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BOYS BASKETBALL: Cardinals win chaotic installment of Bemidji-Alexandria rivalry

The Bemidji-Alexandria rivalry reared its head again on Tuesday at the BHS Gymnasium, where the Cardinals snuck out a chaotic 68-65 win over the Lumberjacks.

021222.S.BP.BHSBBB Isaac Severts.jpg
Bemidji junior Isaac Severts (15) scores in the second half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- There’s never been any love lost between Bemidji and Alexandria.

The rivalry reared its head again on Tuesday at the BHS Gymnasium, where the Cardinals snuck out a chaotic 68-65 win over the Lumberjacks boys basketball team.

“It’s a tremendous rivalry,” Bemidji head coach Steve Thompson said. “Both schools have good programs in a lot of sports. We see them year-round. It’s always a dogfight, regardless of sport, and it was again here tonight on the basketball court.”

Tuesday’s installment was a physical, down-to-the-wire affair. The full-out efforts played out for all 36 minutes and even extended into the stands, where rowdy crowds of blue and red did all they could to will their side to victory.

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Bemidji senior Khai Branham (43) is praised during a timeout after sinking a 3-pointer late in the second half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

“Both teams wanted it really bad,” Thompson said. “Diving on the floor, taking charges, getting after all loose balls -- both teams wanted it. Everybody who was here got to watch that.”

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BHS (8-5) nearly erased a 64-57 deficit in the final 1:30 of the night, as Isaac Severts and Khai Branham combined for eight points, but Alexandria countered with a Grayson Grove dunk and a Peter Sansted layup to maintain a three-point lead.

Branham’s 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 66-65 with 33 seconds left until Sansted answered with his layup on the press break. The Jacks still had a chance for the tie, but the offense got clogged up and couldn’t muster up a good look before the buzzer sounded.

“The boys did a pretty good job for the most part of clawing back into it, making shots and defending the way we needed to defend,” Thompson said. “We just weren’t able to quite finish at the end.”

The Cardinals (15-4) staged their own comeback midway through the second half. After Bemidji went into halftime ahead 29-26, overflowing intensity evolved into a downright wild second half.

Branham converted on a hook shot with 14:12 left to stretch the lead to double-digits at 39-29. Not long after, however, Alexandria needed just 68 seconds for a 9-0 run that stole back the lead at 47-46.

Severts responded with an alley-oop slam off Sam Wilson’s deep feed -- the duo’s first of two such connections in the half -- but it wasn’t enough to quiet the road crowd for long.

021222.S.BP.BHSBBB Khai Branham.jpg
Bemidji senior Khai Branham (43) scores in the first half against Alexandria on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, at Bemidji High School.
Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer

Sansted answered back with a three, assuming a 50-48 lead with 7:19 left, and Alexandria never trailed again.

BHS found scores down the stretch, but they often weren’t combined with critical stops necessary to stage a full rally. Although the Lumberjacks came within one point in the final minute, the defending Class 3A runner-ups proved they were still game for the big stage.

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“We played very well against a really good team,” Thompson said. “When you’re one possession away from a team that has a shot of getting to the state tournament, you know how good you are.”

Severts finished with 33 points in a monster effort, while Ethan Biehn, Gavin Luksik and Branham all added nine apiece.

Erik Hedstrom (16 points), Grove (15) and Sansted (14) poured in double figures for the Cardinals.

Bemidji will look to bounce back at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 12, in a road tilt against Fergus Falls.

Alexandria 68, Bemidji 65

ALX 26 42 -- 68

BHS 29 36 -- 65

ALEXANDRIA (15-4) -- Hedstrom 16, Grove 15, P. Sansted 14, Gundberg 7, M. Sansted 7, Steffensmeier 6, Vanderveer 3.

BEMIDJI (8-4) -- Severts 33, Biehn 9, Branham 9, Luksik 9, Wilson 5.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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