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KMS has Call for success

Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg is 7-1 since return of senior Alex Call

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Alex Call of KMS moves through a field of defenders while taking on Central Minnesota Christian Feb. 8, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

KERKHOVEN — Head coach Matt Fragodt believed his Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg boys basketball team could be a tough opponent once its senior guard Alex Call, probably the team’s best player, returned to the lineup having healed from his partially torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury.

Without Call, KMS went 5-7. Now, with Call officially back in the lineup, the Saints have gone 7-1, having won seven straight games before losing to Central Minnesota Christian 63-47 on Tuesday to take an 11-8 overall record.

For the moment, Fragodt’s predictions seem to be correct.

“I think our confidence is building,” Fragodt said. “I feel like the kids feel like we can make a deep run.”

That same confidence is felt in Call.

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“I know we have a good team this year,” Call said. “We’ve been down the past couple years but all the guys are starting to play well together and it’s fun to get on winning streaks and play together.”

One could say Call’s return was worth the wait.

Patience and sophomores and key

Call’s injury occurred during 2021 football season.

“I don’t know when it was,” he said. “It was either between the end of September or early October, maybe.

“It happened in the fourth or fifth week,” he said. “When I got hurt, we didn’t go in for a couple weeks actually because I didn’t really think much of it. But then we went in and they thought I tore my meniscus initially so that’s just another waiting for surgery.”

Call was put in a brace and told to wait six weeks.

He waited one week before wanting to get it re-examined.

“I just didn’t feel right about (the diagnosis),” he said. “So then we went to the cities and saw a specialist.”

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It was then that he learned about the partial PCL tear.

“I partially tore it so I didn’t need surgery or anything,” he said. “I just basically had to wait and just do physical therapy.”

His estimated return was estimated for Jan. 20, in the middle of the basketball season.

Call said the wait was difficult.

“Especially when you can walk and jog and just have to sit there and watch or just do what you can to help,” he said. “Passing in drills or just becoming a little bit of a coach for a little bit. It was hard but it could have been a lot worse.”

The Saints found success in its core of sophomores, particularly 6-foot-3-inch starting forward Hunter Kallstrom, 6-6 reserve forward DeAndre Holloway and particularly Jared Cortez, the Saints’ starting 6-foot guard.

“I knew that with (Call) out there was a little bit of scoring gap and I was going to have to step up and score some points and knock down some shots for us to have a chance to win,” Cortez said. “ I feel like I did a pretty good job of that while he was out.”

Fragodt has been proud of his underclassmen’s production this season.

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“At the beginning of the season our seniors, even with Alex on the bench, they were our leaders,” he said. “ But our 10th graders fed off of those guys and you can see from the beginning with Hunter Kallstrom and DeAndre Holloway and Jared Cortez, they’ve grown a lot both offensively and defensively.”

While Call was recovering, Cortez described Call as being another coach on the bench. “He was constantly helping us out,” he said, “telling us what we needed to do. He just knows the game and helps us out. If you’re missing shots he’s just encouraging you to keep shooting and reminding you that you’re good and you belong out there.

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Jared Cortez of KMS drives the ball down the lane while taking on Central Minnesota Christian Feb. 8, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“I know a couple games I was struggling and he was telling me I was the best player out there and just helped keep our confidence up.”

This season is not Cortez’s first season of varsity basketball, having played varsity basketball for the Saints in the 2020-21 season.

“I think just having that experience has helped me out,” he said. “Knowing what to expect going into games and just being introduced to that bigger pressure and bigger crowds and better players. I think that has really helped out and just another year of getting older and getting more experience.”

The call to return

Call’s injury managed to heal a little quicker than anticipated but the team slowly brought him back into production, having him practice for a week and a half before getting into a basketball game.

Call warmed up with the team on Jan. 11 when the Saints defeated Benson 76-54, but he did not play. However, it was the beginning of the unbeknownst seven-game win streak.

Call made his official return to the court off the bench on Jan. 18 when the Saints defeated Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in Atwater.

“It caught up to me a little bit,” Call said. “I felt a little awkward and not quite up to speed. But it was really nice to be back out there with the guys and it was fun.”

With the return of a player after a lengthy time of being away comes the chemistry adjustment.

“Once Alex got back we kind of had to change a couple of things but we wanted to keep everything the same,” Fragodt said. “I think Alex has done a good job of kind of molding himself into the offense and trying to take over too much.”

Cortez believes Call’s return did not heavily strain the team’s active chemistry.

“I feel like it was a pretty easy adjustment,” he said. “We were able to get some chemistry back there in that week and a half of practice and we’ve just been playing together for a while so we kind of know what the other is going to do.

“There was a little bit of a curve there but I think we’ve gotten over that. I feel like we’re playing better now.”

This is how we roll

Nearly a month since Call’s return the Saints are sitting 7-1 having defeated Russell-Tyler-Ruthon (15-5) 61-59 on Feb. 4 and Lakeview (17-4) 78-57 on Jan. 31.

“It’s been really fun,” Cortez said. “We’ve been putting up a lot of points and have been playing really well. There’s just a lot of confidence being built and we know that we can play with anybody now.”

Despite the win streak ending against CMCS, both the players and coaches look at the silver lining rather than the overall outcome.

“It was really fun,” Call said. “I know the past couple years KMS hasn’t really been in a packed gym or anything like that. So that was really, really fun to have that many people there and when it’s loud it’s just really fun to have everyone there.”

Fragodt added: “That game against CMCS was a great experience for our boys to see that kind of atmosphere and that’s the way that it’s going to be in the playoffs this year.”

Job’s not finished

The confidence may be rising, but reaching the state tournament is never an easy task.

“I mean we would love to go to state,” Fragodt said. “I don’t know if we’re that kind of team right now, we still have a couple weeks to get there.

“We’re still taking it one game at a time. We have a couple of tough match-ups against some conference opponents coming up and we have a couple non-conference games left. We’re taking it one game at a time.”

Call, having now watched the team from a coach’s perspective and as an active player, gave his thoughts on what the Saints will need to do down the stretch to continue to be contenders.

“We’re going to have to keep pushing the ball,” he said. “When we play really well we have really good ball movement and guys are moving all over the court. Plus our defense has stepped up a ton lately. When you can get that good defense that leads into pushing the ball up the court and getting your post into the middle. It’s just easy baskets and quick baskets are what changes the game right there.”

KMS plays Ortonville at 3 p.m. Saturday at the University of Minnesota-Morris.

Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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