DARLINGTON – Darlington turned to the defensive to capture its second straight regional title.
The #2-ranked and top-seeded Redbirds limited #4-seed Mineral Point to just 21 points over the final 23 minutes of play to run away with a 53-38 victory over the visiting Pointers in a WIAA Division 4 regional final boys’ basketball game at DHS on Saturday, March 4.
It was the third time this season the Redbirds (24-0 overall) bested their SWAL rival Pointers on the court, and it was lowest number of points allowed to the Pointers (17-7), who went off for a season-high 67 points against the Redbirds’ D in their last meeting on Feb. 3.
“I thought it went really well. We had one heck of a game plan. Our goal was to hold them offensively. We were not satisfied (with our defense) the last time we played them. We wanted to come out and control the game with the defense. I thought our kids played their butts off. They did a great job,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena.
The Pointers grabbed an early 7-3 lead behind a pair of offensive putbacks from center Jack Warrick and continued to remain patient with their offense for much of the first half in order to slow down the Redbirds’ transition game.
Darlington eventually got out running by turning several defensive rebounds into quick layups in transition to fight back into the lead. The teams swapped the lead four times over a seven-minute span with the Pointers taking their last lead on a basket by junior Chase Wendhausen with 5:02 to play in the first half.
However, the ‘Birds got a spark off the bench from senior Chad Golackson, who buried a pair of 3-pointers during a 37-second stretch to put the ‘Birds ahead 23-19. Another layup in transition from senior Will Schwartz late in the half extended Darlington’s lead to 25-19 at the intermission.
“We’ve been waiting for him for a long time. Those (shots) were huge,” commented Uppena about Golackson, a key member of last year’s team who missed the first 17 games of this season with back problems and is still not 100 percent healthy.
The Redbirds opened the second half with an 11-3 run to open up a 14-point advantage and never got closer than 11 the rest of the way as the ‘Birds soared to their second consecutive regional championship crown.
“It’s exciting. I’m really proud of our kids. It was one of our goals from the beginning of the season, so it’s nice to check that one off,” Uppena stated.
Senior guard Ryan Glendenning scored the Redbirds’ first seven points of the night en route to a team-high 14 points, and he added several assists in the transition game to help lead the ‘Birds to victory.
Golackson chipped in with nine points, and Schwartz and fellow senior Josh Soper tallied eight points apiece for the hosts.
Senior Trevor Johnson finished with six points and also dished out a couple of key assists in the second half, while senior Hunter Johnson added six points along with three steals.
“Offensively, there were some struggles, but we made the plays we needed to and we made the free throws when we needed to. I’m proud of the guys for their effort,” said Uppena.
Wendhausen finished with a game-high 15 points to lead the Pointers, and freshman Isaac Lindsey followed with 11 points.
Darlington advances to sectional play where they will meet #9-ranked New Glarus (20-4) in a D4 sectional semifinal contest at Evansville High School on Thursday, March 9. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
The Redbirds defeated the Glarner Knights, 71-55, in New Glarus back on Jan. 3. The Knights have won 15 of 16 games since that loss while averaging 77 points per game.
“They are a very good team. I figured we’d run into them again. We kind of have an idea of what they want to do. Now, we have to put together a game plan and see where we can go from there,” Uppena explained. “We have to take it one step at a time. We’re not satisfied yet. We still have some work to do.”
The winner advances to the sectional final against the winner of Thursday’s other sectional semifinal game between #5-ranked Cochrane Fountain City (23-1) and Pardeeville (19-5) at Baraboo High School on Saturday, March 11, with a state tournament berth on the line. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.
At Darlington, on Friday, March 3, the Redbirds wasted no time firing out of their gates in their playoff opener, charging out to a 48-29 halftime lead before flying away from the #8-seeded Cambridge Blue Jays for an 87-63 win in a D4 regional semifinal contest.
“I thought we looked really good. Offensively, we came out firing on all cylinders. Scoring 48 points in a half and 87 points in the game, that’s some solid work,” said Coach Uppena. “The kids did a good job finding the gaps in their 2-3 zone. They did a great job passing and the shots were going in. It was a good win and everyone got to play. I was happy with our effort.”
Schwartz scored 14 of his team-high 20 points in the first half to fuel the Birds’ rout. H. Johnson chipped in with 12 points and Glendenning netted 10, while Soper added nine and sophomore Stryker Fitzsimons scored eight for the hosts.
Cambridge’s junior guard Jacob Horton went off for a game-high 27 points to lead the Blue Jays (9-15), who defeated Lancaster, 67-54, in the quarterfinal round. Junior Will Kaashagen added 17 points for the guests.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL FINAL
Mineral Point………. 19 19 – 38
Darlington………….. 25 28 – 53
Mineral Point – Wendhausen 15, Lindsey 11, Gorgen 3, Steffes 5, Warrick 4. Totals – 16 2-5 38.
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 6, Will Schwartz 8, Ryan Glendenning 14, Josh Soper 8, Trevor Johnson 6, Stryker Fitzsimons 2, Chad Golackson 9. Totals – 20 10-12 53.
3-point goals– MP 4 (Lindsey 2, Gorgen 1, Steffes 1), D 3 (Glendenning 1, Golackson 2). Total fouls– MP 15, D 10. Fouled out– none.
WIAA D4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Cambridge………… 29 34 – 63
Darlington…………. 48 39 – 87
Cambridge – DeForest 2, Jansen 3, Zibell 4, Horton 27, Kaashagen 17, Hommen 8, Muth 2. Totals – 24 8-12 63.
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 12, Will Schwartz 20, Tanner Evenstad 2, Brayden McDonald 6, Ryan Glendenning 10, Hayden Hardyman 2, Josh Soper 9, Trevor Johnson 7, Stryker Fitzsimons 8, Tony Ruesga 3, Brogen Evenstad 2, Chad Golackson 6. Totals – 36 8-13 87.
3-point goals– C 7 (Jansen 1, Horton 4, Kaashagen 2), D 7 (McDonald 2, Glendenning 2, Johnson 1, Fitzsimons 1, Ruesga 1). Total fouls– C 10, D 11. Fouled out– None.