DARLINGTON – Many of the Darlington players wanted to do something special to welcome back former assistant coach Matt Fink, so they went out and put together their best offensive output of the season en route to a 71-51 non-conference victory over Pecatonica in his homecoming to DHS on Thursday, Dec. 27.
Unfortunately, Fink had to watch Redbirds’ dazzling scoring display from the opposing bench after taking over the Vikings program this year following 12 seasons as an assistant coach at Darlington.
Sophomore Cole McDonald dropped in a game-high 21 points to lead the Redbirds’ welcoming party, while junior Cody Hardyman netted 13 points and senior Griffin Heinberg added 11 for the ‘Birds.
“This could be the momentum we need to get back on track,” said Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins. “It gives us a good feeling. The new year’s holiday will be a lot better now after a win.”
The Redbirds (4-6 overall) scored the game’s first five points on a basket by Tanner Wiegel and a 3-pointer by Co. Hardyman in the opening minute, and they never let up as they won every quarter and shot a blistering 61 percent (22-of-36) from the field to ease to the win.
The Vikings (3-5) kept things close in the first quarter by nailing a trio of treys– two by freshman Brooks Chandler and one by Zach Shilling– in the final two minutes, 45 seconds of the period to pull within three of the hosts at 18-15, but the ‘Birds opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run to pull on top by 12 and the Vikings never threatened again.
Heinberg got the Redbirds’ run rolling with back-to-back baskets, and McDonald sank a pair of 3s in the stanza to keep the ‘Birds flying high
The Redbirds held a 34-25 lead at the half, then came out and scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to build up a 19-point cushion.
That lead swelled to as many as 26 in the fourth quarter as Darlington poured in a season-high 71 points in the victory.
“In the second half especially, we played a lot better defense. We’re a much better team when we get into the open court, play defense and push the ball up the floor on the fast-break. It takes a whole lot of pressure off our half-court offense,” noted Hopkins. “We had some easy looks in the second half.”
Heinberg and Michael Ruf, who both missed the Redbirds’ previous game against Iowa-Grant due to illness, returned to the court to fuel the team’s inside game on both ends of the court. Heinberg added six rebounds along with his 11 points, while Ruf led the team with eight boards and added five points.
“It makes a difference having our big guys back. We haven’t always rebounded well this season, but tonight we had the advantage with those guys,” Hopkins stated.
McDonald and Co. Hardyman each sank three 3s to guide the Redbirds’ perimeter attack, and McDonald also pulled down six rebounds on the night. Cade Hardyman contributed eight points, and Riley Ray came off the bench for five for the ‘Birds.
Chandler paced Fink’s Vikings with 15 points. Dillon Conwell chipped in with 11 points, while Jon Hendrickson and Drew Schliem tallied nine apiece for the guests.
Darlington returns to SWAL action at Boscobel on Friday, Jan. 4, and the Redbirds return home to face unbeaten Southwestern (in a make-up game from Dec. 21) on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Darlington 71, Pecatonica 51
Pecatonica… 15 10 9 17 - 51
Darlington…. 18 16 17 20 - 71
Pecatonica – Norton 4, Schliem 9, Chandler 15, Shilling 3, Conwell 11, Hendrickson 9. Totals – 17 13-18 51.
Darlington – Ruf 5, Cody Hardyman 13, Dylan Nyffenegger 2, Tanner Wiegel 4, Cade Hardyman 8, Andrew Kelly 2, Cole McDonald 21, Griffin Heinberg 11, Riley Ray 5. Totals – 28 9-9 71.
3-point goals – P 4 (Chandler 2, Shilling 1, Conwell 1), D 6 (Co. Hardyman 3, McDonald 3). Total fouls – P 10, D 19. Fouled out – None.