Defense, depth helps Pirates beat Thief River Falls, 54-27
On Feb. 6, the Crookston girls' basketball team began its toughest stretch of the regular season.
The Pirates faced Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls, Stephen-Argyle, Barnesville, Perham and Hawley — teams that possess a combined record of 69-24. They came away with a more-than-respectable 4-2 record against that murderer's row, solidifying themselves as contenders for a Section 8AA crown.
But since last Tuesday's 53-46 win over the Nuggets, Crookston's been able to breathe just a bit. Its last three opponents — Roseau, Thief River Falls and Thief River Falls again — are a combined 8-25. Its average margin of victory against them: 31.3 points.
Down the stretch, the Pirates have had plenty of games packed into a short period of time: their 54-27 win over the Prowlers Tuesday was their fourth game in the last eight days. Those games haven't been too challenging, though. What they do provide is a chance for them to look inwards and focus on their own performance without the real threat of a loss.
Games like Tuesday's allow Crookston to round into playoff form at its own pace. It's an opportunity it's trying to take full advantage of.
Last Friday's game in Thief River Falls was a fairly routine, 65-37 Pirate victory. Darin Zimmerman was happy with the win, to be sure, but Crookston's coach still saw areas where improvement was needed.
The Prowlers (2-14, 2-9) average the third-fewest points in Section 8A, while the Pirates allow the second-fewest. TRF, though, outscored its season average and knocked down six 3-pointers.
"I thought we didn't guard the 3-point line very well Friday," Zimmerman said. "I thought we gave up a little too much penetration as well. So we knew that we had to be just sharper on the defensive end."
Indeed Crookston was. It allowed its fifth-lowest point total of the season, forcing well over 20 steals for the game and holding the Prowlers to just nine field-goal makes. Abby Borowicz picked off a pass on TRF's opening possession, and Hayden Winjum did the same on the next. That set the tone, and the Pirates used a 12-0 run to take a 17-3 lead and didn't look back.
Winjum was a revelation Tuesday night, tying for the team lead in scoring with 13 points and coming up with a jaw-dropping nine steals, per a Crookston assistant coach. Her off-ball movement was stellar, as she often got herself open right underneath the basket, and her length completely disrupted the Prowlers' passing.
"Just from a skill set and an athletic standpoint, she's got it all," Zimmerman said, while also praising Winjum's basketball intelligence. "It's just a matter of being aggressive and attacking. The last five, six, seven games, she's just gotten a little bit better, a little bit more confident, a little bit more aggressive."
The Pirates' offensive balance was a strength, as Halle Winjum, Emma Borowicz and Emma Boll scored 13, 11 and eight points, respectively. Zimmerman simply described his team's egalitarian approach as "good basketball."
Crookston was also spurred on by bench players Ally Perreault and Jenna Coauette. Perreault, who had two key baskets in the first half, used her scoring ability down low to give the team a different look. Coauette didn't score, but played a huge role in helping the Pirates to a 34-15 halftime lead with her intensity on the defensive end.
"In terms of her hustle and how fast she was moving from spot to spot, her aggressiveness on rebounds, that type of play is contagious," Zimmerman said of Coauette. "To get that spark off the bench is important. And I think Ally's done such a good job of being an aggressive player defensively and offensively. She's added another dimension for us."
Zimmerman thought Crookston left some offensive opportunities on the table, as it got good looks but missed a few shots it normally makes. The Pirates hit just two 3-pointers, well below their average of 5.3 per game.
Fortunately for them, they've still got enough time for fine-tuning before the postseason begins — because then, they'll enter a stretch even tougher than what they faced in February.
"Maintain playing good defensive basketball is number one," Zimmerman said. "That's the most important thing that we always talk about, that we wanna continue to do. Secondly, just gotta keep our kids being confident, keep them shooting the ball and attacking. Execution is the important thing."
UP NEXT: Crookston is at home for its final regular season game, against East Grand Forks (7-9, 4-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Pirates beat the Green Wave, 52-24, in East Grand Forks on Jan. 28.
NOTES: Zimmerman said that Emma Osborn, who has missed Crookston's last four games with a sprained ankle, is "getting closer" to returning. Osborn, one of the Pirates' top reserves and outside shooting threats, is fourth on the team in scoring at 7.4 points per game.
Thief River Falls 15-12—27
- Points: Halle Winjum 13, Hayden Winjum 13, Emma Borowicz 11, Emma Boll 8, Ally Perreault 4, Amelia Overgaard 4, Abby Borowicz 1
- Team: 22 field goals, two 3-pointers, 8-13 free throws
THIEF RIVER FALLS STATS
- Points: Sydney Reierson 7, Breanna Myers 5, Josie Johnson 3, Kendal Rantanen 3, Trista Spears 3, Maren Espe 2, Olivia Hawkins 2, Jeanne Olson 2
- Team: nine field goals, four 3-pointers, 5-6 free throws
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