Halle Winjum didn’t ask to start on Tuesday night.
Halle Winjum didn’t ask to be on the line, her team down by two, with 3.7 seconds left in the game.
But there was the eighth-grader: knees bent, ball held slightly to the right off her face, eyes locked on the rim, and really, could there be a better way to cap off her first varsity start by making the two biggest free throws of her life and sending Roseau — that Roseau — to overtime?
Could Winjum have imagined this scenario 24 hours earlier, when she got the word that with Gretchen Theis out due to mononucleosis, she would be elevated from sixth man into the starting lineup?
Whatever she was thinking, her new role probably didn’t change it.
“She's tough,” said Crookston head coach Darin Zimmerman. “She doesn't care if she starts or comes off the bench. She's just ready to play.”
Coming off the bench, Winjum has provided a boost of offense and energy all season. She averaged 7.2 points per game coming into Tuesday, good for fourth on the team, and has been one of Crookston’s best shooters. Her game hasn’t been limited by her 5-foot-5 frame, which made her the smallest player on the court most of the game, either: against the Rams, she led her team with nine rebounds.
It was Winjum’s gritty drives to the basket which were at the heart of some of the Pirates’ biggest surges on Tuesday. She split the Roseau defense wide open and banked in a runner in traffic to keep an 8-2 first half run rolling. She did the same to give Crookston a 33-31 lead, its first since the game’s opening minutes, to begin the second half. Her nine points, nine rebounds and three assists tell the story of a game played without fear.
“Halle just set the tone,” Zimmerman said. “She handled the ball really well for us, facilitated us into our offense, and the more aggressive she was, the better we were too.”
“She was a little bit nervous before,” Halle’s sister, Hayden, admitted. “But she went out there from the tip-off and just played like she was a starter. I’m really proud of how she did.”
Emma Borowicz poured in 21 points, 20 coming in the second half, a vintage scoring performance from the Pirates’ talisman. The elder Winjum added 15, and her four steals and four blocks played a huge role in ending many Ram surges.
But maybe it was most appropriate that Halle Winjum — equal parts metronomic, versatile, tenacious all night — had the ball in her hands looking set up the Pirates’ final shot, the score 61-59 and the clock winding down. The Rams’ defense was just a hair too tight, and the referee blew the whistle.
Winjum took a couple dribbles and placed the ball just in front of her eyeball. Her shot arced high and came down as soft as cotton.
Her second shot clanged off the rim.
Strip it down entirely and basketball is just a series of events, one after one, that add up over time. But these events can’t be moved around or placed out of order. A missed free throw with 15 minutes to play counts the same as a missed free throw with 15 seconds. But Crookston lost to Roseau on Tuesday, 61-60, and none of its 11 other misses will carry the same lingering burden of “what if?” with them.
That burden is Halle Winjum’s to carry.
“It just ended up being her at the end,” Hayden Winjum said. “She was a little disappointed, but we tried to make her feel better. It definitely wasn’t her fault.”
But Winjum didn’t need too much consolation, according to Zimmerman. Nothing could take away all she had done to get the Pirates to that point in the first place — her team made sure of that.
And now, with her first start and all of its highs and lows are in the books, Winjum’s eyes will only be trained forward.
“The thing I know about Halle … is when she does something and it's not to the result she wants, there will be nobody in the state, or the country, or the world that will work harder than her to get better at it,” Zimmerman said. “As she ages, you're just gonna see her get tougher and tougher.
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