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Raptors upset Royals: Flurry of threes falls in East Ridge's favor

Raptors senior Justin Pahl reacts after hitting the game winning shot Friday over Woodbury. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker1 / 4
Woodbury's Connor McKeen goes airborne for a shot Friday against East Ridge. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker2 / 4
East Ridge coach Paul Virgin reacts after the Raptors upset Woodbury Friday at home. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker3 / 4
The East Ridge bench, which was shortly followed by fans, stormed the court after the team's upset victory over Woodbury. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker4 / 4

Behind a memorable performance by senior Justin Pahl, an underdog Raptors squad took down Woodbury in a home thriller.

East Ridge topped Woodbury 70-69 in the game, bolstered by Pahl's 29 points and a defense that helped snuff out an 11 point deficit.

Raptors head coach Paul Virgin said his team's defense was the difference maker in the rivalry game.

"That Woodbury team is really good," he said of the Royals, who opened the week ranked No. 9 in the state. "And they're well coached. And they've got lots of weapons."

Those offensive weapons weren't quite enough to match Pahl, who drilled critical shots down the final stretch.

Woodbury coach Scott Swansson said the combination of Pahl "knocking down circus shots" and the Royals' struggles at the free-throw line were the decisive factors.

"We've just got to stop reading our own newspaper clippings," Swansson said.

The win put the intradistrict rivalry at 3-3 in its short history.

Woodbury held a 31-25 halftime lead and saw it extend to as much as 11 points after the intermission.

The heaviest drama began in the second half with about five minutes left - after both teams had been flagged for technical fouls.

"It was a very emotional game," Swansson said.

East Ridge closed the gap to 55-52 with 5:20 remaining and made it a two-point game after Nnamdi Nwokolo hit a field goal.

With 3:04 left on the clock, Pahl tied the game at 57-57 after drilling a three-pointer. Woodbury's Ryan Fritze was fouled on the end of the floor; he hit both free throws, giving Woodbury a two-point lead.

The momentum appeared to be tipping toward the Royals' end after the Raptors turned over the ball on a loose pass that triggered a timeout from Virgin.

Woodbury came out of the timeout on fire, with Renard Suggs hitting a three-pointer of his own, extending the Royals' lead to 62-57 with 2:21 remaining.

Then the Justin Pahl Show entered prime time.

"We don't expect that from Justin, but we've seen it before," Virgin said.

The senior stroked a three pointer on the next possession - and was fouled on the play. Pahl completed the rare four-point play, leaving East Ridge behind just 62-61.

But Woodbury stayed on the gas. Senior Connor McKeen nailed a three-pointer with 1:50 left on the clock. The shot put Woodbury up 65-61.

After both teams went 1-for-2 at the charity stripe Royals stayed ahead 66-62 with one minute left on the clock.

Pahl put the Raptors back within one after draining another three.

On the ensuing possession, East Ridge fouled Woodbury's Robert Claypool, who missed his first free throw and dropped the second. Woodbury led 67-65 with 43 seconds left.

The Royals got a chance to extend the lead when Suggs was fouled. He missed his first shot and sunk his second, opening Woodbury's lead to three.

On the next possession, East Ridge guard Jake Knupp drove to the hole and dropped a graceful teardrop layup over Woodbury defenders that Virgin called "just awesome."

East Ridge put Suggs on the line again after the Knupp basket. Suggs again made one of two shots, giving Woodbury a 69-67 lead with 13 seconds remaining.

Then Pahl took over. He drained the game winner - another three-pointer - with four seconds left.

"He was amazing," Virgin said of Pahl.

Woodbury wasn't able to get another shot off in the game.

"Our kids came to play," Virgin said. "If we can do that late in February, I like our chances."

Swansson was irked by his players' struggles at the free-throw line, where they were 12 for 29 against East Ridge.

The loss was Woodbury's twice in as many games after falling Tuesday to Cretin-Derham Hall and the first signs of a skid in an otherwise impressive season for the Royals. Woodbury drops to 9-2 in the Suburban East Conference and 14-4 overall.

East Ridge improves to 8-11 overall and 5-6 in the SEC.

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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