After the buzzer sounded, the Pirates gathered at midcourt.
Linking arms, they began a chant that picked up in intensity with each rendition, separating with another cheer. They then jogged off the court to be loudly greeted in the hallway behind the gym by the Crookston student section.
There’s only one statistic that matters come playoff time. This was proof.
Despite scoring its second-fewest points of the season, Crookston edged out East Grand Forks, 34-28, in the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs at CHS Thursday night.
“As it came down to it, our kids just made a few more plays,” said coach Darin Zimmerman. “They were a little tougher in some situations, offensively took care of the ball a little better and we executed down the stretch.”
Sometimes it’s not any more complicated than that.
The third-seeded Pirates (21-6) didn’t allow a basket for the first seven minutes, taking a 7-0 lead during that stretch. With Hayden Winjum (So., G) on the perimeter — she would finish with six steals — and Kasey Cwikla (Sr., F) bringing physicality down low, it was as stout a defensive effort as Crookston has had all year.
“Just effort and intensity,” Zimmerman said. “We did a good job mirroring the ball, getting up, making sure our hands were in the passing lanes. We’ve been stressing jumping to the ball, making sure that when that ball’s in the air, we’ve got five blue jerseys moving at the same time.”
The sixth-seeded Green Wave (11-16) had been rolled over in their previous two meetings against the Pirates, falling 55-21 on Dec. 10 and 63-27 on Jan. 30. And until the last five minutes of the first half, Thursday looked like it could be a similar story.
But Crookston missed a number of layups and free throws down the stretch, while the Green Wave got inside on offense to close the half on a 10-1 run, going into the break down 14-13.
“East Side definitely came out to play,” Winjum said. “They were a lot tougher than they were the last game and we knew we couldn’t look overthem. They’re a good team.”
East Grand Forks tied the game early in the second, but Winjum, Gretchen Theis (Sr., G) and Halle Winjum (8, G) began getting to the rim, helping the Pirates build a 20-15 lead. The Green Wave got within two points shortly after, but Crookston began to separate with a 12-5 run over the latter part of the second half.
Improved ball movement and penetration was the key for much of this stretch, with Cwikla and Dani Boyle (Sr., G) both getting open under the rim on similar plays and converting.
“Our shots weren’t really falling tonight,” Winjum said. “We found ways closer to the rim with driving.”
Hayden Winjum was the game’s leading scorer, finishing with 11 points. Cwikla scored eight, Halle Winjum scored seven, Boyle and Abby Borowicz (Fr., G) scored three apiece and Theis scored two.
Madison Manger and Haley Burger each scored eight to tie for the lead for the Green Wave.
“East Grand Forks played incredibly hard,” Zimmerman said. “They’re very well-coached. … That intensity, that playoff atmosphere that’s on the line, that helped us.”
According to Winjum, it took time for the Pirates to find this intensity — maybe understandable after a six-day layoff between their last regular season game and Thursday. It showed during East Grand Forks’ run to close out the first half, and for parts of the second as well.
But ultimately, Crookston had just enough time to find its level; buckling down to do the only thing necessary at this time of year.
“Playoffs emotions are high, but we kind of came out a little scared,” Winjum said. “Towards the end we finished things out.”
UP NEXT: The Pirates will take on No. 5 Pelican Rapids (26-0) in the section quarterfinals at Concordia College in Moorhead on Saturday. It will be a rematch of the Heart O’Lakes Conference Showcase which took place Feb. 1 in Moorhead, in which the Vikings beat Crookston 32-27
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