Even with an admitted case of state-tournament nerves, Stillwater proved to have too much for Shakopee, pulling away in the second half en route to a 73-48 Class 4A quarterfinal victory on Wednesday at Williams Arena.
The No. 2-seeded Ponies got out to a 12-2 lead but couldn't pull away from the stubborn Sabers until a late 12-5 run gave them a 37-25 halftime lead.
"The whole team was jittery, including the coach," said Stillwater's Willie Taylor, who has coached in seven previous state tournaments, six of them with St. Paul Central. "For these kids, it was the first time."
Taylor said his biggest concern early was the Ponies' inability to generate turnovers, something that doesn't happen often.
"We didn't want to get into the passing lane like we do," he said. "That helped Shakopee stay close early."
Eventually, the Ponies (27-2) simply wore down the Sabers (20-10) in the second half, looking more like the team riding a 21-game winning streak. Gophers recruit Sara Scalia settled down and showed off her various skills, and the speed of her backcourt mate Alexis Pratt frustrated Shakopee's ballhandlers.
"Poor Jaley Colpin, who handled the ball for us about 90 percent of the time," Shakopee coach Juan Mitchell said. "They dogged her and dogged her, and we didn't have anyone else capable of making plays."
The Ponies' two biggest names — Scalia and junior post Liza Karlen — struggled offensively, combining for just 21 points. But junior guard Grace Cote hit four three-pointers and had 16 points.
"She was the key to the victory," Scalia said.