Roseau defeated Crookston 73-58 to advance to state.

CROOKSTON - It is difficult when a season’s worth of work comes down to one game. When the winter sports season commences in November, teams across the section start preparing in hopes they can compete in that one game. On one side, winning that one game in a four month season advances a team to the state tournament. The alternative sends a team home. A tough deal, but ask any group, and they will gladly accept the offer and take the risk. The fact that the Crookston Pirates were playing in this one game, the Section 8AA Championship, was nothing short of incredible. Which makes it all the more hard to swallow when a team comes this close and falls just short.

    In their first Section Championship Game since 2013, the No. 10 Pirates hoped to advance and end a 10 year drought away from the state tournament. They battled the No. 1 Roseau Rams as long as they could, but the Rams, headlined by Kacie (Sr. G) and Katie Borowicz (So. G), proved to be too much down the stretch as Roseau clinched their fifth consecutive section championship with a 73-58 win at Lysaker Gymnasium on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus.

    “The hardest part is probably, truly, we were good enough to win,” Pirates Head Coach Darin Zimmerman said. “Roseau’s a good team. I’m not going to take anything away from them. They probably, for 36 minutes, played a little bit better basketball. That’s the hard part. When you’re this close, and you have a team that can do it and just didn’t quite get it done.”

    The two Borowiczes of Roseau (28-2, 15-0 Section 8AA) combined for 52 points, six less than Crookston’s (18-11, 11-7 Section 8AA) team total. Kacie Borowicz, shot 56.5 percent from the field for 29 points, and her younger sister, Katie, went 57.1 percent including a trio of three-pointers for 23.

   Only two other Rams recorded points in this contest. Julia Braaten (So. F) added 17, and Emma Waling (Sr. F) contributed four.

    “[The Borowiczes] had a really good game,” Zimmerman said. “Believe it or not, we probably held them down even a little bit. They still scored a lot, but we just needed to be a tad bit better. Congratulations to them on a good game. If we play it again, we probably have the same type of game plan going in. Just maybe execute a little better.”

    Crookston saw twice as many players score points on their side. Emma Borowicz (So. G) completed her career-best year with 16 points and finished the season with 358. In their final game in a Pirate uniform, Rachel Hefta (Sr. F) and Kylie Solheim (Sr. G) each put up nine. Hayden Winjum, (Fr. G) recorded eight, Gretchen Theis (Jr. G) provided six, Kasey Cwikla (Jr. G) totaled five, Dani Boyle (Jr. G) notched four and Halle Winjum (7th Grade G) hit a free throw in the final seconds.

    The Pirates managed to keep pace with the quick, high-powered offense of the Rams by shooting 44.4 percent (4-for-9) from behind the arc in the first half. Each team shot well from the field with the Pirates at 59.1 percent (13-for-22), and the Rams at 50 percent (15-for-30) in the first half.

    Roseau’s shooting percentage shot up to 60 (15-for-25) in the second half, and Crookston nearly matched it at 52.9 (9-for-17). What eventually sunk the Pirates were the 19 turnovers.

    “We had a couple stretches where we turned the ball over too much, and they turned those turnovers into points,” Zimmerman said. “Quite frankly, that’s probably one of the biggest differences in the scoreboard."

    The Rams bested Crookston in the paint outscoring the Pirates 38-26, and although Roseau only out-rebounded Crookston 25-24, the Rams benefited from 10 second-chance points compared to the Pirates’ four.

    Both teams traded baskets to start an extremely fast-paced game. Kacie Borowicz scored Roseau’s first six points, the Pirates used a three by Emma Borowicz and a bucket from Hefta, and the Rams led 6-5.

    Katie Borowicz inserted herself in the mix by hitting a trey, but Crookston's Emma Borowicz proceeded to knock down her second three-pointer of the game for a 9-8 Roseau lead.

    The Rams maintained a three-point advantage until Theis came off the bench and buried Crookston’s third trey in less than seven minutes to tie the score at 13-13. Thirty seconds later, Emma Borowicz’s third three awarded the Pirates their first lead at 16-13 with 11:13 to play in half number one.

    Boyle added four points in a minute to help preserve the lead, but a three-pointer by Braaten evened up the points at 20 apiece.

    “[Braaten] just shot the ball really well tonight,” Zimmerman said. “Some of it, we didn’t do a good job of closing out on her. She’s a good shooter, so we had to contest a little bit better. But again, you got to give credit when they make shots, especially in a big moment like this.”

    Hefta and Hayden Winjum scored back-to-back for a 24-20 lead, and the Pirates grabbed their largest lead of the night.

    Four minutes after picking up her second foul, Katie Borowicz cut the Roseau deficit to one, and Kacie gave the Rams the lead back 25-24 as the clock showed 5:47 to play in the frame.

    Braaten and Kacie Borowicz sandwiched a Hefta free throw with a pair of treys, Solheim and Emma Borowicz kept the score close down 34-31, but four points by Braaten and Kacie Borowicz allowed Roseau to go into halftime ahead 38-31.

    After three straight Roseau points to open the second half, Solheim scored and Emma Borowicz seized her fourth three-pointer of the game to make it five points in a row and cut the deficit in half to 41-36. 

    “What you want is for good players to step up and play tough,” Zimmerman said. “Emma really did that. Not only tonight, but the last two games. Credit a lot of the other girls on our team. They all stepped up during this run.”

    With 15:57 to play, five points served as the closest the Pirates came to tying the game the rest of the way.

    The turnovers began to pile up, and the Rams’ lead grew to nine, 11, 13, 16, and then 18 with seven minutes to play as part of a 23-10 run.

    “Defensively, we had to get out of what we wanted to do because we were turning the ball over,” Zimmerman said. “So we couldn’t really sit in the zone as long as we wanted to. We had to try to mix it up and play a little man-to-man. We didn’t rotate particularly well in that, and they got some open looks because of that.”

    Roseau took their largest lead of the game up 68-48 before Solheim hit the last three of her Pirate career with 6:21 to go.

    With baskets from Solheim and Hayden Winjum and free throws by Cwikla and Theis, Crookston made it 73-57, but the final seconds of this memorable season were ticking away.

    Darin Zimmerman pulled his starters for a chance at a curtain call and sent in five bench players. One of them, Halle Winjum, kept playing to the buzzer which earned her four free throw attempts in the final 10 seconds. The seventh grader missed the first three before nailing the last one.

    A second later, the buzzer sounded, and the Roseau Rams rushed the court to celebrate their fifth straight section championship.

    “To get a little further would have been ideal, but there are lot of players that are already home,” Zimmerman said. “Their seasons ended a long time ago. To lose on a stage like this and to bring some hardware home for our school, for our community, that’s pretty special.”

    The Pirates graduate Hefta and Solheim and will return the rest of the newly tournament-tested group for the 2019-2020 season.

    After the game, the two seniors reflected on their time at Crookston that began with a 4-23 record in 2015-2016 and ended in with a Section 8AA Runner-Up in 2018-2019.

    “The feeling of playing in this game tonight I will carry for the rest of my life,” Solheim said. “Not everyone gets to experience it, so it was kind of special that I got to experience it. Last summer, [Zimmerman] was telling me and Rachel that we can make it to state next year, and I think that gave us all the push. He believed in us, and we worked our hardest to try and achieve that.”

    “This team goes through defeat the same way they go through any win, it’s all the same,” Hefta said. “We just worked so hard and so well together. I’m going to miss this teamwork and this atmosphere.”

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