Big moments create big-time players. Wadena-Deer Creek girls basketball head coach Jordan Cresap believes he has a couple of them after Friday night’s dramatic 37-36 win over Park Rapids.
With 34 seconds left, the Wolverines forced a jump ball trailing by a point. Just 19 seconds later, senior Lauren Gravelle hit a turn-around jumper to give WDC a late lead. In Park Rapids’ final offensive possession, a rebound off the back iron was hauled down by senior Madison Packer as time expired to clinch the win.
In a game where offense was at a premium, the Wolverines leaned on their defensive prowess.
“It’s who we are and who we’ve always been,” Cresap said of being a defensive-minded team. “Especially this year with (Madison) Carsten going down. She’s kind of our offensive play-maker and our scorer. We need players stepping up. There are some growing pains with that, so you have to have something that you rely on, and that’s defense. It’s a lot of effort and a mindset, and our girls do a good job of approaching every game with that mindset.”
“We always talk about defense at practice. That’s what we spend the most time on,” Lauryn Gravelle said. “Before games, we go over each player, so we know what we’re doing. Coach Cresap really stressed that we are a defensive team. If our defense is good, then it flows into our offense.”
Down 36-35 with 1:50 left, the Wolverines had five fouls to give. After a series of inbound passes followed by fouls, an errant Park Rapids pass crossed mid-court to give the Wolverines a chance to take the lead with 1:06 left.
“We talked at halftime about playing solid, discipline defense without fouling,” Cresap said. “We want to play aggressive, but we also don’t want to foul a bunch. That ended up happening for us, and we had fouls to give when we needed them. The girls did a much better job of knowing the situation there too.”
WDC’s Kaylin Lupkes was fouled on her way to the rim with 40 seconds left but missed both free throws. After a jump ball with the possession arrow favoring the Wolverines, Lauren Gravelle hit one of the most important shots of the year so far for WDC.
“When I got it I could feel that we switched and there was someone behind me,” Lauren Gravelle said on what she saw before her game-winning shot. “I knew I was open, so I knew I was getting the ball. I just hoped it went in.”
Whenever the Wolverines needed a bucket, they turned to Lauren Gravelle. She had 10 points in the win as WDC did its best to exploit a size mismatch in the post.
“Lauryn is probably our most consistent presence on the team overall,” Cresap said. “She’s kind of the backbone of our team. With 20 seconds left, she steps in, demands the ball, and makes a play. It’s good for her because she’s such a hard worker and does the right things.”
The longest 15 seconds of the season were capped off by the most important rebound of the season so far. Packer, one of the smallest players on the court, proved that size isn’t everything in a moment of determination.
“That’s (Madison) Packer for you,” Cresap said. “She’s the littlest girl on the court almost every game, but she averages six or seven rebounds every game. It’s just a heart thing with her. She’s such a hard-worker day in and day out. That’s another senior that we really lean on. Lauryn and Packer are our steady hands.”
The Wolverines had the lead for less than one combined minute on Friday. Park Rapids’ Gabi Sheperski hit her second three-pointer of the first half with under a minute remaining before WDC freshman Addyson Gravelle tied the game with a buzzer-beater.
“It definitely gave us some momentum,” Lauryn Gravelle on Addyson’s Gravelle’s three-pointer before halftime. “We gave up a three right before it, so to get it back and tie the game before the half felt really good.”
Games like Friday night can be seen as a turning point in the season. Despite how ugly of a game it was offensively for the Wolverines, they found a way to win.
“Just in the locker room, everybody was going wild and having fun,” Cresap said. “That’s what it’s all about. Basketball has a long season. It’s cold and dark. Things can go downhill quick. But when you have these wins, it’s good for the kids. Seeing their hard work pay off is the best way to enjoy this.”
PARK RAPIDS 20 16 - 36
WADENA-DEER CREEK 20 17 - 37
SCORING- WDC- Addyson Gravelle 11, Cora Endres 3, Madison Packer 2, Payton Gravelle 2, Lauryn Gravelle 10, Kaylin Lupkes 6, Kaylee Collins 1, Montana Carsten 2
PARK RAPIDS- Abby Morris 6, Mady Maninga 1, Gabi Shepersky 11, Julia Harmon 4, Chloe Tretbar 2, Olivia Davis 2, Tori Weaver 2, Mickey Clark 8