Crookston snapped the Storm's 22-game winning streak and improved their own to four straight.
ARGYLE - In the 2017-2018 season, the Stephen-Argyle Storm rolled into Crookston and left with a 62-60 win following a game-winning shot with .7 seconds to play. This season, the Pirates sailed into the backyard of the Storm, the No. 7 team in Class A according to QRF, who had not lost a game all season.
The stage was set.
In this marathon, Crookston trailed for all but about nine and a half minutes. The Pirates led at the beginning and the very end. Emphasis on the end. Behind 12 points from Hayden Winjum (Fr. G) and a 10-1 run to close out the game, the Crookston Pirates silenced the home crowd, dethroned the formerly undefeated Storm (22-1, 17-0 Section 8A) and celebrated a 48-44 victory.
“That was our biggest win we’ve had yet,” Pirates Head Coach Darin Zimmerman said. “I’ve thought we’ve had some good wins. Beating Hawley last week was nice and [we] had some good wins earlier in the year. But to beat a ranked team at this stage of the season, an undefeated team, that was big.”
Crookston (15-10, 8-6 Section 8AA) struggled with long-range shooting and playing under the rim for the first half. They also squandered a handful of opportunities to take a lead. But phenomenal defense and timely baskets gave them the boost they needed to pull off this signature win.
Joining Winjum in the scoring, Rachel Hefta (Sr. F) added eight, Kasey Cwikla (Jr. G) delivered seven off the bench, Kylie Solheim (Sr. G), Gretchen Theis (Jr. G) and Emma Borowicz (So. G) each put up six and Dani Boyle (Jr. G) contributed three.
“We were really excited, and in this game, we were able to play 36 minutes,” Winjum said. “We’ve kind of struggled with that in the past. I was really excited how we finished the game, and it was a good win for us.”
Stephen-Argyle’s main scoring threats came from Riley Mooney (Fr. F) and Abi McGlynn (Sr. F), who scored 19 and 12 respectively. Abbey Johnson (Sr. C) notched six, Savannah Riopelle (Sr. G) tallied three and Greta Weberg (Fr. G) and Grace Carlson (Fr. C) rounded out the list with two.
Despite issues with three-pointers, the Pirates outshot the storm from behind the arc 4-1. Three of Crookston’s took place in the second half.
The Pirates finished only 50 percent (8-for-16) from the line, but the last three by Winjum to apply the dagger in the closing seconds outweighed all the misses.
During their 22-game winning streak, Stephen-Argyle’s closest scares came in the second and third games of the season when they defeated both East Grand Forks and Langdon/Edmore/Munich 38-35, and a 51-45 overtime win against Grafton/St. Thomas.
The Storm’s 22 wins came by an average margin of 18 points.
Winjum revealed the secret to beating the supposedly unbeatable.
“We stayed focused, and we focused on each play,” Winjum said. “Just getting through each one and not worrying about what would happen after that.”
The Pirates could not have started any better for the first five minutes. Boyle opened up the scoring with a trey, Winjum completed a three-point play and Borowicz's basket made for an 8-0 run.
“We were playing good defense,” Zimmerman said. “We were swarming the ball really well. Offensively, we got some transition opportunities and got open shots. That was a credit to our defense."
Seventeen seconds after Borowicz’s points, Johnson put the Storm on the board after going scoreless for 4:57. Mooney scored the next five points, and Stephen-Argyle trailed 8-7.
With 11:06 to play in the half, McGlynn gave the Storm their first lead, and Mooney capped off Stephen-Argyle’s 11-0 run for an 11-8 advantage.
The Pirates ran into a bit of bad luck as a number of wide-open shots refused to fall. Their presence under the rim was nearly nonexistent until Borowicz drove to the basket and converted on a layup to make it a 16-12 game in favor of the Storm.
After 14 minutes where points were hard to come by, the final 4:30 featured a decent amount of scoring. The Storm made it to the line often in the waning minutes and gained seven points from free throws. The Pirates finished the half 5-for-5 from the line, four of them coming in the last 3:15.
Winjum and Theis continued to attack the rim and each earned two points from layups. Mooney finished off a stellar half of 16 points with two from the line, and the Storm went into halftime ahead 26-20.
Adjustments at halftime were made and the goal was simple: get to the rim and punish the Storm for allowing open looks. Winjum did the former and delivered a layup right out of the gate. After going down 28-22, Cwikla and Hefta hit back-to-back buckets to cut the deficit to two.
