicer played hard and close throughout. There were 10 ties and seven lead changes. Shane Zilstra led the way. The 6-foot-4 junior forward had 17 points, including two dunks, and 11 rebounds.

The Wildcats got it to within 65-64 with 4:20 to go and had several chances to either go ahead or tie it after that. But there was either a big steal or a big defensive rebound by the Cardinals each time.

Adam Essler hit a three-pointer for New London-Spicer to cut the deficit to 69-67 with 3:15 to go. Then, John Vraa had a steal and the Wildcats had two cracks at the tying basket. But Miller came up with a rebound and hit Knickerbocker with an outlet pass.

Knickerbocker was quickly fouled and made a pair of free throws and the Cardinals built their lead from there.

Thoughts quickly turned to the semifinals.

“We’re hoping for a different result this time,” said Miller, who was a big part of Annandale’s third-place finish but 91-79 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Minnehaha Academy. “We don’t want to play Saturday for third.

“We want to play for the championship game.”

NEW LONDON-SPICER — Ryan Vraa 5 (5 assists, 3 steals), Adam Essler 15 (3 assists), Brett Olson 14 (5 rebounds), Tyson Gislason 2 (2 blocks), Shane Zylstra 17 (11 rebounds), Ethan Bohlsen 7 (11 rebounds), Jonny DeGeest 10. Totals: FG 29-64, FT 2-7, REB 37, PF 21, ASST 10, TO 13, BLK 3, STL 5.

ANNANDALE — Chase Knickerbocker 23 (9 rebounds), Kyler Fobbe 13 (4 assists), Tanner Olean 10, Andrew Fort 14 (11 rebounds), Matt Miller 16 (7 rebounds, 4 steals), Zach Kuefler 0, Riley Atkinson 0, Barrett Bataille. Totals: FG 26-52, FT 16-31, REB 36, PF 12, ASST 7, TO 13, BLK 2, STL 6.

Halftime score: New London-Spicer 36, Annandale 33.

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