Crookston shot seven three-pointers to beat Sacred Heart 62-52.
EAST GRAND FORKS - Three different Pirates scored 10-plus points, Crookston won the three-point battle 7-3 and the Crookston Pirates defeated the Sacred Heart Eagles 62-52 to open the season.
Despite dealing with four fouls, Emma Borowicz (So. G) led the team in points at 18. Rachel Hefta (Sr. F) put up 14 and Kylie Solheim (Sr. G) tallied 12. Other contributing scorers were Hayden Winjum (Fr. G) with nine, Gretchen Theis (Jr. G) at five and Dani Boyle (Jr. G) with four.
The Pirates (1-0) began the game with methodical plays which, at first, led to turnovers and unfavorable shots.
Sacred Heart went ahead 3-0 to open the scoring and Borowicz scored the first Crookston points of the season to tie the game with a trey. Hefta helped Crookston grab their first lead by banking a shot off the backboard for a 5-3 advantage and the Pirates suddenly found their rhythm.
Hefta commended the team’s defensive play for keeping the game close while the offense searched for answers.
“We started out in a zone instead of going into our man because we knew that they had a good cutting offense and they would drive it faster than we would like it,” Hefta said. “We just made sure we were talking and communicating a lot together.”
Theis came off the bench and nailed a shot from behind the arc, Boyle converted an easy layup, Borowicz knocked down a jumper and the Pirates jumped ahead 12-5 with 11:36 remaining in the first half.
Crookston kept away from the rim, stayed in the corner and made the most of their shots from a distance. Winjum (Fr. G) and Solheim combined for the next eight points and Crookston capped off a 17-4 run to lead 20-7 with nine minutes to go in half number one.
Sacred Heart ended their scoring drought with a free throw, but the Pirates kept up their shooting show with another three-pointer from Solheim to lead 25-8. Solheim notched her third trey of the half, the Pirates’ sixth, three minutes later and Crookston owned their largest lead, thus far, ahead 32-13.
Although the Pirates hit from behind the arc six times in the first half, Head Coach Darin Zimmerman admitted long-range shooting did not serve as the initial game plan and credited his players for adjusting.
“I think it’s just the girls being smart,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve got a high basketball IQ and knowing that if that’s what they’re giving us and if we have good opportunities and good shots, we do have kids that can make them.”
Of the seven three-pointers on the night, four of them came from Solheim.
“Kylie’s just a real good shooter,” Zimmerman said. “Every year, she’s gotten better and better. That’s what you expect out of a senior. They just keep improving. With her, the moment’s never going to be too big. She made some important shots when we really needed them.”
The Pirates elected to rest some of their starting five with a 19-point led and the Eagles used the opportunity to go on an 8-0 run and cut the deficit to 32-21. Hefta killed the stretch with a jumper, Sacred Heart scored the final points of the half on a steal and layup and the teams went into the locker room with Crookston ahead 34-23.
While Crookston’s offense slowed to start out the second half, their defense stayed scrappy. Borowicz continued the Pirates’ forceful defense with a steal and turned it into points. After Winjum put in a layup, Hefta added a steal to the stat sheet and later, two more points, for a 40-25 lead.
Sacred Heart never found a groove on offense. The Pirates contested shots in the paint, limited the Eagles to only a trio of threes and forced a number of turnovers.
“We made sure we were guarding hard so they couldn’t get anything,” Hefta said. “Me and a couple other posts made sure nobody could get up.”
Hefta scored eight of Crookston’s first 16 points of the half including a reverse layup and Boyle mixed in a charismatic display of dribbling on a layup to extend the lead to 50-32 while the clock showed 8:52 remaining.
With about seven minutes to play, Borowicz and Hefta committed their fourth personal fouls two seconds apart and were forced to the bench by Zimmerman. In their two minute absence, the Eagles put together an 8-0 run and only trailed 50-40.
Crookston made six threes in the first half, but had not cashed in on one since and Zimmerman attributes the lull to timid play.
“We were maybe trying to take the air out of the ball,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think we were ever stalling, but we were to a point where we had a nice lead and nobody wanted to make a mistake. When you stop being aggressive, that’s usually when you make mistakes.”
Zimmerman sent Borowicz back in and the sophomore did not disappoint scoring seven points in just over two minutes capped off with an old-fashion three-point play to issue the dagger with the Pirates now leading 60-40 with 2:40 to go.
“I saw some experience even though [Borowicz] is only a 10th-grader,” Zimmerman said. “It didn’t seem like it was a 10-point lead, it seemed closer than that. She made some really nice plays to sort of give us our edge back a little bit.”
Crookston managed to run out the remaining time and celebrated a season-opening 62-52 victory over a Sacred Heart team that beat them to start the previous season.
“It’s only one game, but it is really an important game to start off with a win like this,” Zimmerman said. “[Sacred Heart] brought back virtually everybody, so did we. If you compare last year to this year, it’s two good teams to open up the season tonight. To come away with a win against a good team was really important for us.”
The Pirates now return for their home-opener against Win-E-Mac on Friday, November 30 at 7:30 p.m.
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