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Girls' Basketball: Woodbury hands East Ridge a blow to SEC hopes

The Royals celebrate a hard-fought 43-42 win over the visiting East Ridge Raptors Wednesday evening. (Photo by John Molene)1 / 6
East Ridge center Mariah Sexe puts up a shot over Woodbury's Cecile Kieger in the first half. Sexe scored 17 points to lead the Raptors. (Photo by John Molene)2 / 6
Senior guard Elizabeth Jordahl of the Royals heads for the basket early in the second half. (Photo by John Molene)3 / 6
Woodbury's Cecile Kieger drives to the basket against the defense of East Ridge's Lauren Johnson. (Photo by John Molene)4 / 6
East Ridge's Kelen Kenol finds her way to the basket blocked by the defense of Woodbury's Cecile Kieger. (Photo by John Molene)5 / 6
In a matchup of star guards, Rachel Hakes of the Woodbury Royals tries to get in front of East Ridge's Noelle Tomes as she drives to the basket in the first half. (Photo by John Molene)6 / 6

The East Ridge girls' basketball team was dealt a big blow for its Suburban East Conference chances in a 43-42 loss at Woodbury on Wednesday.

For Woodbury, Wednesday's emotional 43-42 win over archrival East Ridge was just the tonic the Royals needed after a Saturday night beat down by top-ranked Hopkins. It also marked the successful return of star guard Rachel Hakes, who had missed the previous two games with the flu.

For the East Ridge Raptors, if they fail to win a Suburban East Conference title they can point to the reasons why — a two-point loss at home to Forest Lake Feb. 3 and then back to back defeats by a combined three points to district rivals Park and Woodbury in the past two games.

East Ridge's Noelle Tomes drove for a possible game-winner in the final seconds only to run into a trio of Woodbury defenders camped under the basket. Tomes' shot missed with two seconds left and Woodbury sealed the game with a rebound.

"We're learning some tough lessons, that clearly we have some things to learn," East Ridge coach Glen Wurm said.

Woodbury's players and head coach said a big key to the win was limiting East Ridge's transition game.

"I think we were able to slow the game down and take them out of their high-paced transition game, so that really gave us the edge," Woodbury guard Cecile Kieger said. "We had the clock on our side the whole game."

"I was very proud of the way they made it a possession-by-possession game, that was our goal to slow the tempo down completely," Woodbury head coach Megan Kirchenwitz said. "They're a transition-based team who averages more than 60 points a game, and the goal was to slow them down, taking the air out of the tires."

For the Royals, it was the biggest win of the season, with the possible exception of an early season triumph over sixth-ranked Apple Valley.

Hakes was a big factor in the win for the Royals. She returned to the lineup after missing two games and most practices the last week.

"It was a very emotional game," said Hakes. "We're sending our four seniors off right."

For the Raptors, it was a devastating loss. The Raptors just needed to beat Woodbury, and their road to at least a tie for a conference championship was clear.

East Ridge slipped to 10-5 in the SEC and 18-7 on the season, a game back from first place White Bear Lake at 11-4.

White Bear Lake (plays at Roseville Friday. If the Bears win, they're the SEC champions. If Roseville, East Ridge and Cretin-Derham Hall all win Friday, the four teams will all finish with 11-5 records.

Woodbury improved to 9-6 in the conference and 14-10 overall.

Woodbury stars Hakes and Cecile Kieger combined for 28 points —- scoring 14 apiece in the win.

Mariah Sexe led the Raptors with 17 points. But star guard Tomes was held to just nine by an aggressive Woodbury defense, and none of the other Raptors managed more than five points.

Woodbury surged to an early 14-5 lead in the first six minutes, but East Ridge rallied and tied the game at 24-all at the break. Kieger drained a three at the end of the half to tie the game.

She then drained two more threes to give the Royals a 32-25 lead early in the second half, but again the Raptors rallied and closed to 36-34 with 6:58 to play. The rest of the game was a nail-biter.

East Ridge got a break with 2:43 remaining when Kieger fouled out on a Sexe drive to the basket. Sexe's three-point play tied the game at 41-all, but the Royals stayed strong with one of their key players on the bench.

Hakes dropped in two free throws for a 43-41 lead with 56 seconds. Tomes then made one-of-two free throws at the line at the other end to cut Woodbury's lead to 43-42 with 29.9 seconds left.

Woodbury missed a chance to pad its lead, but then the Raptors also missed in the final seconds.

"We played some lockdown great defense today," Kirchenwitz said. "They defended their three triangle players (Kelen Kenol, Sexe and Tomes) tremendously."

East Ridge had critical breakdowns in different parts of the game. Early on the Raptors' defense wasn't the best. In the waning moments of the game, the Raptors couldn't buy a defensive rebound.

"In the crucial moments of the game, we didn't rebound the ball," said Wurm. "I think they had three offensive rebounds at critical junctures of the game. We would have been ahead by one if we would have rebounded the ball."

East Ridge wraps up the regular season Friday with a game at Mounds View (0-15, 4-21).

Woodbury closes the regular season at Cretin-Derham Hall (10-5, 15-9) Friday.