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Woodbury boys basketball: Royals return to section championship

Woodbury coach Scott Swansson speaks to players during a timeout in the Royals’ quarterfinal game Saturday against Stillwater. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)

The Royals punched their card to the Section 4-4A title game for the third time in as many years on Saturday, March 1, in a nailbiter over Stillwater.

But as the relatively tame post-game celebration indicated, Woodbury’s players have their sights focused on an even higher target.

“It’s not over with,” senior shooting guard Matt Ambriz said after the game. “We’re nowhere near satisfied.”

He said that means a state title – and not just a state berth.

“We just don’t want to go home, plain and simple,” Ambriz said.

The Royals proved that in the 84-78 overtime win against the Ponies in Saturday’s second section semifinal at East Ridge. Tartan topped Mounds View in the other semifinal game. Woodbury plays Tartan for the section championship at 8 p.m. Wednesday at East Ridge.

The Royals’ road to the section title game looked secure with less than six minutes remaining regulation; Woodbury was up 67-53 after battling back from a 33-32 halftime deficit.

But the stubborn Ponies continued to battle, forcing turnovers and hitting big 3-pointers – including one by Connor Gamble that tied the game at 70 with about a minute to go.

Woodbury executed the closing seconds of regulation tactically, setting up a final play with about four seconds left. The play fell apart as a Nick Yan pass was broken up by a Stillwater defender, sending the game to overtime at 70-70.

Woodbury proved the superior team in overtime, however.

Senior Isaiah Coddon, who finished with 16 points, came out firing and connected on a jumper that gave Woodbury an early lead that it would never relent.

Helping preserve the lead was Woodbury’s rock-solid free-throw shooting in overtime. The Royals drained eight of its nine overtime free throws, with senior guard Nick Yan – back from a sprained ankle that sidelined him in section quarterfinals – going a perfect 4-for-4 in the period.

Yan (11 points) was one of five Royals to collect double digits. Seniors Ben Meyer and Charlie Olson scored 14 points apiece for Woodbury, while Ambriz added 13.

“We go hard at practice every day for this stuff,” Coddon said after the game.

Woodbury coach Scott Swansson praised Coddon’s offense as well as his defense. The senior forward was assigned to Gamble, a player who dropped 25 and 30 points, respectively, on the Royals during the regular season. Gamble was limited to 10 points on Saturday.

“(Coddon) is playing pretty good defense,” Swansson said.

Woodbury gained the section semifinal game after a dominating performance over North St. Paul in quarterfinals. Coddon led all scorers in that game with 21 points, while Ambriz – coming back off an ankle sprain that had sidelined him for the regular season finale – scored 19.

Having watched Tartan come from behind to top Mounds View in semifinal action, Swansson said he knows the Royals will be facing a team with heart and talent.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” he said.

This postseason marks Swansson’s last as Woodbury’s head coach; he’ll be retiring this year after coaching for 35 years.

He said he’s not relishing this last postseason run, but rather treating it as business as usual. Swansson said he’ll have time to reflect once the season is over.

And while the coach said he doubts emotions will spill over once that time comes, he still appreciates the experiences as they come.

“I will miss feelings like this – a good win,” he said. “Not everyone gets this chance.”

-Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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