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Royals reach state tourney with come-from-behind win

Members of the Royals basketball team celebrate on the court after the buzzer sounded in overtime. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker2 / 2

Roseville may have edged Woodbury for the Suburban East Conference title, but the Royals came back and beat the Raiders where it counts: in the Section 4AAAA championship game.

Woodbury reached the state tournament Thursday, thanks to a 68-66 overtime win over Roseville at East Ridge High School.

For Woodbury's seniors, the accomplishment represents the realization of a childhood goal. Many of the players have played together since elementary school.

"We play so well together," said senior Tyler Graves. "We know what each other's going to do - and we can shoot."

Those childhood dreams became clearer as the players got older and more experienced. By the time this season began, seniors Connor McKeen and Ben Rexroth said the players knew the goal was achievable.

"We knew what we could do," McKeen said.

Junior Renard Suggs, whose 28 points led the team in scoring Thursday, said he was thrilled to reach the state tournament.

"It's amazing," he said. "My whole life I've been working to get to this moment."

Woodbury's road to the state's big dance included a roller-coaster ride in its three match-ups with Roseville. The Royals won the first game, but fell at home last month to the Raiders, who plucked the SEC title from them with the win.

Thursday's come-from-behind win completed that roller coaster ride, said senior guard Ryan Fritze.

"It was just a picture-perfect story, I guess," he said.

The section championship game didn't begin so rosy for Woodbury, however.

The Royals, out-rebounded and out-shot by the Raiders, closed the first half down 36-28.

The second half began with some of the same hallmarks of the first frame: missed shots and lost rebounds. Woodbury found itself down 46-32 at one point.

But then, with about 10 minutes left, the Royals found their groove. Woodbury closed the gap to within four after a Graves three-pointer.

Suddenly, Woodbury was hauling down rebounds and forcing turnovers.

Roseville guard Mack Johnson, still visibly upset after leaving the locker room, said Woodbury capitalized on its opportunities.

"It was a game of runs," he said.

Woodbury reclaimed the lead for the first time since early in the first half with 3:40 remaining in regulation when Fritze was fouled and sank one of two free throws.

Up 61-58 after Suggs buried two free throws, Woodbury entered the final minute of play.

Roseville didn't let up, however.

The Raiders connected on a critical three-pointer, bringing the game to a tie.

Still tied at 61, Woodbury worked the final seconds of regulation time to take the last shot. That didn't fall, and a follow-up shot by Fritze went in, but after the buzzer sounded.

Suggs got the Royals off to a four-point lead with two early buckets in overtime, including a fast-break dunk.

Roseville reclaimed the lead at 66-65 after draining another three-pointer and sinking two free throws.

That lead didn't hold, thanks to Woodbury junior Diallo Powell. The forward brought the game to a tie from the free throw line, then hit the game-winner in the final minute on an assist from senior Connor McKeen.

Roseville's last shot attempt, a deep three-pointer, clanked off the rim.

Fans stormed the court after the final buzzer sounded.

"We all believed in ourselves," said Royals senior Jeremy Richardson.

Up next is the great unknown for the Woodbury players. The Royals haven't reached the state tournament since 2007.

"Everyone knew what we were here for," Rexroth said. "It's a great feeling."

Check back for updates and details on Woodbury's first-round game in the state tournament.

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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