The Pirates scored 63 one game after being held to their lowest amount all year, 30.
CROOKSTON - The Crookston Pirates owned seven wins by double digits coming into their matchup with the Badger-Greenbush-Middle River Gators. This one, however, required each player on the roster to win by five. Nine different Pirates scored, the defense held the Gators to four points in the final six minutes and Crookston (11-3) came-from-behind to win 63-58.
“That was a fun one,” Head Coach Darin Zimmerman said. “Just because of the way we finished, and the fact that we, maybe, didn’t play as well or execute as well as we needed to at times. But we executed when it really mattered, and that was in the closing minutes of the game.”
Emma Borowicz (So. G) dealt with four fouls late in the second half, but still put up 18 points. Kylie Solheim (Sr. G) hit three treys en route to 12 points, Rachel Hefta (Sr. F) scored eight in the paint, Gretchen Theis (Jr. G) added seven, Dani Boyle (Jr. G) provided a clutch three late as part of her five points, Kasey Cwikla (Jr. G) contributed four as did Emma Boll (Jr. F) and Hayden Winjum (Fr. F) and Halle Winjum (7th Grade G) hit a free throw.
“Everybody that played and contributed really had to,” Zimmerman said. “We relied on everybody at different times. This one ranks probably at the top [for team wins].”
The Gators (7-7) were led by Alyssa Rinde (So. G) with 13 points. Mariah Christian (So. G) followed with 11 and Alyssa Kilen (Sr. G) scored nine.
Whether it was a quick whistle or a hackfest, the clock stopped often due to fouls. Both teams finished the first half in the double bonus. The main difference came in the form of 9-for-12 from the line for BGMR and 9-for-18 for Crookston.
The Pirates jumped out to an early 7-2 lead with a pair of baskets from Borowicz and a duo of free throws by Borowicz and Solheim. Rinde cut into the deficit at 7-4, and Borowicz countered with a three-pointer and a 10-4 Crookston advantage. The Pirates used points form Cwikla, Theis and Borowicz to stay ahead 16-9.
Kianna Novacek (Sr. F) made it a two possession game, and Christian and Anissah Novacek (So. F) hit back-to-back shots to give BGMR their first lead of the game up 17-16 with 8:38 left.
“Both of us were in foul trouble, and I think the game didn’t seem to have a great rhythm,” Zimmerman said. “We had a really great start, then, all of a sudden, we started to foul a little bit, we gave up some easy transition points and kind of let them do some things offensively.”
Rinde tacked on another score to make it 19-16, and Kylie Solheim converted from behind the arc to tie the game. Borowicz helped the Pirates regain control with two free throws, Hefta scored in the paint to go along with her free throw and Crookston expanded to a 24-19 lead as the clock showed 6:58.
Lexie Benke (Jr. G) stopped the 8-0 run with a basket, and Ella Koebernick (Jr. F), with 4:40 to play in the first half, completed a 5–0 run to tie the game.
The two teams traded points the rest of the half. Kilen scored back-to-back buckets, Solheim made her second three of the game, Hefta added two more in the paint and BGMR used three free throws to stay ahead 32-31 at the break.
Benke scored the first four points of the half, and the Gators enjoyed their largest lead of the game at 37-32. Solheim brought the Pirates right back with her third trey of the game, but BGMR kept on the pressure courtesy of a basket from Rinde.
”[Kylie] brought a ton of [consistency],” Zimmerman said. “She bailed us out a couple different times. When we needed a big play or a big shot, Kylie was there to knock one down. That’s kind of what we’ve come to expect from Kylie. She seems to always be in the right place at the right time, and that’s mostly just her hard work. She’s not afraid of those moments.”
After shooting 9-of-18 from the charity stripe in half number one, Crookston began the second half on a better note going 3-of-4 to keep it close at 41-38. Borowicz and Theis combined for consecutive points, and the Pirates, up 42-41, led for the first time since 2:08 left in the first half.
While Crookston fouled less, the Gators could not replicate and committed their seventh with 10:08 to play, putting the Pirates in bonus. Boll used the opportunity for a go-ahead free throw and Crookston went up again 47-46.
“We went to the locker room and [Zimmerman] was getting on us about fouling too much,” Solheim said. “He said, ‘we don’t play defense like that,’ so we decided to play our defense and cut down our fouls. [On offense], we were moving the ball around a lot because we needed the defense to move so we could drive in. [BGMR] was kind of hacking at us a lot so they were easy fouls.”
Kilen retaliated with a three-pointer and Tessani Peterson (Sr. F) followed suit to give the Gators their second five-point lead, now ahead 52-47 with 9:11 left in the game.
On the ensuing possession, Borowicz drove to the rim and drew a foul to compliment her layup and converted on the free throw for a three-point play. Anissah Novacek preserved the three-point lead after a Halle Winjum free throw to stay up 54-51.
Theis chipped away with free throws, but once again, the Gators stayed ahead by three with a 56-53 advantage. To make matters more difficult, Borowicz was forced to the bench after her fourth foul with 4:35 to go.
On their next defensive possession, the Pirates forced a turnover, Cwikla made a long pass to Hayden Winjum, who could not put in the layup, but Cwikla provided backup and scored on a put-back. Fifty seconds later, Hefta muscled in a shot and Crookston went up 57-56.
With two points thus far and four fouls, Boyle accepted a pass outside the arc and sunk arguably her most clutch shot of the season for a 60-56 Pirate lead with 2:25 left in the game.
“That changed the momentum of the game,” Solheim said. “It gave us the boost that we needed in that moment.”
Crookston’s defense played their best stretch of basketball in the game to close out the final six minutes, used three free throws to issue the dagger and capped off a 12-4 The Pirates’ increase in free throw efficiency also played a role in the comeback. After shooting 50 percent in the first half, the team went 11-for-17 from the line in the final half.
Zimmerman praised his team’s grit in the closing, decisive minutes.
“The word that comes to mind is execute,” Zimmerman said. “We had to execute. We got the ball, we moved it around, got a score to go up by one, got a stop and Dani buried that three. It was a huge shot because it was so crucial for her to make that shot. It shows that we have some mature, confident kids.”
After trailing 54-51 with 6:23 to play, the Pirates allowed two points from free throws and a final, irrelevant basket at the buzzer to put a stamp on a win by their closest victory this year, 63-58.
Crookston also allowed the most points of any game this season and still won.
“We were playing like we normally play,” Zimmerman said. “For 75 percent of the game, whenever [BGMR] wanted to get the ball into the paint, they could. But in those last six minutes, we really clamped down. I thought we did a good job of contesting every shot, getting deflections and boxing out.”
With three losses on the year, Crookston remains undefeated in games following a loss.
“We focus on the loss, but we try not to focus on it too much,” Solheim said. “The next day, we just move on and start working for our next opponent.”
The Pirates finished a stretch of three games in four days where they went 2-1 and will earn a few days off before heading to Ada-Borup on Friday, January 18. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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