DARLINGTON — Five players scored in double figures to lead the top-seeded and #5-ranked Darlington Redbirds over the #2-seeded New Glarus Glarner Knights, 94-66, in a fast-paced WIAA Division 3 regional final boys’ basketball game played at DHS on Saturday, Feb. 20.
It is the second regional championship in a row for the Redbirds (20-4 overall) and their third regional title in five seasons under head coach Tom Uppena. The victory also gave the ‘Birds a 20-win season for the third consecutive season and the fifth time in the past six seasons.
“I was happy for our boys to check one more box on our list of goals this year. We are happy to be able to keep the season going, and we’ll see how far we can go. I’m very proud of how the guys competed with the season on the line,” said Uppena.
Darlington received the #3-seed in their sectional grouping and will travel to Delafield to face #2-seeded and #4-ranked St. John’s Northwestern Academies (20-6) in a sectional semifinal game on Thursday, Feb. 25, starting at 7 p.m.
“St. John’s has one of the best players in the state, if not the best player, in Brandin Podziemski who averages 35 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game this season. He is probably a leading candidate for Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin, so we will have our hands full with him,” Uppena remarked. “He has a good supporting cast as well, so we will need to make a decision on how much help we can give on him. This will definitely be a major challenge for us, especially on the road. We’ll give it our all and see what happens.”
Thursday’s winner moves on to face the winner of the other semifinal between #1-seeded and #2-ranked Lake Country Lutheran (23-1) and #4-seeded Poynette (12-8) at the home of the highest remaining seed on Saturday at a time to be announced.
Last Saturday night, Darlington took the lead for good at 10-7 on a 3-pointer by junior Hunter Hardyman two and a half minutes into the game, and then spent the rest of the night fighting off the Knights (16-9) and adding to the lead.
The Redbirds’ lead fluctuated between two and 10 the rest of the first half as Hardyman (13 points) and seniors Carter Lancaster (11) and Cayden Rankin (eight) teamed up to lift the hosts out to a 39-31 halftime advantage.
A 3-pointer by Darris Schuett with 12:32 remaining got the Knights within eight once again, but the ‘Birds poured in 14 unanswered to open up a 68-46 lead and they continued to pull away from there for their 10th consecutive victory.
“I think we just played with passion against New Glarus. The boys wanted it, and we played one of our best offensive games of the year. All five starters scored in double figures and Easton was right there with seven. When we share the ball like that, we are very hard to guard. As the game went on I feel like our intensity grew, and our transition game was tough to stop,” noted Uppena.
Senior Curtis Stone scored all 13 of his points in the second half to lead a balanced scoring attack for the ‘Birds. Rankin netted 10 points in the stanza to finish the night with 18, while Lancaster added nine and Hardyman chipped in with eight in the second half to each finish with a game-high 21 points.
Lancaster also contributed nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks, while Rankin registered eight boards, six assists, three blocks and two steals. Hardyman pulled down nine rebounds, and Stone had four assists and three steals.
Freshman Will Murray notched 10 points and junior Easton Evenstad added seven for Darlington, who finished with a season-high 94 points.
Senior Mason Martinson scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half but was limited by foul trouble for much of the second half. Schuett had 11 points, while senior Nathan Streiff and junior Dain Walter scored 10 each for the Knights.
The Redbirds opened up their post-season by pulling away from the #5-seeded Belleville Wildcats in the second half for a 75-61 victory in a D3 regional semifinal game held at DHS on Friday, Feb. 19.
The ‘Birds battled their way to a 33-30 halftime lead, and then went on to outscore the Wildcats (9-12) in the second half, 42-31, to run away with a 14-point victory.
“We struggled against the zone at times. We didn’t attack it as well as we could have and didn’t go inside-out enough,” Coach Uppena explained. “Easton gave us a big spark and Curtis hit some 3s in the second half to open it up and get that zone loosened up a bit.”
Evenstad hit three 3-pointers and scored a career-high 22 points off the bench to lead the ‘Birds. He also grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals on the night.
Stone matched his season-high with 19 points and had seven assists, six boards and two blocked shots, while Lancaster recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and Rankin chipped in with 11 points and five assists.
Junior Carson Syse tallied 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists to pace the Wildcats. Senior Sawyer Fahey scored 12 points and junior Anthony Nolden added 10 for Belleville, who was supposed to play the Redbirds in their season opener but got off to a late start with Dane County’s Covid-19 restrictions.
WIAA D3 REGIONAL FINAL
New Glarus… 31 35 – 66
Darlington….. 39 55 – 94
New Glarus– Streiff 12, Martinson 16, Parman 6, Schuett 11, Siegenthaler 6, Strok 5, Walter 10. Totals – 26 6-7 66.
Darlington– Cayden Rankin 18, Carter Lancaster 21, Curtis Stone 13, Hunter Hardyman 21, Easton Evenstad 7, Will Murray 10, Ethan Schuchart 1, Matt Ruf 3. Totals – 37 12-21 94.
3-point goals– NG 8 (Martinson 2, Schuett 3, Siegenthaler 2, Strok 1), D 8 (Rankin 2, Lancaster 1, Stone 1, Hardyman 3, Ruf 1). Total fouls– NG 15, D 7. Fouled out– None.
WIAA D3 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Belleville….. 30 31 – 61
Darlington… 33 42 – 75
Belleville – Boyum 4, Desmet 2, Ace 2, C. Syse 17, Conner 3, Nolden 10, T. Syse 8, S. Fahey 12, Erickson 3. Totals – 20 13-15 61.
Darlington– Cayden Rankin 11, Carter Lancaster 12, Curtis Stone 19, Easton Evenstad 22, Will Murray 8, Parker Fitzsimons 1, Ethan Hendrickson 2. Totals – 25 17-27 75.
3-point goals– B 8 (C. Syse 3, Nolden 2, S. Fahey 2, Erickson 1), D 8 (Rankin 1, Stone 4, Evenstad 3). Total fouls– B 21, D 17. Fouled out– None.