MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (March 17–24)
WIAA D4 BOYS BASKETBALL: #1 Cuba City 55, #6 Darlington 48
NOTE: With no sports for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a look back to the March 12 WIAA D4 boys sectional final between Cuba City and Darlington. The Cubans prevailed to earn a date with Markesan in the D4 sectional final, but the rest of the tournament series was cancelled late Thursday night, ending the season.
MINERAL POINT — Top-ranked Cuba City came up with the key stops they needed down the stretch to hold off a late push by #6-ranked Darlington, and then the Cubans went 8-for-8 from the free throw line over the final 70 seconds of the game to put away the Redbirds, 55-48, in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal boys’ basketball contest held in front of a restricted crowd of around 250 at Mineral Point High School on Thursday, March 12.
Junior Brayden Dailey posted his 13th double-double of the season with a 20-point and 16-rebound performance to guide the unbeaten Cubans (25-0 overall) to their first sectional final appearance since 2014.
The Redbirds finish the season with a 22-3 record with all three losses coming against Cuba City.
“Darlington played really well. It was an outstanding game. It’s too bad there wasn’t 1,500 people there to watch it,” commented Cuba City’s head coach Jerry Petitgoue, referring to the attendance limit of 112 placed on each school by the WIAA earlier in the day as a measure to reduce the risks of the COVID-19 virus.
A little more than two hours after defeating the rival Redbirds, Petitigoue had to inform his Cubans their magical season was over after the WIAA made the tough decision to cancel the remainder of the winter sports tournament for girls’ and boys’ basketball. (See related story on page ?)
“We sure wish we could have had an opportunity to play on, but we understand completely what the powers that be are going through. They really had no choice once the NBA and NCAA both shut down and schools started to close. It was inevitable. It was a snowball effect. You feel so bad for the kids, especially the seniors,” Petitgoue said.
Before the plug was pulled on the tournament, the Cubans battled to the bitter end to beat the ‘Birds.
Thursday’s game was a nip-and-tuck affair from the start with the teams swapping the lead four times over the first six minutes of play. After junior forward Jack Misky put the Cubans ahead 8-6, Darlington pulled into the lead thanks to 3-pointers by junior guards Carter Lancaster and Curtis Stone, which book-ended a 9-2 run that gave the ‘Birds their largest lead of the night at 15-10.
The Cubans answered back with 10 unanswered points to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead with just over six minutes remaining in the half. Dailey sandwiched a putback basket and a transition layup around a pair of 3s by senior guard Brady Olson to put the SWAL champs up 20-15.
The Redbirds tied the game at 20 all on a 3-pointer by senior guard Michael Riley a short time later, but baskets by Misky and Dailey put the Cubans back in front to stay at 24-20 with under a minute remaining in the half.
Stone scored the final basket of the half with 33 seconds to go to pull the ‘Birds back within two at the intermission at 24-22.
“Give Darlington a lot of credit because they really slowed us down. They surprised us with the 2-3 zone (defense). They had a tremendous game plan,” pointed out Petitgoue.
Dailey (eight points) and Misky (seven) teamed up to lead the Cubans’ offense on a 17-8 scoring run to open the second half that extended their lead out to 41-30 with 8:28 to go.
“In the (second half), we started to figure out their zone. Brady and Jackson (Noll) did a great job getting the ball into the middle and dishing it off to Jack and Brayden for some easy layups,” explained Petitgoue.
The ‘Birds fought their way back to within three on three separate occasions in the final three minutes of the game, but could never pull back to even or get ahead of the Cubans.
“Our kids didn’t give up even when we were down by eleven points. They kept playing hard until the end. One more shot goes in or one more ball bounces our way or one more things goes different there and it’s a completely different game. If we take the lead or tie it up, who knows how it turns out? We just couldn’t get over that hump,” stated Darlington head coach Tom Uppena.
Sophomore Easton Evenstad pulled the ‘Birds within three at 47-44 on a breakaway layup following a steal with just over a minute to go, but the Cubans were perfect on the free throw attempts down the stretch to seal the victory.
B. Olson went 4-for-4 at the line to lead the way, while Dailey and senior Jackson Noll each went 2-for-2 from the stripe to put the ‘Birds away.
“At that point, you got to foul and hope for the best. But, unfortunately, they didn’t miss their free throws,” Uppena noted.
B. Olson finished with 16 points and Misky chipped in with 14 for the Cubans, who were held to their lowest offensive output of the season and 26 points below their average by the Redbirds’ D.
Junior Cayden Rankin scored eight of his team-high 14 points in the second half for Darlington, who was also held to a season-low output after getting held 21 points under their season average by the Cubans’ D.
Rankin also grabbed five rebounds and had a blocked shot on the night.
Lancaster, who was feeling a bit under the weather during the game, tallied 12 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Evenstad scored all eight of his points in the second half while fighting cramps. Stone added five points and six boards, while Hardyman netted five points for the ‘Birds.
Thursday’s sectional game marked the final prep appearance for Cuba City seniors Jackson Noll and Brady Olson.
Despite the disappointment of the abrupt ending to this season, Coach Petitgoue feels his Cubans will be right in the thick of another tight race in the SWAL with three starters from an undefeated team returning along with a junior varsity team that went 20-2.
“It bodes well for the future of Cuba City basketball,” remarked Petitgoue.
WIAA D4 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
(from Thursday, March 12 @ Mineral Point)
Darlington…… 22 26 – 48
Cuba City…….. 24 31 – 55
Darlington (22-3) – Cayden Rankin 14, Carter Lancaster 12, Curtis Stone 5, Hunter Hardyman 5, Easton Evenstad 8, Michael Riley 3, Ross Stauffacher 1. Totals – 16 13-17 48.
Cuba City (25-0) – Jackson Noll 5, Jack Misky 14, Brayden Dailey 20, Brady Olson 16. Totals – 18 16-18 55.
3-point goals– CC 3 (Noll 1, B. Olson 2), D 3 (Lancaster 1, Stone 1, Riley 1). Total fouls– CC 15, D 15. Fouled out– None.