Crookston shot 79 percent from the free throw line to win two games in as many days.
The Crookston Pirates beat Virginia and Hibbing in back-to-back days to improve their record to over .500 for the first time since December 14. Senior guard Bailey Folkers led the team with 13 points against Virginia in a 53-41 win and freshman guard Emma Borowicz scored 14 to lead the team against Hibbing as the Pirates came back to win 59-53.
Free throws made a difference in both contests especially against Virginia where the Pirates converted on 21 of 29 from the charity stripe.
Each team went back and forth throughout in a low-scoring first half with neither gaining a lead more than three. Crookston trailed 10-7 before junior forward Rachel Hefta scored the game’s next six points on a couple of baskets and two free throws to give the Pirates a 13-10 lead. Hefta recorded 11 points on the night.
Five straight points from Virginia put Crookston down 15-13. Free throws by junior guards Hannah Emanuel and Kylie Solheim and a driving layup by Borowicz gave the Pirates a 18-15 lead at halftime.
“I think they just came out and [Virginia] established a good defensive position as did we,” Head Coach Darin Zimmerman said. “We had some shots that just didn’t go in and turned the ball over in some key times when we had some open girls. There was really no rhythm in the first half offensively for us.”
Virginia came out of the locker room and quickly regained the lead thanks to a 6-0 run. The Pirates retaliated with a 9-0 run with baskets from senior guard Jaeden Lizakowski eighth grade guard Hayden Winjum and junior forward Hailey Seaver.
Crookston held the lead the rest of the way using 10 points from free throws to fend off Virginia and win 53-41.
“We put a lot of emphasis on free throws and shoot them a lot and it’s showing,” Folkers said.
Going against an opponent with a player standing over six feet tall, the Pirates continued to attack the rim to get layups and draw fouls which helped as Crookston only made two three-point shots in the game.
“Some games we’ll probably have to stretch it a little more from the outside to open up some driving lanes,” Zimmerman said. “But we want to get to the free throw line 20 times especially the way we’re shooting.”
The next day, Crookston fell behind Hibbing 11-2 to open the game. Back-to-back threes by Borowicz put the Pirates down 11-8 and matched the number of three-pointers from the game the day before.
Folkers converted on a layup and Solheim hit a three to tie the game at 17-17 with 8:39 to play in the first half. Solheim finished with 12 points and was one of four Pirates to score at least 10 points.
“In practice, we do a lot of shooting and I think that plays a big part in everybody getting double digits,” Solheim said.
“We have a lot of skilled players,” Zimmerman said. “We probably have 10 or 11 people that, on any night, can go for double figures. We’ve got some that can score 20 to 25 points, but if we can get seven in double figures, that’s 70 points and we’re going to win a lot of games scoring 70 points.”
Folkers made two free throws to put the Pirates ahead 21-19, their first lead of the game. Crookston extended their lead to 23-19 with a Winjum steal and bucket, but a 9-2 run by Hibbing allowed them to take a 30-28 lead at halftime.
A 12-3 run by Hibbing to open the second half created a 42-31 situation and the Pirates trailed by their largest deficit of the game with nine minutes to play.
Folkers, who tallied 13 points for the second straight day, ended the skid with five straight points and Solheim hit a three to draw the Pirates within five.
“I think we really picked up our intensity on defense and we were aware of where there best player was at all times,” Solheim said. “We really passing the ball and moving it around to get good looks.”
Crookston still trailed by seven as the clock showed less than five minutes to play. A Borowicz layup and free throws by Hefta made it a three point game and a free throw by Winjum and a layup by Borowicz gave the Pirates a 49-48 lead with three minutes to play. Borowicz, Hefta and Winjum scored 14, 10 and seven respectively.
Hibbing went up 50-49, but on the ensuing possession, Solheim sent a nice pass to Hefta who scored an easy layup to put Crookston ahead 51-50, this time for good.
The Pirates finished 18/21 from the free throw line and used foul shots as part of a 28-11 run to win the game 59-53, their third straight and earn a record of 7-5.
“That was a very gritty win for us tonight,” Zimmerman said. “The kids never gave up. Even when things weren’t going well, we still continued to play good defense and we made some hustle plays that led to more points.”
With the game against Badger-Greenbush-Middle River being postponed due to weather, Crookston’s next game will be against Bagley on Thursday, January 18 at 7:30 p.m.