Royals fall just short of state tourney
HASTINGS — The hardest working basketball player in Woodbury has left the building.
Royals senior Rachel Hakes — she of a thousand dives to the floor and a thousand successful drives to the basket — couldn't get her shot to go down when she most wanted it Thursday.
Hakes' last-second shot went up, rolled around the netting and rolled back out, thus ending the season for the Woodbury Royals and the high-school career for their multi-talented leader.
Instead it was 10th-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall (21-6) advancing to state with a 54-52 win in the Section 4AAAA championship Thursday at Hastings High School. It's the first trip to the state tournament for the Raiders since 2002.
Woodbury ended its season at 16-13.
"This group of kids this year has just I think knocked everyone's socks off from every angle," said Woodbury coach Megan Kirchenwitz. "I think people have always looked at them as the underdog, the less athletic, the less scorers and we just knew different because they believe. And they just have the work ethic of — they're just animalistic on the court. They just go to work and they do every single thing that's asked of them. I have loved coaching them this season."
It was merely the latest chapter in a book of heartbreaking season-enders for the Royals. Woodbury has a rich history of girls basketball success with 11 appearances in the state tournament, including a state championship in 2003 and a runner-up finish in 1997.
But the section tourney has been a tough nut to crack for the Royals recently. Woodbury has lost in the semifinals, first round or finals the last seven seasons. Three times in the last seven years the Royals have gone all the way to the section finals before falling.
For a long time Thursday it looked like this year's Royals would end that streak. Woodbury led 33-28 at the half and when Lexy Paulson opened up the second half with a three, it gave the Royals a quick 36-28 advantage.
Cretin closed the gap little by little and took a 53-51 lead with three minutes to play. The Royals had their shots down the stretch, but couldn't get any of the ones they needed to fall. Hakes missed a chance to tie at 54-52. Then with 34 seconds left, Hakes and junior forward Solape Amusan both missed game-tying baskets.
"When push came to shove we've got to finish," said Kirchenwitz. "We had a couple open opportunities probably the last 30 seconds of the game ... but we gave a hell of an effort. This is a team that averages 76 points a game and has three 1,000-point scorers."
Cretin missed the front-end of a one-and-one at the other end, giving the Royals one last try to tie it. Hakes got the ball with 3.5 seconds left after a time out and drove to the basket. But her off-balance shot rolled in and then rolled out.
Cretin and Woodbury split the regular-games this season, the Raiders winning 69-53 early in the season at Woodbury and the Royals edging the Raiders 65-64 in St. Paul in the final game of the regular season.
This one was a thriller, too.
Hakes was great as usual in her final game for the Royals, scoring 20 points and doing a little bit of everything else.
"That kid is undoubtedly the hardest working kid I've ever coached in my life," Kirchenwitz said. "She comes laces side up every single possession and she comes to work and battle. With the work she puts in in-season, off-season, being a great teammate, captain since she was a sophomore, incredible 4.0 student and she just leaves a legacy."
Amusan had 12 points for Woodbury, Carley West seven, Kassidy Mackie six, Lizzy Dodge five and Paulson four. Mackie and Hakes were the only seniors on this season's Woodbury roster.
The Suburban East Conference will have two representatives at state as ninth-ranked Roseville knocked out Park Center in Section 5AAA. Woodbury beat both Roseville and Cretin in the final month of the season.