OAK PARK HEIGHTS — The seven-game winning streak to close out the regular season is gratifying, but Stillwater boys’ basketball coach Randy Jordan and the Ponies are not looking back.
Stillwater used a balanced effort while celebrating Senior Night with a 64-59 Suburban East Conference victory over Cretin-Derham Hall at Stillwater Area High School.
“It doesn’t matter what we’ve done now, we start over tomorrow and it comes down to one game at a time,” Ponies coach Randy Jordan said. “I told them we’re three games away from probably one of the most memorable moments you’ve ever had. We’re just going to take it one game at a time.”
The Ponies finished the regular season with a 20-6 record, including 13-5 to place third in the conference standings behind Woodbury (15-3, 22-4) and Roseville (15-3, 21-5).
Seedings for the Section 4AAAA tournament were announced on Saturday and the Ponies received the No. 4 seed to earn a home game against fifth-seeded White Bear Lake, which swept Stillwater during the regular season. The top three seeds as voted by the section coaches are Roseville, Woodbury and Tartan (22-4).
It was an inauspicious start for the Ponies on Friday when a pregame dunk resulted in a technical foul and two free throws and the ball to start the game for Cretin-Derham Hall. Senior Joe Quinn was not the guilty party in warm-ups, but he provided some plays for the highlight reel while dropping in a game-high 19 points — including two dunks — for Stillwater, which outscored the Raiders 14-7 in the last five minutes of the game to pull away.
“It just seems like he’s gotten better every game, especially in the last month,” Jordan said of Quinn. “He’s just raised his play to the next level. He’s done that few times this year, he gets off quick and he gets up high and he’s got long arms.”
The youthful Raiders (9-9, 13-13) used a 12-3 run early in the first half to grab a four-point lead, but Stillwater responded by outscoring the Raiders 22-10 over the final 10 minutes to carry a 34-26 lead into the intermission.
“It was really a game of spurts,” Jordan said. “We’d get ahead and they’d come back and go ahead and we’d take the lead again. I just thought we had some letdowns at times, but I thought the kids really responded well when they did get behind.”
Stevie Moman and Sam Neumann each hit 3-pointers early in the second half and the Raiders used an 11-2 surge to grab a 52-50 lead with five minutes remaining. But that’s when Stillwater’s senior leadership paid off against a team that received 39 of its 59 points from sophomores and 17 more from two juniors — the Raiders did not receive a point from any of the three seniors on the roster.
Andrew Duxbury, who finished with 14 points, scored on a driving lay-up to tie the game and spark a 14-7 run to close out the game. Joe Quinn soared through traffic to score on an offensive rebound and Aaron Romportl finished a steal and lay-up to provide a 56-50 Stillwater lead with 3:40 remaining.
“It just seems like it’s a different person each time,” Jordan said. “Whichever part of the game it is, we’ve had a lot of guys step up. I think it’s our senior leadership, I mean, our seniors are pretty focused on winning. When the game gets tough down the stretch they seem to know what to do. (The Raiders) are very young. They played a lot of sophomores so they’re going to be tough to be reckoned with the next couple of years.”
George Hottinger stopped the bleeding momentarily with a 3-pointer to close within 56-55, but Stillwater scored its last eight points at the free throw line to preserve the lead and sweep the season series.
Stillwater, Romportl and Sam Lagus in particular, helped limit Cretin-Derham Hall’s Joe Rosga and Neumann to a combined 23 points, which is nearly half their season average.
“I can’t say enough about their defense, it’s been there all year,” Jordan said. “I don’t know how many points (Rosga and Neumann) got tonight, but those two are averaging about 40 points a game, or close to it.”
The Ponies are hoping to carry the momentum from a seven-game winning streak into the section playoffs. Placing behind only state-ranked Woodbury and Roseville — teams Stillwater defeated by 17 and 16 points to split with during the regular season — in the conference is a strong showing.
And though the focus has shifted to the postseason, Jordan did reflect briefly on what has occurred to make the Ponies legitimate contenders in the section.
“It’s been very successful, the kids have really responded.” Jordan said. “I think we lost some games we shouldn’t have, but I thought the kids responded well and won some big basketball games against some good quality teams.
“I’ve been coaching, this is my 32nd year, and they’re definitely one of my top groups of seniors as far as being enjoyable and they’re great kids. They’re not only good basketball players, but they’re great students and great people.”
C-D Hall 26 33 — 59
Stillwater 34 30 — 64
Cretin-Derham Hall (pts): Brian Lankford-Johnson 3, Joe Rosga 9, Jashon Cornell 11, Sam Neumann 14, George Hottinger 11, Stevie Moman 6 and Francis Delaney 5.
Stillwater: Sam Lagus 4, Aaron Romportl 11, Andrew Duxbury 14, Tony Lennox 11, Joe Quinn 19, Matt Anderson 1, Chad Schlosser 2 and Joel Malwitz 2.
3-pointers: C-DH (8): Moman 2, Neumann 3, Hottinger 2 and Delaney; St (5): Romportl, Quinn and Lennox 3.
Free throws: C-DH, 9-12; St, 13-18.
Fouls: C-DH, 17; St, 10.
Fouled out: None.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com