Gator girls rally for thrilling OT win: Team opens postseason play as second seed in sub-section
Watching his team fall into an 11-23 deficit versus the Crookston Pirates, Gator Head Girls Basketball Coach Brad Dahl called a timeout and asked his group if it wanted to be down 6 to 8 points or 20 points by halftime. The Gators trailed by as many as 15 points, at 13-28, with 2:42 remaining in the first half, but ended the half on a 7-2 run, capped by a Cassie Dahl jumper with about 16 seconds left. At halftime, the Gators trailed 20-30.
In the second half, the Gators rallied all the way back to take a 39-37 lead on a Kenzie Dahl three-pointer with 7:57 remaining— its first lead since 2-0— sending “The Swamp” into a frenzy. The Gators never trailed again, but needed overtime to eventually pull out a physical 55-51 home win over the Pirates inside a raucous “Swamp” atmosphere on February 24— the Gators’ regular season finale.
In this game, the Gators lost two players to injury late in the second half. Jacey Wojchowski left with 2:54 remaining and Hanson with 52 seconds. The Pirates had four players foul out. In the second half, the Pirates’ Hayden Winjum fouled out with 3:11 left, Ally Perreault with 2:49, and Abby Borowicz with 1:53, and Halle Winjum fouled out 20 seconds into overtime.
Coach Dahl said this was a great game for his team to have, but hopes Wojchowski and Hanson will be okay.
“The other girls definitely stepped up when you have two main players sitting on the bench, banged up,” Coach Dahl said. “And, yes, they (the Pirates) had a few girls that got five fouls and it was a physical game. But we found a way to win. That’s fantastic.”
Before all these late-game dramatics, at halftime, Coach Dahl called out some of his players on their approach and readiness.
“We didn’t execute a lot of things in the first half that we had kind of tried to drill into their heads,” Coach Dahl said, “as far as getting to certain spots and making smart passes and just being patient.”
He highlighted his team’s high turnover mark in that first half, but said his team performed “awesome” on the boards to stay in the game going into halftime. For the game, the Gators held a 45-26 edge in rebounds.
The Gators opened the second half on an 8-2 run, capped by a Jade Reese driving two-point shot off a steal, to draw within four, at 28-32, forcing a Pirates timeout with 14:30 left.
The Pirates used a 5-0 run to build its lead back to nine, at 28-37, with 12:18 remaining, but the Gators again responded.
The home team went on a 13-0 run. Capping this run, Kenzie Dahl made that three-pointer— the team’s only three-pointer of the game— and 32 seconds later sunk a long corner two-point jumper, giving the Gators a 41-37 lead with 7:25 remaining.
Kenzie Dahl led the Gators with 14 points, all coming in the second half and overtime.
“She did make some huge shots. (She had) some bonehead plays once in a while, but you kind of hope that they learn,” Coach Dahl said. “She’s still kind of young, but, yeah, she came up huge with some big shots.”
Both teams continued to go back and forth. The Pirates tied the game at 47-47 on an Emma Osborn free throw with 52 seconds remaining.
Following this free throw, both teams exchanged turnovers, the second one coming on a Jade Reese steal for the Gators— one of her team-leading six steals. With the ball, Coach Dahl called a timeout with 29.5 seconds left.
On the ensuing Gator possession, Reese shot a mid-range jumper, but missed. The Pirates’ Halle Winjum grabbed the rebound with about 7 seconds left and took it down the court. She shot a three-pointer at the buzzer, but it fell short, sending the game to overtime.
In the four-minute overtime period, the Gators never trailed. After both teams scored two points, the game remained tied at 49-49 with 2:01 remaining. The Gators took the lead for good when Kenzie Dahl stole the ball and made a layup while getting fouled. She made the ensuing free throw to give the Gators a 52-49 lead with 1:37 left.
Offensively, the Gators shot 37% from the floor. Besides Kenzie Dahl, Hanson also led the Gators with a double-double performance of 11 points and a team-high 18 rebounds. Wojchowski and Cassie Dahl each scored eight points to also pace the Gators.
The Pirates shot 32% from the floor. Halle Winjum led the Pirates with 18 points, followed by Perreault with 14.
This win came against a Pirates team that defeated the Gators by 21 points in Crookston back on January 22. With this loss, the Pirates dropped to 21-4 on the season and sat third in the 16-team Section 8AA standings. Coach Dahl said that, yes, this game felt like a playoff game.
“The atmosphere was awesome,” Coach Dahl said. “Everyone got excited, make a shot, then someone else makes a shot, then… we get a rebound, a block, a steal. Yes, it was very heart-wrenching, but awesome.”
Speaking of playoffs, the 19-5 Gators— on a season-high eight-game winning streak— will now shift its focus to the Section 8A Girls Basketball Tournament. Following this latest win, the Gators sat second behind Stephen-Argyle Central in the Section 8A west sub-section standings. Coach Dahl was asked if his team deserved the top seed following this win.
“I think we deserve it, but it doesn’t matter,” Coach Dahl said. “… Whoever we play, we have to find a way to win.”
Next Action: The Gators earned the second seed in the Section 8A Girls Basketball Tournament and will open at home versus either the seventh-seeded Red Lake Falls Eagles or tenth-seeded Sacred Heart Eagles on Thursday, March 3 at 7 pm. With a win, the Gators would advance to the sub-section semifinals at 1:45 pm on Saturday, March 5 at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls. With a win, the team would advance to the sub-section championship back at the Ralph Engelstad Arena on Monday, March 7 at 6 pm. The section championship game is scheduled for Friday, March 11 at 7 pm also at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.