The year's top moments in Crookston sports
While we await the resumption of high school and college sports, whenever that will be, right now doesn’t seem like a bad time to take one final look at the 2019-20 season.
Later this week, I’ll take a look at the teams themselves. But for today, I’m ranking five of the year’s top moments in Crookston sports, as well as a couple other moments that didn’t quite make the cut.
Girls’ basketball: Roseau 61, Crookston 60 (Jan. 28) — Yes, the Pirates lost, but set that aside for a moment — this was probably the most entertaining game of the season, in any sport. The season’s second matchup between Section 8AA powers had it all: a scintillating performance by Roseau star Katie Borowicz, who finished with 40 points, two second-half comebacks from near double-digit deficits by Crookston, and a dramatic ending sequence: Hayden Winjum and Katie Borowicz traded go-ahead buckets in the final 30 seconds, before Halle Winjum, with a chance to send the game to overtime, went just 1-for-2 from the free throw line. The game wasn’t much of a turning point or hint of anything to come later that season, for either team, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Baseball: Minnesota Crookston’s hot start — Under head coach Steve Gust, the Golden Eagles’ turnaround over the last five years has been steady but striking, and after a program-best 28-21 season a year ago, 2020 looked like the year they could take it one step further. Through 13 games, UMC was 8-5, but even more dominant depending on where you looked: it was hitting .324 as a team with a .942 OPS, outscoring opponents 6.8-4.2 on average and had three capable starters and a lineup with seven players batting above .300. Despite the season being cut short due to COVID-19, there is a bright side for the Golden Eagles — the vast majority of the team should return in 2021.
5. Caden Osborn breaks Crookston boys’ basketball’s all-time rebound record
Osborn actually broke two Crookston rebounding records during a dominant senior season, one in which he averaged 18 points and 13 boards per game on the way to an All-Northwest Conference selection. The first came on Jan. 23, when he pulled down 22 rebounds in a win at Climax-Fisher, breaking Emmanuel McCullough’s single-game record of 21 set in 2013.
One month later, the Pirates honored Osborn and their five other seniors on Senior Night, and Osborn rose to the occasion. In just his second game back from a knee injury, he put the exclamation point on a 91-62 blowout of Roseau with his 718th career rebound, pulling past Aaron Hollcraft for first place all-time in Pirate history. The record-setting rebound was one of Osborn’s 15 on the night, while he also scored a team-high 25 points.
4. Catherine Tiedemann and Emma Borowicz return to state tennis
As sophomores in 2018, Tiedemann and Borowicz scraped their way to the state tournament by winning a true second match in three sets over a duo from Parkers Prairie. They were the second-youngest team in Minneapolis that year, and despite losing both matches, the future appeared bright for the Pirate duo.
As juniors, Tiedemann and Borowicz earned the No. 2 seed in Section 8A. They won their first three matches at the section tournament, including a semifinal victory over teammates Hayden and Halle Winjum, but fell short in the championship match to Roseau. Nonetheless, they nabbed the section’s final state berth without needing a true second match, as the Winjum sisters won third.
The Pirates lost both matches at state, eliminated by Litchfield after a tiebreaker. Still, Tiedemann and Borowicz were Crookston’s only fall sport athletes to make it to the biggest stage.
3. Pirates send five wrestlers to state
In 2011, six Crookston wrestlers competed at the individual state tournament in St. Paul. The Pirates wouldn’t come close to that large a contingent again — until 2020.
On Feb. 22, wrestling in their own gym, Ethan Boll, Ethan Bowman, Zach Brown, Carter Coauette and Hunter Knutson all punched their tickets to state. Brown, a junior and the reigning Section 8A champion, had no trouble wrestling his way to the top of the podium at 120 pounds. Bowman took second at 113, as did Boll at 182. Knutson won the section title outright at 145 pounds, while Coauette outlasted his opponent in a dramatic true second match. Making the feat even more impressive, Boll, Bowman and Knutson did it as freshmen, while Coauette was an eighth-grader.
Brown couldn’t outdo his fourth-place finish in 2019, as he placed fifth in St. Paul, while Boll finished sixth and the three other Pirates didn’t place. But on an encouraging note, all five wrestlers will be back for Crookston next year.
2. Crookston girls’ hockey wins its first playoff game in five years
During the darkest days of the last five years, the Pirate program itself was in jeopardy. But with talented youngsters steadily rising through the ranks and beginning to make an impact on the ice, the future for Crookston brightened considerably in 2019-20.
The Pirates made their first real statement on Dec. 10, beating Class AA stalwart Bemidji, 4-0, on the road. They were competitive against the likes of Fergus Falls and Thief River Falls. Ultimately, they finished the regular season at 11-13, their most wins since 2013.
The long-awaited breakthrough culminated in a home playoff game — Crookston’s first since 2015 — against Detroit Lakes on Feb. 6. The Lakers put the home crowd on edge with two goals in the first seven minutes, but the Pirates barely flinched: Nora Peterson took the momentum back with a goal, Kylee Meier tied the game early in the second, and Aleah Bienek scored the go-ahead goal later that period.
1. Harrison Cleary becomes the NSIC’s all-time leading scorer
There are few words that haven’t been written in this paper about Cleary, who over his four-year career at Minnesota Crookston almost single-handedly dragged the Golden Eagles into relevance. His record-setting 1,933rd career point in NSIC play was a celebration of just how far he had dragged them.
UMC had won just three games the season before Cleary arrived in Crookston. From the very beginning, it was clear that Cleary was good enough to change the program’s direction. The Golden Eagles’ win total went from eight, to 10, to 17, as Cleary scored 2,076 points over those three years.
Even though Cleary averaged 26.6 points per game last year, his senior season didn’t feature the same amount of team success. The Golden Eagles went just 11-18 and failed to reach the quarterfinals of the NSIC Tournament. Their loss to Southwest Minnesota State on Jan. 31 typified much of their season — the Mustangs simply ran away with the game in the second half, opening up a 15-point lead by the game’s final minutes.
But with 50 seconds to play, Cleary hit an and-1 layup, stepped to the line and knocked down the free throw, putting him into the NSIC record books for good. So that fans could salute him, head coach Dan Weisse pushed Cleary towards center court, where he raised his hand in recognition as he literally and figuratively stood alone.
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