LIVINGSTON – Iowa-Grant didn’t make it easy for Darlington to earn their conference-clinching victory last Friday night, but when the final horned sounded the Redbirds had secured sole possession of the SWAL boys’ basketball crown.
Four Darlington players scored in double figures as the #2-ranked Redbirds rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half to defeat a fired-up Iowa-Grant Panthers’ squad, 61-51, at IGHS on Feb. 17.
“I very proud of our boys for winning the SWAL championship this year. It was a goal of ours from the beginning, so it is nice to check that one off the list,” said first-year Darlington head coach Tom Uppena.
It is the first league title for the Redbirds (20-0 overall, 13-0 SWAL) since sharing the honor with Cuba City during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season, and the first outright title for the program since the 2004-05 season.
“It is never easy to win this conference with the quality teams we are competing against, especially when you are expected to win it. The boys responded when challenged all year long and I’m happy for them to be SWAL conference champions,” Uppena added.
Iowa-Grant was celebrating Senior Night on Friday night and also hosting a benefit for former coach Toby Tripalin who was recently diagnosed with plasmacytoma– a tumor consisting of abnormal plasma cells that grow within the soft tissue or bony skeleton. With him in their hearts, the Panthers (9-12, 7-6) had an upset on their minds as they hit seven 3-pointers in the first half to pull out to a 28-22 halftime lead.
I-G increased their lead to as many as eight early in the second half and were still ahead 40-34 nearing the midpoint of the half when the ‘Birds broke off on a 9-0 run to overtake the lead at 43-40 with eight minutes to go. From there, Darlington outscored the Panthers 18-11 to pull away for a 10-point win.
“Iowa-Grant certainly gave us all we could handle. They came out hot and we didn’t do a good job defensively to adjust and take away those opportunities. We did a much better job the second half getting out on shooters and creating some turnovers,” said Uppena. “Once we hit a few shots, we gained some of our confidence back and things started to come a little easier. This team has a lot of heart and you can never count us out. We have been a second-half team all year. Now, we need to figure out how to put an entire game together.”
Will Schwartz finished with 16 points to lead the Redbirds. Trevor Johnson and Hunter Johnson dropped in 12 points apiece for the ‘Birds, while Ryan Glendenning netted 10 points and Josh Soper added eight for the victors.
Chad Thomas scored a game-high 17 points to pace the Panthers, who sank just one trey in the second half. Charlie Richards tallied 10 points, Payton Simon added nine and Caleb Hill came up with eight for I-G.
Darlington will try to be the sixth consecutive SWAL champion to go unbeaten in league play when they close the regular season at Riverdale (1-18, 0-12) on Thursday, Feb. 23.
At Darlington, on Tuesday, Feb. 14, the Redbirds celebrated their nine seniors by getting each one of them into the scoring column en route to an 83-51 rout of visiting Boscobel on Senior Night.
The Redbirds raced out to a 53-27 halftime lead, and cruised to a 32-point decision over the Bulldogs (6-14, 4-9).
“The Boscobel game was a great way to send off our seniors on their last regular season home game. These kids have put a lot into this program so it was nice to honor them and see every senior score as well,” commented Coach Uppena.
Senior Trevor Johnson scored a team-high 19 points to lead the way, while senior Josh Soper netted 10 points and fellow seniors Hunter Johnson and Will Schwartz added eight apiece and classmate Ryan Glendenning tallied another seven points.
Sophomore Stryker Fitzsimons scored 12 points for the ‘Birds, and Dallas Marks finished with a game-high 22 points for the ‘Dawgs.
The WIAA Division 4 tournament will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The Redbirds received the #1-seed and will have an opening round bye.
“We received the number one seed as expected thanks to the hard work the boys have put in this season. It will be nice to be able to host at least one more game on our home court and receive a bye that first night of playoffs,” said Uppena. “We are in an incredibly difficult sectional, maybe the toughest in the state, so advancing will not be easy. In our half-sectional of 12 local teams, there are three ranked in the top 10 in the state and two other teams in Mineral Point and Iowa-Grant took us down to the wire. We will need to improve in some areas in order to advance, but I think our boys are up for the challenge.”
Darlington will host the winner of the regional quarterfinal game between #8 Cambridge (7-14) vs. #9 Lancaster (7-14) in a regional semifinal contest at DHS on Friday, March 3, at 7 p.m. If they win on Friday, they will also host the regional final game on Saturday, March 4, at 7 p.m.
Darlington……………. 22 39 – 61
Iowa-Grant…………… 28 23 – 51
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 12, Will Schwartz 16, Ryan Glendenning 10, Josh Soper 8, Trevor Johnson 12, Stryker Fitzsimons 3. Totals – 22 15-24 61.
Iowa-Grant – Hill 8, Vigen 2, Richards 10, Thomas 17, Winders 5, Simon 9. Totals – 17 9-10 51.
3-point goals– D 2 (Glendenning 1, T. Johnson 1), IG 8 (Hill 2, Richards 2, Winders 1, Simon 3). Total fouls– D 15, IG 22. Fouled out– None.
Boscobel……………… 27 24 – 51
Darlington…………….. 53 30 – 83
Boscobel – Wallin 11, Davis 2, Molzof 2, Dal. Marks 22, Nguyen 1, Miller 7, Knowles 3, Bassett 3. Totals – 17 12-18 51.
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 8, Will Schwartz 8, Tanner Evenstad 1, Brayden McDonald 2, Ryan Glendenning 7, Mason Stone 2, Hayden Hardyman 4, Josh Soper 10, Bailey McGuire 2, Trevor Johnson 19, Stryker Fitzsimons 12, Tony Ruesga 4, Chad Golackson 4. Totals – 35 9-15 83.
3-point goals– B 5 (Wallin 2, Dal. Marks 2, Miller 1), D 4 (Glendenning 1, Soper 1, Johnson 1, Fitzsimons 1). Total fouls– B 12, D 21. Fouled out– None.
Tripalin, a former teacher and boys basketball head coach from 2011-2016 at Iowa-Grant High School, is currently battling plasmacytoma — a tumor consisting of abnormal plasma cells that grow within the soft tissue or bony skeleton.
Tripalin, who is now the high school/junior high principal at North Crawford Schools, traveled to La Crosse for 28 straight days to received treatment.
The North Crawford Booster Club organized its own fundraising efforts earlier this year.
On Friday night, Iowa-Grant raised nearly $12,000 for Tripalin through the sale of Team Tripalin family “Once a Panther, Always a Panther” t-shirts, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle, concession proceeds and a live auction that was held at halftime.
The Darlington basketball team also presented the Tripalin family with a check for $300 that was raised during 50/50 raffles at Darlington home games in the preceding week.
The highest item sold during the live auction was a Greg Gard autographed basketball that said “Once a Panther, Always a Panther,” which went for $1,300 bought by Pilling Electric and Bob and Nikki McCarthy. It was then donated back to Tripalin and signed by many of the boys and girls Basketball players.
Gard, a graduate of Iowa-Grant High School, is now the head coach of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.