It's shocking to me just how few match-ups there are between Classic Suburban and Suburban East teams, but of course I'm biased by my east metro/Washington County perspective. Out here everybody is in Section 4AAAA, or so it seems. East Ridge, Mahtomedi, Stillwater, Tartan, Woodbury plus nearby (Ramsey County) Mounds View, North St. Paul, Roseville and White Bear Lake, most in the Suburban East, some in the Classic Suburban, all occupying the same geography. You'd think they'd be natural choices for non-conference match-ups.
One (match-up) that you wouldn't immediately think of would be Henry Sibley (of the Classic Suburban and Section 3AAAA) versus Stillwater, but that was 1 of just 9 such match-ups this year, and it happened at Stillwater on Saturday night. The outcome was perhaps to be expected, based on the fact that the Suburban East had won 6 of 8 previous games, including an 80-59 Stillwater rout of a Mahtomedi team that had beaten Tartan who beat Hopkins. Meanwhile, Henry Sibley, to put the best possible face on things, had beaten Richfield who beat Tartan who beat Hopkins.
In the absence of sectional seeds, not yet announced, one might note that Stillwater (17-6 going into tonight's game) is rated #3 in section 4AAAA by QRF while Sibley (15-8) was just #6 in Section 3AAAA by QRF. How is it, then, that Sibley led Stillwater 37-36 as late as 10:45 and trailed by just 43-41 approaching the 2 minute mark. Bias in favor of the all-AAAA Suburban East at the expense of the mixed AAA-AAAA Classic Suburban? Surely.
But bias or no, the fact is that Stillwater redeemed the Suburban East by out-scoring Sibley 15-4 after 13:32 and 8-0 in the final 2:05 to gain a 51-41 win that was much closer than the final score suggests. It probably didn't hurt down the stretch that Stillwater enjoyed the home court advantage, as the Suburban East did in the vast majority of games with the Classic Suburban. Apparently the Suburban East has enough of a problem committing to play Classic Suburban opponents. But on the road? Fuggeddaboudit.
The fact is that Stillwater and Sibley played nip and tuck for 36 minutes. In fact, take away the Ponies' advantage on the offensive glass--not to say that 2nd chance points are not a legitimate difference-maker, but setting aside that particular skill at which Stillwater excelled by a margin of 16-7--and the game is a virtual dead heat. What's more, take away the Ponies' 10-3 advantage on points off turnovers and what remains is a 31-25 Sibley advantage "5-on-5," you might say as a figure of speech. Stillwater's win was totally the work, by virtue of this analogy at least, of a 23-10 edge on the part of its "special teams"--its offensive rebounding "team" and its turnover-capitalizing (or perhaps one could say, its "transition") team.
Granting again that this hockey metaphor is just a metaphor, but it helps explain why Sibley ended up on the short end of a 43-41 deficit at the 2 minute mark, after which Stillwater drained 6-of-8 FT to secure the victory. Offensive boards and turnovers. The possession game. Stillwater had more opportunities to score: In fact, Sibley got off 48 FG attempts to the Ponies' 46, but Stillwater shot 23 FT to the Warriors' 5, and made 17 to just 4, which would be another way of describing the Ponies' winning margin. Getting to the FT line. And, again, not to say that this is a phony skill. It is real, and it wins games.
Stillwater ran out to an early 9-2 lead, but Sibley fought back to tie it up at 14 on a Jake Golberg 2 + 1. But Stillwater sub Joel Malwitz scored 12 seconds later to retake the lead. Later Sibley tied it at 26 on a Zach Haas with under 10 seconds remaining in the half and, wouldn't you know, Stillwater scored on an Andrew Duxbury FT with under a second to play to lead 27-26 at the half.
In the 2nd half, Sibley took its 1st lead of the game 30-29 on another Golberg bucket and 32-31 on another Haas bucket and 33-32 on a 3 by Adam Heussner. Stillwater responded in less than 20 seconds each time, leaving the Warriors to wonder what the heck was the point of taking the lead if the Ponies would just take it back every time. Well, except that a Golberg 3 at 13:32 gave Sibley a lead it would hold for almost 3 minutes. But while Stillwater went 4 minutes without a bucket, Sibley would, too. And then trailing 43-41, Sibley would fail to scored for the entire last 7 minutes of play.
Duxbury was held in check much of the way but finished with 15 points, 7 boards and 2 assists. Sophomore Matt Anderson was also solid with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2 assists. Golberg led the Warriors with 15 points, adding 6 boards and 2 blocks. Stillwater stymied Sibley's 3-point shooters. The Warriors made 5-of-11 from behind the arc, but long-range bombers Haas and Huessner finished with just 12 points between them, not usually enough to make a winner of their team.
Looking ahead, Stillwater sorely lacks the athleticism to compete with Roseville, Tartan and Woodbury in section 4AAAA while best possible case Sibley would face Tyus Jones and Apple Valley in the 3AAAA final, in which a Sibley win cannot reasonably be foreseen. Still, having seen the Sibley boys struggle the past couple of years since the departure of coach Tom Dasovich, they have become vastly better organized and purposeful this year. I'm not much for moral victories but if I were I'd say pushing Stillwater down inside of 2 minutes on the Ponies' home court would be a good example, both for themselves and their under-appreciated conference.