“It was an emphasis at halftime to not only get the ball into our forwards more, but for our guards to take it in there,” Zimmerman said. “We talked about high-pointing it. We were going up, but we weren’t doing a great job of releasing it at a high point. We figured, [Stephen-Argyle] is going to block some shots because they’re athletic, but if we get there and get ourselves set, more often than not, we’ll probably score.”
No matter how many times the Pirates crept closer, the Storm always countered to keep it a two-possession game.
With 11:45 to play and Crookston down 32-29, Winjum committed larceny, put her stolen item in the hoop and the Pirates trailed by one for the first time since Stephen-Argyle led 11-10 in the first half. Solheim shot the potential go-ahead jumper on the ensuing offensive possession, but it hit rim, and the long-range woes continued for Crookston.
Still behind 32-31, Theis attempted a possible lead-changing three, but it suffered the same fate as Solheim’s two-point try.
Finally, with 9:10 to play in the game, Cwikla, who came into the game with one three on the season, accepted a pass in the corner and drilled a game-tying three to even the score at 34-34.
The Pirates’ third chance in three-plus minutes to take the lead presented itself, but this Solheim attempt at a trey missed just wide of its mark to keep the game deadlocked.
Mooney, who had been absent in scoring for the first nine minutes of the half, inserted herself in the mix. This time, in the form of a three-point play. McGlynn added two, and Stephen-Argyle’s lead shot back up to two possessions at 39-34.
McGlynn assumed the majority of the Storm's scoring duties after the intermission notching eight of the team's 18 second half points.
Two minutes later, the Storm preserved their five-point lead up 43-38. Theis’ layup clipped it to a three-point game, and Winjum nearly tied it on a three-pointer.
Crookston earned a stop, and, as the clock showed 4:33 remaining, Solheim cashed in on the team’s second equalizing trey of the contest.
McGlynn could not make either free throw attempt under three minutes to go, and Hefta capitalized on a layup for the Pirates’ first lead, 45-43, since they held an 8-7 advantage.
“We know we can stop teams,” Zimmerman said. “I think we’ve proven that for most of the year. [Stephen-Argyle] has some nice players, so they’re difficult to stop at times. But over the course of the game, we had good looks that just didn’t go in. Those are shots you want to have, and if you make them, all of a sudden, the game’s a little bit different. But we got stops when we needed to and scored when we needed to.”
Following a free throw by Riopelle, Borowicz missed both free throw attempts, but a Hefta rebound kept the ball in Crookston’s hands with 54 seconds to play. The ball eventually found Winjum, who drew a foul and two shots. The freshman promptly swished both for a 47-44 lead.
The defense answered with arguably their most crucial stop of the night, and Winjum ambled to the free throw line with 18 seconds to go. Winjum made only one, but with a 48-44 lead, a monumental amount of pressure was lifted.
“Hayden is a quality player,” Zimmerman said. “She’s a strong player, and I’m glad she’s on our team. She just makes play after play. I think the thing she does so well is she always keeps her emotions under control. You never know whether we’ve made a good play or a bad play with Hayden. She makes a lot of plays because of it.”
While on the outside, Winjum appeared calm, the freshman admitted she felt the pressure.
“At the end of the game, it’s a tough situation to hit the free throws,” Winjum said. “I was really nervous there, and I knew if I hadn’t gotten those, it was only a one-point game. So I tried to just focus on the free throw and hit those. But it was scary, because it was so close."
The Storm missed a three on their next possession, Solheim earned the rebound and although the senior missed both free throw attempts, any Stephen-Argyle attack at this point proved frivolous.
The Pirates handed the Stephen-Argyle Storm their first loss of the season, and they did it on their opponent’s home court.
Crookston now enjoys a four-game winning streak after losing seven in a row and eight of nine.
“We played good teams, had our chances to beat them but didn’t make enough plays," Zimmerman said. "Tonight, we did. We rebounded the ball well, we got stops when we needed to, our offense kept getting good looks despite not scoring all the time. Those were the things that were kind of eluding us in those other games. Tonight, we got it done.”
Winjum believes her team is peaking at the opportune time.
“We put together a full 36 minutes, our shots are starting to fall and that’s really good as playoffs start coming,” Winjum said.
The Pirates will look to continue the stretch at the final regular season game when they host Breckenridge on Friday, February 22. The game will be played at Lysaker Gymnasium on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.
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