WOODBURY — Seeking its first trip to the state tournament since 2005, the Stillwater boys’ basketball team was stopped short on Wednesday by a Woodbury team that will make its second consecutive appearance following a hard-fought 52-44 victory in the Section 4AAAA finals at East Ridge High School.
The second-seeded Royals (25-4) rode senior Renard Suggs and junior Matt Ambriz, who combined for 37 of the team’s points to ensure a section title to go along with the previously awarded Suburban East Conference championship. The loss snapped a nine-game winning streak for the No. 4-seeded Ponies (22-7), who have had their season ended by Woodbury in the section tournament four of the last six years, including each of the last two seasons.
“I just told them it was a good run. I told them to keep their heads high,” Stillwater coach Randy Jordan said. “They’re a great bunch of guys and they worked very hard in the offseason. I thought we showed good improvement throughout the year, we just came up a little short.
A year ago it was Rickey Suggs who scored 25 points when Woodbury eliminated the Ponies and this year it was Renard who carried that torch while knocking down five 3-pointers and finishing with a game-high 21 points. Suggs hit three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game and also sparked the Royals with two more threes and a total of eight points during an 12-3 run to start the second half.
“I thought Suggs came to play. He’s a good player,” Jordan said. “His brother beat us last year and he came out and played an excellent game. He played much better tonight than he did the first two times we played them.”
Ambriz also did his part for the Royals, especially in the first half. Stillwater used a 10-0 run — receiving points from all five starters — to build a 17-13 lead with six minutes remaining in the first half, but Ambriz caught fire while scoring 10 of his 16 points, including two 3-pointers, in the last six minutes of the half as Woodbury regained a 27-23 advantage at the break.
“Those are the two guys we didn’t want touching the ball and scoring and they had 23 of 27 points at halftime,” Jordan said. “They were tough shots, I mean, they made some good shots, but still I thought we were giving them too much space. I thought the kids did a better job of adjusting to that in the second.”
The Ponies answered Woodbury’s early second-half surge with a 9-0 run to pull within 39-35 with 9:13 remaining. Neither team scored in the next five minutes before Diallo Powell broke the drought with 4:18 remaining.
Joe Quinn scored consecutive baskets as Stillwater pulled within 43-39, but that was as close as the Ponies got as Woodbury reeled off the next six points to take a 49-39 lead with a minute remaining.
“It was just a game of spurts,” Jordan said. “We came back and went ahead, then they went ahead. It was definitely a game of spurts and the second half we just couldn’t get a run together.”
Andrew Duxbury led the balanced Ponies with 11 points while Quinn and Matt Anderson added eight points apiece.
The Ponies struggled to solve Woodbury’s variety of zone defenses, starting late in the first half and continuing into the second half.
“Defensively, I was very happy, offensively we just didn’t do what we needed to do,” Jordan said. “I thought we had some good looks, we just didn’t go down and penetrate the gaps like we should have and attack the paint.”
This year’s seniors came in with Jordan for the start of his tenure in Stillwater and it was disappointing to go out one game short of the state tournament. The Ponies have captured just one title in their last five trips to the section finals.
”They were just a very enjoyable group to work with, good students and good character. They spent a lot of time in the gym the last three years and it paid off for them, we just came up a little short. The younger guys have to learn from this and hopefully learn some things from the seniors about what it takes to compete at this level.”
Stillwater 23 21 — 44
Woodbury 27 25 — 52
Stillwater (pts): Sam Lagus 6, Aaron Romportl 7, Andrew Duxbury 11, Tony Lennox 3, Joe Quinn 8, Matt Anderson 8 and Chad Schlosser 1.
Woodbury: Renard Suggs 21, Robert Claypool 4, Matt Ambriz 16, Diallo Powell 7 and Mario Franco 4.
3-pointers: St (4): Lagus 2, Lennox, Duxbury; Wo (7): Suggs 5 and Ambriz 2.
Free throws: St, 12-16; Wo, 11-12.
Fouls: St, 12; Wo, 13.
Fouled out: None.
Roseville 86, N. St. Paul 45
Stillwater 56, WB Lake 41
Mahtomedi 69, Tartan 55
Woodbury 83, M. View 63
Stillwater 78, Roseville 65
Woodbury 91, Mahtomedi 85
Woodbury 52, Stillwater 44
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com