Crookston defeated the Rebels in the first round of the Section 8AA Tournament.

    Round one: Crookston. Round two: Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Round three would not only decided the season series, but also who would move on in the Section 8AA Tournament. Behind 29 points by their two seniors, Kylie Solheim (Sr. G) and Rachel Hefta (Sr. F), and a 17-0 second-half run, the No. 5 Pirates bested the No. 4 Rebels on the road for a 64-47 victory to advance to the Section 8AA Quarterfinals.

    For the first time since 2015, the Crookston Pirates will move on in the section tournament.

    As previously mentioned, Solheim and Hefta came to play in this elimination game. Solheim headlined Crookston’s side with 17 points, and Hefta supplied 12.

    “They did a little bit of everything tonight,” Zimmerman said about his two seniors. “They did all the little things well. Their heads were high no matter how we were playing. Seems like whenever we needed a big rebound, one of those two were there. Kylie and Rachel were willing to flash the ball, and they were very unselfish too finding open teammates tonight.”

    Dani Boyle (Jr. G) provided a clutch performance behind the arc hitting a trio of three-pointers on her way to 13 points. Hayden Winjum (Fr. G) added seven, Emma Borowicz (So. G) contributed six, Halle Winjum (Seventh Grade G) scored five off the bench and Kasey Cwikla (Jr. G) rounded out the list with four.

    Maria Watt (So. F) led the offense of DGF (17-10, 12-5 Section 8AA) scoring 15 on the night. Katlyn Brenna (Sr. G) notched 12, Allie Critchley (Sr. G) tallied nine, Mallory Leitner (Fr. C) totaled five, Olivia Feigum (Jr. F) had four and Peyton Wilson (Jr. F) finished with two.

    The win serves as the fifth in a row for the Pirates (16-10, 9-6 Section 8AA) after losing seven straight and eight of nine.

    Crookston took game one at home 67-52 back on December 20, 2018 using 31 free throws to claim the win. Nine days later, DGF suffocated the Pirates at Concordia College in Moorhead and handed them a 46-35 loss. Crookston did not record a single three-pointer in that affair. This time around, the Pirates hit six.

    “In that Concordia game, we played really hard and played really well on defense and gave ourselves chances to win it,” Zimmerman said. “But we shot terribly that game. We shot, I think, from the field, 18 percent, and we were 0-for-20 from three. As I was looking back at that Concordia game, our spacing wasn’t great, we were settling for some shots too early in possessions.”

    Much like the second time these teams met, the game began with a mix of a defensive battle and offensive issues. Critchley led off the contest with a three, and the Rebels managed to hold their lead for just under 13 minutes.

    The Pirates struggled to score in the opening minutes with nearly every shot missing. Thanks to four free throws by Cwikla and Halle Winjum, Crookston stayed close down 7-6 with 10:27 to go in the half.

    “It was eerily similar to that Concordia game back in December,” Zimmerman said. “[This game,] I thought our defense was a little more active. We had much better spacing, so I knew it was just a matter of working, and we’ll get some shots to fall.”

    Watt drilled a trey for DGF’s largest lead thus far, but a Hefta bucket cut the deficit in half as Crookston trailed 10-8 with the clock showing 9:08 to go. Following a score from Watt, Boyle contributed her first points of the game behind the arc to bring the Pirates within one down 12-11.

    DGF expanded their lead to 16-13, and with 4:22 to play in the frame, Solheim knocked down a three-pointer to tie the score for the first time since 0-0. Cwikla’s fourth point from the charity stripe tied the game again at 18-18, and Hefta’s sixth point of the game granted the Pirates their first lead ahead 20-18 with 2:56 remaining in the half.

    Gretchen Theis (Jr. G) missed an opportunity for two free throws, Critchley scored on the ensuing possession and the Rebels regained a 21-20 lead.

    Borowicz’s first basket gave Crookston a 24-23 advantage, but Brenna’s bucket with 28 seconds left allowed DGF to go into halftime up 25-24.

    “We did a nice job grinding it out in the first half, making sure we had good possessions, made some tough shots and then just playing good defense,” Zimmerman said. “That kept us in it.”

    The Rebels went behind for a brief moment following a Hefta bucket but quickly recovered in the form of an 11-5 run. Brenna scored four in a row, Watt added a two-point field goal and Critchley turned a steal into two more for a 36-31 lead, the Rebels' largest of the night.

    DGF appeared to be in control, but their five-point lead would prove to be their last opportunity for celebration. What followed was a complete 180 as Crookston rattled off a 17-0 surge.

    “That was just really good basketball out of our girls,” Zimmerman said. “It was just a matter of them executing and playing good basketball. That’s exactly what they did.”

    Halle Winjum kicked it off, Solheim put in six out of the next seven and Crookston went up 40-36. Boyle matched Solheim’s hot hand and notched another trey. After a score from Winjum, Boyle converted on her third three-pointer of the game to finish off the dominating display, and the Pirates led 48-36.

    Zimmerman commended Boyle, who scored her most points in a game, 13, since putting up 17 against Roseau on February 5.

    “[Dani] just stuck with it,” Zimmerman said. “She had some shots that didn’t fall right away, but she just kept playing hard. I thought her defense was just outstanding tonight. Then, all of a sudden, we got her some looks in the second half, and she’s a really good shooter, caught it in rhythm and buried them.”

    Brenna made it a 10-point game with under seven minutes to play, and the only hindrance for Crookston up to this point came in the form of free throws at 10-for-20 as a team thus far.

    As time wound down, the Rebels took chances for steals and most resulted in fouls. After shooting 50 percent for the first three-fourths of the game, the Pirates finished off the final 2:20 10-for-16 to remove all doubt.

    “I think they just started to relax a little bit,” Zimmerman said on the improvement from the charity stripe in crunch time. “We shoot a lot of [free throws] in practice. It’s a matter of relaxing, going up there, just doing your routine and shooting the ball. When you’re overthinking it, that’s when you usually make a mistake. I think they sort of finally settled in and put what the game was out of mind and shot free throws.”

    Time ran out on the clock and on DGF’s season, and Crookston celebrated a 64-47 win to advance to the Section 8AA Quarterfinals.

    The Pirates will now face the number one team in the South Sub-Section, Park Rapids, in a neutral site game located at Concordia College in Moorhead on Saturday, March 2. In their only meeting of the season, the Panthers beat Crookston in Park Rapids by a score of 64-56.

    “One thing I think this group does a good job of: they move on well,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve played good games and had big wins, but we come back to practice with a sense of urgency, and they’re hungry to be better than we were the day before. We have an opportunity to put together a better game and put our best foot forward.”

    The previous section tournament win for the Pirates occurred against Park Rapids in 2015 when Crookston won 69-59 to advance to the semifinals.

Follow live game updates for Pirates and Golden Eagles on Twitter: @CroxTimesSports or Snapchat: crookstontimes1.

For feedback or questions, contact the Times at (218) 281-2730, Nolan Beilstein at (940) 372-8175 or by email at nbeilstein@crookstontimes.com.