It’s only been 14 months.
Fourteen months ago, Roseau was preparing to defend its fourth straight Section 8AA title. Crookston was three years removed from a 4-23 season.
But to the Pirates, those 14 months have — at least in relation to the Rams — felt like forever.
“We wanna take them down,” said senior guard Gretchen Theis last Thursday. “We’re sick of hearing about them.”
This is not an uncommon sentiment in Minnesota. But prior to last season, Crookston was one of the vast majority of teams that could only dream about taking Roseau down. It’s only been 14 months that the Pirates have been one of the few that could do more than fantasize. They’ve tasted it; had the Rams within their grasp; have fallen short each time.
Crookston and Roseau have packed about as much as two teams can into those 14 months. Last February, the Pirates took the Rams to overtime in front of a home crowd, only to lose 84-78. The two teams met a month later in Crookston for the section championship, with Roseau running its streak to five with a 73-58 victory. And one month ago, the Rams outlasted the Pirates, 74-65, in Roseau in a battle between then-unbeatens.
“It wasn’t one of our better-played games,” said Crookston head coach Darin Zimmerman last Thursday. “I thought we were a little passive in that game, and that showed in some of the turnovers we had and our general lack of attacking the paint and the basket. We scored a lot of points in that game, but we could have had a lot more.”
All these 14 months have done is solidify the Pirates’ conviction that they’re right there. They know they have what it takes to dethrone Roseau — but as that knowledge has grown, so has the frustration in not being quite able to do so.
On Tuesday night, Crookston had its latest chance. The Rams came to town, 14-3 and on a seven-game winning streak, and the Pirates’ biggest crowd of the season filled their bleachers to greet it.
But two hours later, that giant crowd left silent and dulled, just as they had the last two times Roseau came to town. Rams point guard Katie Borowicz was magnificent under pressure, scoring 40 points (25 in the second half), and Crookston suffered its most frustrating defeat to Roseau yet, 61-60.
“We were that close,” Zimmerman said. “And probably more disappointed in the fact that it seemed like just a few things in the game over the entire game that we just didn't do as well as we normally do.”
You’ve heard the Santana Moss saying: big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Somehow, that understates what Borowicz did on Tuesday. She scored early, often and in bunches, regularly hitting shots that most at this level wouldn’t dream of even taking.
But it wasn’t any of those spectacular shots that the Pirates thought were the margins on Tuesday. That difference might be best encapsulated, instead, by one of Borowicz’s rare misses.
With the Rams down 59-58 with 30 seconds to play, Borowicz had the stage to herself. She put her head down, split the lane and drew a foul with 12 seconds to go.
Her first free throw tied the game. The second free throw hit the front of the rim, and in the thick of Pirates and Rams boxing out, Borowicz won the loose ball. She didn’t hesitate — diving into the murk, somehow coming out clean on the baseline and putting the stamp on a transcendent performance by laying it in off the glass.
“We gotta be a little bit better on the boards,” Zimmerman said. “We gave them some second chances, and I think if you take those away then the result is different. They scored double digits or close to it on second chance points.”
For stretches, Crookston put it all together. It flew around the court and forced turnovers, attacked the rim instead of settling for long jumpers that weren’t falling. But once the final buzzer sounded, these runs became mere reminders of what could have been.
“We were really aggressive in the second half and it showed,” Zimmerman said. “We got them in foul trouble, scored a lot of points in the paint. In the first half, we didn't do those things so we had to put those together for a full game.”
After the game, the Pirates expressed the obvious frustration, but consoled themselves with the idea that their next chance isn’t far away. But really, this isn’t just an idea — Hayden Winjum (So., G), while summing up her team’s performance, used the word “when” twice in reference to a possible playoff showdown.
Don’t let this guarantee be misinterpreted as cockiness — for as frustrating as another hard-fought loss to Roseau is, that frustration is steadily becoming a steadfast determination.
“They hit the shots, they came out, they played really well tonight,” Winjum said. “So did we, and we wish we would have been the team on top, but we're ready for the postseason.”
And if that determination does pay off come the postseason, it will make the past 14 months more than worth it for Crookston.
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