There are multiple ways that a five-day break between games can go.
Some teams come out recovered, refreshed and raring to go. Crookston girls’ basketball, on the other hand, had one of its lowest-scoring halves of the season.
The Pirates (21-6) finished their regular season — one of their best in several years — with a 63-52 win at Breckenridge last Friday. And at least at the start of Thursday’s first round game against East Grand Forks, they seemed to have some trouble shaking the rust off.
“We had a lot of practice in there, which is good, but sometimes we lose that game momentum,” said Hayden Winjum (So., G). “With it being playoffs, emotions were high, we were a little nervous for sure. I wouldn’t say we got out of shape, but it slowed us down a little bit.”
Added coach Darin Zimmerman: “There were maybe a little nerves, first playoff game — not to say that they’re nervous, but it’s a big crowd, and you have expectations.”
Crookston eventually settled down and put the pesky Green Wave away, 34-28, after leading just 14-13 at halftime. But if it wants to advance any farther in the playoffs, it will need to show that their shaky start was just that — a shaky start, and not the sign of anything more damning.
If the Pirates had beat a sub-.500 East Grand Forks team by just six points in December, you might have been within your rights to demand an apology. That’s no longer the case. In its first 16 games, Crookston went 14-2, averaging 65 points per game and allowing 39. It’s gone 7-4 since then, outscoring opponents by just 52-45 on average. In essence, the last 11 games have been preparation for the grind of the postseason, where nothing really comes easy.
There’s an extra energy level and focus that’s necessary for winning those types of games. The Pirates have had to dial it up for the last month, and to advance farther in the playoffs, they’ll have to bring it again and again.
“The key is you have to do it all the time,” Zimmerman said. “It can’t be all of a sudden, two weeks left to go in the season and now you’re doing it for the first time. You have to practice with that intensity, whether it’s the first practice of the season or whether it’s the last one.”
Saturday afternoon, the Pirates will take on Pelican Rapids (26-0) in Moorhead in the section quarterfinals. The two teams have met before — the Vikings scrapped their way to a physical, 32-27 win on Feb. 1, a game after which Winjum said Crookston learned “how to be tough.”
In this regard, having only one day between games might help the Pirates. There’s no time to dwell on a nervous start, or what one might call an “ugly” win — postseason wins aren’t meant to always be pretty. For Crookston, it’s simply on to the next one.
“Just gotta play with the same intensity we played with tonight,” Zimmerman said Thursday. “East Grand Forks played incredibly hard, they’re very well coached. This game, in and of itself, was a preparation for the next game, no matter who won.”
And now that the Pirates have gotten the first game out of the way, it might just be easier for them to come out with the requisite energy from start to finish — a must against the fifth-ranked team in the state.
“We got a quick turnaround, so we’re looking forward to that,” Winjum said. “I think we’ll be a little more ready to go this time.”
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