White Bear Lake junior Alexis Foley could barely find the words to describe the nerve-racking intensity of the Class 4A, Section 4 girls' basketball final. So she just put her face in her hands and shook her head. But when she pulled it out, she was grinning. After all, her leadership and her 12 points helped push the Bears to a gritty 42-39 win over Woodbury, and to a state tournament berth.

"It feels so great," she said. "We've been working all year for this."

The labor continued Thursday, as the teams got out to a tight start and were never separated by more than five points. In an extremely physical game, both teams struggled to get to the basket, and the outside shots weren't falling either. There was about a four-minute span where neither team was able to score.

"Our first half was terrible," Foley groaned.

In the second half, Woodbury got organized and built a five-point lead on three consecutive baskets. But after a White Bear Lake timeout, the Bears came out with a quick layup and regained the lead on four consecutive free throws. The Bears made all nine of their free throws in the second half, while Woodbury sunk just two of five.

"Our leaders stepped up," Bears coach Jeremy Post said. "They didn't play their best game, but when it mattered most, they made the plays that won."

Up by one with less than 20 seconds remaining, Angie Guenther made a layup, and Woodbury's Kristina White's three-point attempt was blocked.

Woodbury coach Dave Preller, who had planned to retire after this season, win or lose, said it felt strange to coach his last game, but that he was pleased with his players' effort.

"They left everything out there on the court," he said. "That's all you can ask."