State-bound: Woodbury tops Stillwater in section championship
Woodbury built a solid lead and never looked back Wednesday on the way to its second consecutive trip to state, winning 52-44 over Stillwater in the Section 4AAAA championship.
"I couldn't ask for anything better," senior Woodbury forward Mario Franco said after the game.
The win sends the Royals to the 4A State Basketball Tournament, which begins Wednesday, March 20, at Target Center.
Senior guard Renard Suggs led the way for Woodbury in the win with 21 points, including five 3-pointers. With one game of state tournament experience under his belt from 2012, Suggs said the team is confident heading in.
"We know how to play in the Target Center and we know how to win," he said. "I feel that we can play with anyone in the state."
Stillwater started with an early lead that began to crumble after junior guard Matt Ambriz got hot late in the first half.
He forced a steal and drove to the hoop, where he was fouled. After making both free throws, putting Woodbury up 20-19, he drained a 3-pointer three plays later with 1:40 left in the half - the final bucket in the first frame - to give the Royals a 27-23 halftime lead.
Suggs and Ambriz, who finished with 16 points in the game, came out firing in the second half; a Suggs 3-pointer gave the Royals their largest lead at 39-26.
"We had to outrun them a lot," said senior Diallo Powell, who finished with seven points.
The Ponies executed its patient, deliberate offensive attack that drew the game to within four with about two minutes remaining, but it was as close as Stillwater would get.
Woodbury's Rob Claypool, Powell, Franco and Ambriz all sank clutch free throws in the closing minute to help seal the game for Woodbury.
The win was less of a nail biter than Woodbury coach Scott Swansson experienced a year ago, when his Royals fended off Roseville in an overtime section championship game - a win he called "surreal."
He said the experience of playing in last year's tournament raises expectations now for Woodbury.
"It gives us a little bit of confidence that we can play with the big boys instead of just being happy to be there," he said.
Senior guard Rob Claypool agreed.
"I feel like we can go a little bit farther (at state)," he said. "I'm happy to come here again as a senior."
For Powell, the state berth is reward for long hours of hard work in the gym.
"I'm on top of the world right now," he said.