After all … that, the Pirates, somehow, had just what they wanted.
Ball in their hands, down by two, seconds to play. Less than a minute earlier, the Crookston boys’ basketball team had trailed by eight, but here was Carter Bruggeman with a chance to steal the season opener from Pelican Rapids.
But Bruggeman had nowhere to go.
As the Vikings converged, the junior guard could only offer up a prayer, one that smacked off the backboard as the buzzer sounded and the scoreboard flashed final.
Pelican Rapids 84, Crookston 82.
For the neutral fan, Monday night was a back-and-forth seat-clencher that seemed to come out of nowhere after halftime, a game that featured 94 second-half points, three separate Viking runs and three separate Pirate comebacks in response. For Crookston, there was a bit more to it.
Caden Osborn (Sr., C), the Pirates’ leading scorer and rebounder from last season, commited two early fouls and spent the entire first half on the bench, totally altering the tenor of the game.
“That hurt us pretty big,” said senior guard Walker Winjum. “If he doesn't get those two quick fouls it might have changed the outcome of the game, to be honest, because we rely on him a lot for our scoring and our rebounding. We realized we had to get that some other way.”
That’s what happened as Winjum, Easton Tangquist (Jr., G) and Jack Garmen (Jr., G) got hot from outside and buoyed Crookston to a 22-14 lead midway through the half.
But the thin, smaller, Osborn-less Pirates struggled to control the ball, rebound and defend the paint. Once their shots stopped falling, Pelican Rapids took advantage, surging to an 11-point lead before the break on the strength of a number of steals and easy layups.
Garmen, though, knocked down a huge 3-pointer to cut the lead margin to 40-32. This gave Crookston a dash of momentum going into halftime, to go with the knowledge that its most important player would be back.
“(Osborn) gives us an inside presence and they have to guard him better,” said head coach Greg Garmen. “That opens up the perimeter for other kids to shoot the ball, and that's what we saw happen.”
The Pirates took a 46-44 lead four minutes into the second half on a Winjum three. Meanwhile, Osborn wasted no time reintroducing himself, physically imposing his will down low.
Both teams settled in for a dogfight. Crookston and Pelican Rapids were tied on five different occasions in the second half, before a Viking surge pushed the lead to 69-62 late. Tangquist powered a Pirate surge in response, ripping the cord on a 3-pointer before flicking in a runner to tie the game at 73.
Pelican Rapids to turned a staple down the stretch. All night long, the Vikings had burned Crookston with dribble-drives around ball screens, collapsing the defense before kicking the ball out to open shooters. They did that on two straight possessions, finding Jayden Rutherford (a game-high 25 points) in the corner for two wide-open treys and an 82-74 lead with a minute and a half left.
“We could have done a better job stopping the drive, whether that be stopping them yourself or helping your teammate,” Winjum said. “Also closing out on shooters, lots of times we’d get there late and they’d shoot it or we’d come too fast and they’d drive right by us.”
But the Pirates weren’t about to roll over. Jack Garmen — he who salvaged the first half — and Winjum canned 3-pointers to put Crookston within four with 39 seconds to go. Still, with a two-possession lead, if the Vikings hit their free throws, the game would be over.
Pelican Rapids went 2-for-8 from the stripe down the stretch, including four straight in the last 30 seconds. The Vikings left the door open, and the Pirates nearly squeaked their way through.
But when the dust settled, Crookston was still on the outside, looking at a scoreboard that didn’t quite come close to encapsulating everything that had happened over the last 36 minutes.
“I feel like all of us felt pretty good about how we played, we just let it slip away on the defensive end," Winjum said. “We know that we can all put stuff together offensively, we just gotta put together a better defensive game.”
Winjum led the Pirates with 23 points, while Tangquist scored 17, Garmen chipped in 14 and Osborn muscled his way to 13 and 10 rebounds in one half of play.
“I didn't know if we would be able to really score this year, and I guess we're able to,” Greg Garmen said. “We had pretty good balanced scoring from our seven kids that played, everybody seemed to get into the action a bit, so that's good to see they're playing with confidence that way.”
But between a defensive showing in need of improvement and Osborn’s foul trouble — a giant “what-if” that looms over everything else Monday night — that confidence couldn’t quite result in a win.
UP NEXT: Crookston takes on Bagley at home at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
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