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Girls' Basketball: Hot shooting fuels Woodbury comeback

Guard Maren Blodgett of the Royals drives to the basket against Apple Valley in the second half. (Photo by John Molene)1 / 3
Junior guard Rachel Hakes of the Royals looks for an open teammate as she penetrates the Apple Valley defense in the first half. Hakes had 21 points to lead Woodbury. (Photo by John Molene)2 / 3
Woodbury senior guard Cecile Kieger drives to the basket against Apple Valley in the first half. Kieger scored 20 points in Woodbury's 72-69 win. (Photo by John Molene)3 / 3

A highly regarded Apple Valley team rolled into Woodbury Friday night undefeated. And it rolled out with a loss.

Woodbury knocked off the visiting Eagles 72-69 in a thrilling come-from-behind win.

Apple Valley had defeated its first two opponents coming into Friday – Minnetonka and St. Michael-Albertville by 15 and 21 points respectively.

And leading 55-47 with eight minutes to play it looked like the Eagles were on their way to a 3-0 record.

Instead, the Woodbury Royals played inspired basketball down the stretch to knock off the visitors.

“The big thing for us was our heart and our work ethic,” Woodbury head coach Megan Kirchenwitz said. “They (the Eagles) have a lot of talent on that basketball team. Three of their starting five are getting big basketball scholarships.

“I was just proud of their effort and buying into what we were trying to do defensively. Changing the D up and then just being aggressive offensively,” Kirchenwitz said of the Royals. “We knew that their struggle was to guard the dribble drive and we exposed it.”

Woodbury captain Cecile Kieger scored 12 of her 20 points in a five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter to bring the Royals back from an eight-point deficit to a 65-64 lead.

But when Kieger fouled out with 1:57 remaining and Woodbury clinging to a one-point lead, the Royals turned to star junior guard Rachel Hakes, and she delivered down the stretch.

While handling the ball, Apple Valley fouls sent Hakes to the free-throw line six times in the game’s final 1:14 and she responded by draining five of six shots to keep the Eagles at bay. Cam Veenbaas also made two clutch free throws with 25 seconds to play to give Woodbury a 70-67 advantage.

Asked what she was thinking at the line, Hakes had a simple answer, “better make ‘em,” she said with a laugh.

Apple Valley made two free throws of its own to cut Woodbury’s lead to 70-69 with 17 seconds left. Hakes was fouled again, and she delivered with seven seconds left by making both free throws for a 72-69 lead. Apple Valley missed a long three at the other end, and it was over.

Apple Valley led 35-34 at the half but built that into a 55-47 advantage with 8:04 left to play. That’s when Kieger took the game over. In a stretch from the 6:40 mark to about two minutes to play, Kieger hit a three, three two-point baskets and then another three. Elizabeth Jordahl also drained a huge three-point field goal during the run, and the Royals needed every one of those baskets.

“I was just trying to make the best play for my team,” Kieger said. “At that point, I had the hot hand, and so I just went with it and it kept going in.

“I thought the team effort, from the bench to all five girls on the court, everything was just together as one and we couldn’t have done a better job,” added Kieger.

Woodbury improved to 2-0 on the young season. Apple Valley fell to 2-1.

“The kids were patient, they made great decisions,” Kirchenwitz said. “They were really smart with the ball in their hands, great ball fakes, great dribble drive attacks and finding the open teammate. We were playing really unselfish basketball.”

Hakes scored 21 points to lead the Royals while Kieger had 20. Forwards Ellie Kreibich and Solape Amusan added 10 points each.

“They’re a really good team, and our preparation was really strong and everyone bought in,” Hakes said. “And so it was like a huge team win. Even the girls on the bench, they fired us up. It just gives us a lot of confidence for the next game.”

Woodbury is scheduled to play next at Forest Lake on Tuesday.