UPDATE: Swansson looks ahead to Thursday's section championship game (W/VIDEO)It’s two down and one to go for the Royals’ pursuit of a state tournament berth.
By: Mike Longaecker, Woodbury Bulletin
Woodbury drops White Bear, faces Roseville Thursday
It’s two down and one to go for the Royals’ pursuit of a state tournament berth.
That effort continued Saturday, when Woodbury edged White Bear Lake 74-71 in the Section 4AAAA semifinals at East Ridge High School.
“We knew it was going to be a tough one,” Woodbury coach Scott Swansson said of the Bears, who advanced to the semifinal round with an upset win over Tartan. “White Bear scores a lot of points and they give us trouble.”
Standing between Woodbury and the state tournament is Suburban East Conference foe Roseville, who survived a close game Saturday against Mounds View. The Raiders won 61-59, setting up what will be the rubber match of the year for the two teams. The Royals won the first bout 89-75 in Roseville, while the Raiders got the upper hand in the second game, winning 77-76 at Woodbury.
The section final game will be 7 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at East Ridge.
Woodbury has five state tournament appearances. The last time the Royals reached state was 2007. Woodbury was the Class AA state champion in 1983.
If No. 2-seeded Woodbury is to make it past Roseville – the top-seeded team in the section tournament – it likely will require several elements to come together.
Swansson said Woodbury defenders will have to limit the ability for one player to dominate, as Roseville’s Logan Brown did in the last matchup. The guard drained three-pointer after three-pointer on his way to 35 points in the most recent match-up.
“We’ve just got to hope they don’t have that guy to do that to us again,” Swansson said, adding that the danger lies in Roseville’s multi-headed attack that – much like Woodbury – can generate scoring from any number of players.
In the teams’ first pairing of the year, Roseville’s Mack Johnson scored 29 in the losing effort.
Woodbury must also find a way to shore up its season long struggles from the free-throw line. In the White Bear Lake game, the Royals connected on just 10 of 22 free-throw opportunities.
Swansson said the team has kept a constant focus on free throws, so the struggles are “kind of a mystery.”
“We have some good shooters,” he said. “You’d think shooting a free throw would be a piece of cake.”
Woodbury’s inability to knock down free throws down the stretch against the Bears allowed the opponent to stay in the game until the final buzzer.
After gaining a 39-32 halftime lead, Woodbury extended the deficit to 10 points in the second half. The Royals saw the lead shrink to one later in the second half, but rebuilt the lead to nine points with just over a minute remaining.
White Bear chipped away at the lead, drawing the game to 73-71 with 32 seconds remaining. The Bears then began sending the Royals to the free throw line, where Woodbury sank just one of three in the closing seconds.
“We’ve just got to make them and we’ll be fine,” Swansson said.
He said another key to toppling the Raiders will be limiting second-chance scoring opportunities. That, Swansson said, will mean crashing the boards harder than Woodbury did against the Bears.
“I think we allowed a couple too many,” he said.
Against White Bear Lake, four Royals scored in double-figures. They were led by seniors Rickey Suggs and Ryan Fritze, both of whom scored 17 points.
Senior Connor McKeen recorded 13 on the night, while junior Renard Suggs added 11.
Woodbury gained the semifinals with a win Wednesday, March 7, over Stillwater in the quarterfinal round. The Royals, led by Rickey Suggs’ 25 points, cruised to a 78-56 win.
Eleven Royals recorded points against the Ponies, including Renard Suggs (13) and McKeen (9). Four players scored six points apiece for Woodbury: Robert Claypool, Fritze, Tyler Graves and Ben Rexroth.