Renard Suggs of Woodbury advanced the ball in the first half against Stillwater's Sam Lagus.
Usually known for its offensive flair, Woodbury is heading back to Target Center for the second year in a row because of its defense, which helped oust Stillwater 52-44 in the Class 4A, Section 4 championship Wednesday night at East Ridge High School.
The Royals have given up about 65 points per game on defense this season. They held fourth-seeded Stillwater to 21 points fewer than that.
“We give up a lot of points. I was a little worried,” head coach Scott Swansson said. “We needed to get ahead.”
The Royals (23-4) did muster a 13-point lead early in the second half before switching to a 1-3-1 zone, something they haven’t done much this season. But the strategy worked for the second-seeded Royals, champions of the Suburban East Conference.
Stillwater blanketed Renard Suggs, who scored 38 points against Mahtomedi on Saturday. He still managed to put up 21 on Wednesday. Matt Ambriz added 16. Andrew Duxbury led the Ponies with 11 points.
As conference and section foes, the Ponies and Royals took the court as two very different teams. Stillwater brings length and physical play. Woodbury boasts athleticism, playmaking ability and above-average shooting.
The teams split the season series. Stillwater waxed Woodbury 88-71 on Jan. 4, and Woodbury got revenge on Feb. 8, winning 56-55.
The Royals landed the final blow despite a strong showing from the Ponies. They held Woodbury to 24 points below its scoring average.
“They play good defense,” Swansson said. “We knew that we were going to have a tough time scoring.”
Both teams exchanged runs in the first half. Stillwater jumped to a 7-2 lead thanks to Matt Anderson’s basket, but the Royals answered with an 11-0 run as Suggs made three consecutive three-pointers. The Ponies responded with 10 consecutive points to regain the lead before Ambriz scored Woodbury’s next nine points, capping the run with a three pointer. The Royals led 27-23 at the break.
Woodbury extended its lead with a 12-3 run early in the second half and preserved the advantage until the end.