CAMBRIDGE – On the gridiron last October, Darlington’s football season came to an end at the hands of Cambridge when the Bluejays converted a two-point conversion at the end of the second overtime period to pull out a thrilling 44-43 decision over the Redbirds.
Nearly five months later these two schools met once again in the boys’ basketball playoffs, but the Bluejays didn’t need any overtime drama to eliminate the Redbirds this time around. Instead, it was a big third quarter surge that did in Darlington.
Second-seeded Cambridge used an 18-6 scoring run in the third quarter to erase a four-point halftime deficit en route to a 73-61 victory over the third-seeded Redbirds in a WIAA Division 4 regional final contest at CHS on Monday, March 5.
Senior Nic Bowe, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the Bluejays’ playoff victory over the Redbirds, scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the third quarter to help turn Darlington’s 36-32 halftime lead into a 50-42 Cambridge advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Erik Engelstad added the other seven points in the third quarter for the Bluejays (17-7 overall), who took care of business at the foul line in the fourth quarter to sink the Redbirds (15-9).
Cambridge outscored the ‘Birds, 23-19, in the final period to claim their second straight regional title.
Senior Kent Miehe got Darlington started out on the right foot on Monday night by connecting on five of the team’s six 3-point baskets and scoring 17 of his career-best 21 points in the first half to lift the ‘Birds to a 36-32 halftime lead.
Darlington, which went 6-of-11 from behind the arc in the first half, was held without a 3-pointer the entire second half.
Senior Brandon Hardyman finished with 17 points for the Redbirds, who have had their season come to an end in the regional final for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
Senior Mitchell Whalen added nine points and freshman Cole McDonald netted six for Darlington.
Engelstad chipped in with 18 points for the Bluejays, who advance to the sectional semifinal game in Monroe on Thursday, March 8, to face the unbeaten Cuba City Cubans (24-0).
Monday’s game was the final prep appearance on the hardwood for DHS seniors John Sturtz, Cedric Flesher, Mitchell Whalen, Brandon Hardyman, Kent Miehe, Zach McArthur, Erik Zander, Christen Ruf, Jake Martin and Mitchell Langkamp.
At Darlington, on Saturday, March 3, the host Redbirds went 6-for-8 at the free throw line in the final 50 seconds to hold off the #6-seeded Mineral Point Pointers, 52-43, in a Division 4 regional semifinal affair.
“We made our free throws, which has been our Achilles Heal at times this year,” said Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins. “I thought we rebounded well, too.”
The Redbirds went into the fourth quarter sporting a 37-31 lead after outscoring the Pointers (15-9) by a 15-11 margin in the third period.
Senior center Travis Steffes rallied the Pointers early in the fourth quarter by scoring on four straight MP possessions to trim the Darlington lead down to 40-39 with 4:26 to play, but the ‘Birds would never surrender the lead.
Darlington was still clinging to a one-point advantage with under a minute to when seniors Mitchell Whalen and Cedric Flesher hit front ends of bonus free throws to extend the lead to 46-43 with 38 seconds to play.
Senior Kent Miehe pulled down a key offensive rebound after Flesher missed his second foul shots, and Miehe went on to hit two clutch free throws after getting fouled to make it a two-possession game at 48-43.
Senior Brandon Hardyman added two more free throws with 25.7 seconds to play, and Flesher sealed the outcome with a breakaway layup with just four ticks remaining.
Flesher and Whalen each scored a career-high 19 points to lead the Redbirds’ effort, while Hardyman chipped in with 12 points for the victors.
Steffes finished with a game-high 23 points to lead the Pointers, but the ‘Birds limited guards Dakota Poad and Sy Staver to just nine and seven points, respectively, on the night.
“We found a different way to win because it wasn’t our original game plan. We allowed (Steffes) to get his points, but we kept Poad in check. Our plan was to keep the ball out of the hands of both of those guys,” admitted Hopkins. “We allowed Steffes to get the ball, but we didn’t allow anyone else to step up. Overall, on defensem I was happy with our effort even though it was a different route we took to get there.”
This game was originally scheduled for Friday evening, but a snowstorm on Friday washed out most of the area playoff games that night. The regional semifinal was moved to Saturday night, and the regional final was rescheduled for Monday evening.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL FINAL
Darlington…. 15 21 6 19 - 61
Cambridge… 12 20 18 23 - 73
Leading Scorers: Kent Miehe 21, Brandon Hardyman 17, Mitchell Whalen 9, Cole McDonald 6, Cedric Flesher 4, Zach McArthur 2, Griffin Heinberg 2.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Mineral Point… 11 9 11 12 - 43
Darlington……. 9 14 15 14 - 52
Leading Scorers: Mitchell Whalen 16, Cedric Flesher 19, Brandon Hardyman 12, Storm Wiegel 10, Kent Miehe 2.