BAGLEY — On the bench, Crookston’s starting lineup watched the fruits of its labor in full bloom.
Halle Winjum caught the ball beyond the arc and sent a 3-pointer right down Main Street. The Pirates cheered as one, yelling and throwing up their arms in unison. Emma Borowicz leaned to her right and made a bow-and-arrow gesture.
From watching that sequence, you wouldn’t know the score unless you saw Home: 4, Visitor: 54 on the scoreboard. Even in a close-to-empty gym against winless Bagley, Crookston celebrated like it was in a one-possession rivalry game.
But considering how tough the Pirates’ last three games were, after all, why wouldn’t they take the time to enjoy this as much as they could?
After starting out 7-0, they’d been stretched to their limit at Section 8AA power Roseau in a 74-65 loss. The Fergus Falls Holiday Classic brought no reprieve, only a 59-54 loss to Hawley and a 74-69 win over Coon Rapids in which the Pirates nearly coughed up a 16-point lead.
Crookston was untouchable during its unbeaten start, winning by nearly 30 points per game. But games against the Rams and Nuggets, who came in at 6-0 and 5-1, respectively, and a Class AAAA team in Coon Rapids forced the Pirates — as well as they had played thus far — to adjust quickly to teams that wouldn’t be totally outmatched.
It also reminded them that they can’t take games like Friday night for granted.
“We try to prepare for every opponent the same way,” said head coach Darin Zimmerman, while admitting that sometimes that’s easier said than done. “Playing a team like Roseau, a team we played in the section championship last year, it was a little extra excitement among the girls. But they do a good job of preparing for every opponent the same way and taking every practice serious.”
That’s the inherent danger in playing a team like the Flyers, who forfeited their first two games due to not being able to field a full team and have yet to come within 36 points of anyone. That danger, though, may have been tamped down by Crookston’s recent challenging stretch.
Instead of worrying about a trap game, the Pirates took the opportunity to take it back to the basics. In a game as lopsided as Friday night’s, success can’t always be measured by the final score (Crookston 66, Bagley 14) alone, so Zimmerman focused more on if his team was doing the little things right.
“One area in particular — on offense, I thought we were really patient,” Zimmerman said. “We didn't always catch the ball in triple threat or in position to score (in previous games), so we talked about that and we fixed that, because those are the things you gotta do no matter who you're playing.”
While the offense displayed solid ball movement and “really saw the court well,” according to senior forward Kasey Cwikla, Zimmerman praised Crookston’s activity away from the ball on defense, another area in which it struggled as of late. The Pirates’ choice to dial back their usual full-court press paid off, as they were able to focus more on solid halfcourt defense.
“We usually put good ball pressure on, but I think we did a better job of rotating away from the ball and did a better job of keeping girls in front of us,” Zimmerman said. “In a couple of our losses, we let kids penetrate into the gap too much and it kinda stretched our defense.”
Crookston has 15 regular season games left to play. None of them are against Bagley. The Pirates will, however, see Roseau and Hawley again, as well as a host of other section contenders such as East Grand Forks, Perham and unbeaten Pelican Rapids.
What that means is that Friday night was more important than you’d expect a 52-point blowout to be. This was a chance for Crookston to pick up another win (which, at the end of the day, counts the same as any), work on the fundamentals and get some much-needed relief.
That relief was evident in the Pirates’ play all night long. And it’s what Zimmerman, when asked what his biggest takeaways were, pointed to in succinct fashion.
“It was a fun game.”
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