GLYNDON — As Walker Winjum’s 3-pointer bounced off the rim once and fell through the net, he glanced up in the direction of the scoreboard.
Maybe he just wanted to make sure for himself: his Pirates, underdogs coming in, had gone and executed their gameplan just about as well as they could reasonably have expected, to the point where they were down just 30-27 to second-seeded Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and everything seemed in play.
It was as close as they would get.
The Rebels (21-6) went on a 19-5 run between the first and second halves, one of a handful of stretches in which they put their superior talent to use, on their way to a 71-51 win over Crookston boys’ basketball in the first round of the Section 8AA Playoffs on Thursday.
By and large, the seventh-seeded Pirates (9-18) did everything they needed to do to have a chance to pull the upset. The first half was played on their terms: they slowed the game down, knocked down shots and kept DGF from the easy fast breaks that marked a 91-56 defeat in this same building two months ago.
Their margin of error just proved to be to thin.
“They only had one runout in the first half,” said coach Greg Garmen. “That was what we wanted to do and we did it well early on, just needed to do more of it. That one bad stretch to start the second half really hurt us, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Rebels, who average nearly 80 points per game, had just six points through five minutes, and led 13-12 midway through the first half. But a 7-0 run, the product of multiple Crookston turnovers, broke things open.
“You could feel it,” Winjum said. “Their student section was getting into it during those times, they were playing with more energy. You could just see something kinda sparked in them, that they realized we have to take care of these guys before taking care of the next round.”
The Pirates didn’t let them do so right away. Carter Bruggeman (Jr., G) scored on a sidewinding, full-court drive to the basket before stepping out to knock down a three, followed by Winjum’s make from the left corner which cut the lead to three with a minute before halftime. A DGF trey right before intermission didn’t put a damper on any of it — Crookston went into the locker room with all it could hope for: a puncher’s chance.
“We never thought we were out of it,” Winjum said. “Our mindset was mostly, what do we have to lose here? We just gotta go out there and play our game.”
And if not for the physical fatigue that had begun to set in, the Pirates might have been able to keep doing so in the second half.
Crookston didn’t have the gas in the tank to keep pace with the reinvigorated Rebels, who pressed, ran and shot their way to a 49-32 lead four minutes into the second. The Pirates scored seven straight points to get within 10, but DGF snuffed out every attempt to close the gap further.
“They’re a little more physical than we are and it’s just tough to battle back with smaller kids,” Garmen said. “We just got to keep battling and I felt our kids did that. … They’re solid defensively. We had to work for everything we were trying to get, and we probably got a little tired.”
Crookston did just enough to keep the faintest hope alive for the rest of the second half. But with 1:41 to play and the margin still solidly in double-digits, that hope had dwindled to next to nothing, and Garmen resigned himself to his team’s fate. He subbed in Cooper Brown, Brady Butt and Joseph Ramirez to join Winjum and Caden Osborn, allowing the Pirates’ five seniors to finish out their high school careers together on the court.
Winjum and Osborn were the two seniors to get major minutes on Thursday, and both made the most of them. Winjum scored 11 points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds in what Garmen called a “whale of a game,” while Osborn, who had been suffering from a right knee injury, ultimately suited up to score 12 points and pull down nine boards.
“Caden wasn’t quite himself,” Garmen said. “He missed some (shots) that he normally would not have missed just because he was a little tender on the knee. But he went and battled, and that was all we could ask. We were fortunate to have him, good for him that he could finish out his last game playing anyways rather than sitting on the bench.”
Maybe that’s the best description of how Crookston’s season ended. The Pirates lost standing on their feet, knowing they gave the effort and executed the way they wanted and needed to. The Rebels were just too good, when and where it mattered.
CROOKSTON -- Easton Tangquist 13, Caden Osborn 12, Walker Winjum 11, Carter Bruggeman 10, Jack Garmen 5
DGF -- Owen Leach 22, Aiden Leach 15, Ian Mickelson 10, Jacob Strand 9, Justin Wang 7, Colby Schreiber 5, Logan Bittker 4, Drew Coalwell 2
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