Crookston ended a rough stretch of seven straight losses and eight defeats in their last nine games.
CROOKSTON - The Hawley Nuggets, at one point, almost started play with four players on the court, the Crookston Pirates accidentally inbounded with six and both teams suffered a plethora of turnovers. But in the end, it was the Pirates celebrating the end of a seven game losing streak with a 47-37 win.
Crookston (12-10, 6-6 Section 8AA) went 28 days without a win, but finally discontinued their slump behind a 19-0 run and 15 points from Rachel Hefta (Sr. F). Hefta’s 15 were the most scored by the senior since she put up 17 against Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton on December 20, 2018.
“One of the things we’ve been stressing even when we’re losing is that we just want to focus on playing the game the right way,” Pirates Head Coach Darin Zimmerman said. “Get better at things we’ve got to get better at, and the results are going to take care of themselves.”
Emma Borowicz (So. G) gave a strong performance with 12 points, Dani Boyle (Jr. G) tallied nine, Kylie Solheim (Sr. G) totaled five, Kasey Cwikla (Jr. G) notched four and Hayden Winjum (Fr. G) added two.
For the first time since January 12, less than seven Pirates made their way to the scoring sheet, but Hefta felt the offense worked just fine.
“[Hawley] was letting us get in a little bit too much, and we each knew what we needed to do on offense,” Hefta said. “It was a lot of us working together and making sure we each knew our spot. We’ve been working together for so long that it’s just been working really well.”
Rianna Lilleby (Sr. G), Kaylie Crabtree (Fr. G) and Paige Thompson (Jr. G) each scored nine for the Nuggets (13-6, 8-4 Section 8AA). Kylie Crabtree (Fr. G) and Abby Rux (So. G) also contributed with five apiece.
Hawley doubled Crookston’s production behind the arc shooting eight three-pointers, but the Pirates’ efficiency from the two range (32 points) proved to be the decider.
Crookston became the first team to hold the Nuggets to under 40 points in the 2018-2019 season.
“I was really happy with the way our defense played to start the game,” Zimmerman said. “We weren’t as efficient on the offensive end, but defensively, we were really stretching them out. We did a good job of contesting a lot of things.”
The beginning of this contest featured maximum turnovers and minimum points. Five minutes into the game, the score sat at 4-3 in favor of Crookston. Cwikla tacked on to the lead with two points in the paint, but a 5-0 run with scores by Kylie Crabtree and Rux gave the Nuggets an 8-6 lead with 9:56 to go in the half.
Following a Hefta bucket, Hawley countered with an 11-0 run. Lilleby, Kaylie Crabtree, Rux and Thompson all recorded points in the stretch, and the Nuggets expanded their led to 19-10.
Hawley controlled the pace of the game and limited Crookston to the point of barely being able to take a quality shot. The Pirates struggled to attack the rim, but that all changed when Thompson, a 6-foot-3-inch guard, went to the bench after she tripped over Cwikla and injured her elbow.
Immediately after Thompson left, the Pirate offense exploded. Solheim ended a five-minute scoring drought with free throws, and Cwikla and Winjum scored back-to-back for a 6-0 run to end the first half and make it a 19-16 game.
Borowicz kicked off the second half with a trey to tie the game, and a Boyle three-pointer on the ensuing possession gave Crookston their first lead since 6:45 left in the first half.
Borowicz and Boyle scored the next four points, and Solheim capped off the 19-0 surge with a three to award the Pirates a 29-19 advantage. Thompson re-entered the game before Solheim’s trey.
“The big thing was, when [Thompson] was out, we started to attack a little bit more,” Zimmerman said. “It was the same stuff we were trying to do when she was in there, but we were a little hesitant. [Hawley] was very good to start the game too, defensively.”
Lilleby, Kylie Crabtree and Thompson each scored in the next seven minutes, but the Pirates kept their 10-point lead at 37-27 after Hefta converted on a reverse layup with 7:54 to go.
Kaylie Crabtree cut the lead down to seven and hit the Nuggets’ third three-pointer of the half. Hefta then accomplished a feat she had only done once before: make a three-point shot. Coming into the game, 108 of Hefta’s season points came from two-point range and only three from behind the arc. This one, although 6:32 still remained in the game, acted as a dagger.
“Rachel is a good shooter, and, generally speaking, she’s going to shoot a shot she’s very comfortable with,” Zimmerman said. “We tell her if she’s comfortable shooting it, she’s got the green light. She’s a smart basketball player. She knows good times to shoot it, and that was a big shot.”
It is a rare occurrence when Hefta attempts and hits one from deep, but she claims she felt confident at the time.
“[I’m thinking] if I have enough time to set up,” Hefta said. “I’m a post so I don’t take those quick shots that the rest of the guards do. I knew I had that shot, I just shot it and it went in.”
Borowicz used a three-point play to extend the Pirates’ lead to their largest of the night, 43-30. Hawley never got it under 10 the rest of the way, and Crookston ended their seven game skid with a 47-37 victory.
“Coming out in the second half, we made sure that they were not going to get that ball up court,” Hefta said on the team’s defense after the intermission. “They were not going to get any passes that were easy. We just made sure they had the worst time trying to pass and have an offensive play set.”
The Pirates will look to win consecutive games for the first time since January 4 and January 11 when they host Barnesville on Thursday, February 14. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.
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