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Raptors escape Royals

East Ridge's Zach Zebrowski goes in for a layup against the Woodbury Royals Saturday night in Hastings. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 6
Woodbury's David Alston goes up for two early in the first half at Hastings as East Ridge's Courtney Brown Jr. comes up to guard the shot. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 6
Woodbury all-star guard Michael Jones goes to the basket hard in the second half against East Ridge. Jones scored 31 points in his final game for the Royals. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 6
Woodbury's Michael Jones and East Ridge's Zach Zebrowski battle for a loose ball in the second half of the team's section battle Saturday night in Hastings. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 6
East Ridge's Ben Carlson tries to suppress a grin following the Raptors' 49-48 win over the Woodbury Royals in the Section 4AAAA semifinals Saturday night in Hastings. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 6
Raysean Treadwell of Woodbury soars to the basket in the second half against East Ridge. John Molene / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 6

HASTINGS — In a game that more than lived up to pre-game hype, East Ridge had just enough to escape arch-rival Woodbury Saturday.

The fifth-ranked Raptors edged the Woodbury Royals, winning 49-48 to advance to their first-ever section final. Climbing the next mountain will be even harder, however, as top-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall awaits in the Section 4AAAA finals. Winner goes to state, loser goes home.

The Cretin Raiders topped 10th-ranked North St. Paul in the second game at Hastings High School Saturday night, winning 77-63.

That sets up a showdown battle between the second-seeded Raptors (23-5) and the top-seeded Raiders (26-2), set for Thursday at Hastings, starting at 7 p.m. Cretin swept the regular-season series, winning 71-57 and 85-63.

The section featured four teams in the final top 20 of Minnesota Basketball News: 1. Cretin; 5. East Ridge; 10. North St. Paul; and 18. Woodbury.

"It was really close from the get-go," said East Ridge star junior forward Courtney Brown Jr. "We battled hard for the whole thing. They played good defense and we played good defense. I think that was the major part that set us apart from them and got us the win in the end.

"I'm ecstatic," added Brown. "This is the first time East Ridge has ever gone to the section finals so we'll all excited and the most wins East Ridge has ever had in a season with 23."

Woodbury ends its season with a 16-12 record, a record that belies how good the Royals really were this season. It also closes the chapter on Michael Jones's Woodbury career. Jones nearly willed the Royals to a victory Saturday, scoring 31 of his team's 48 points.

Ironically, Jones's legendary shooting touch eluded him at the end. He missed one free throw with 1 minute, 6 seconds left, and then missed another free throw with one second left that would have tied the game and likely sent it into overtime.

"I think having a lack of depth hurt us," said Woodbury coach Kent Getzlaff. "I think that we gave up four or five too many really important offensive rebounds. And we had plenty of decent looks. We were just trying to make them with guys that we were asking to play 36 minutes in this environment and it's not easy to do."

East Ridge's dynamic duo of Brown (17 points) and Ben Carlson (18 points) led the way offensively for the Raptors.

"We knew it was going to be an intense game," said East Ridge coach Bryce Tesdahl. "Sometimes you get lucky on a couple of possessions. I feel for Jones, heck of a player and awesome career. Tough way to go out but that kid has done a lot of great things and will continue to do a lot of great things."

"With our guys I thought we fought through adversity and were able to win," Tesdahl added. "We got enough scores and stops and it was kind of a defensive gem in terms of not a lot of points. It was tough buy baskets but we got enough stops when we needed to. We got enough shots made when we needed to."

The game was tight from beginning to end. Neither team led by more than five points, a bulge created when Jones buried back-to-back three-pointers for a 44-39 Woodbury lead five minutes to play.

But East Ridge's Zach Zebrowski responded with a three of his own and baskets by Brown and Carlson put the Raptors back up at 46-44 with 2:30 remaining.

"I think, first off, we had really good defense the whole game," Carlson said. "I think we held them under 50 points and that was one of our goals, to keep it low scoring. So I think we did really well on defense tonight."

"If our defense is good we can win most games," Carlson added.

A free throw by Jones cut the East Ridge lead to 48-47 with 1:06 left. Both teams then exchanged turnovers. Jones missed a jumper with 18 seconds left. Carlson was fouled at the other end and made one of two free throws for a two-point East Ridge lead.

That set the stage for the dramatic ending. Jones drove to the basket and was fouled with 1.1 seconds to play. While East Ridge fans alternately closed the eyes, yelled their loudest, or prayed, Jones made the first free throw, but had his second roll off.

Woodbury led 23-21 at the half, led by 12 points from Jones.

Woodbury won the first meeting between the two archrivals this season, 69-57. But East Ridge thumped the Royals in the rematch, winning 69-44.