DARLINGTON – It turns out it was not Darlington’s destiny to win the Division 4 state title this year.
The #2-ranked Redbirds trimmed a double-digit deficit down two with under six minutes to play, but the top-ranked Destiny Eagles closed the game on a 21-2 scoring run to knock off the previously unbeaten ‘Birds, 76-55, in the WIAA Division 4 state championship boys’ basketball game played at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday, March 18.
“We gave it everything we had. Destiny’s a helluva team. Hats off to them. They played well. We just didn’t hit quite enough shots,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena, who led the Redbirds to the title game in his first season at the helm. “I wish I could have gotten this for the seniors.”
After finishing second in the state football finals the past four seasons with many of the Redbirds’ nine seniors on the roster, silver was not the color trophy Darlington was hoping to bring home from their first state basketball tournament appearance since winning the Class C title in 1990.
“Obviously, it’s not the color trophy we wanted, but I felt we played a pretty good game against a team who was a lot bigger and more athletic than us. It is what it is. We had a great season all in all. Any time you get to play at Camp Randall four years in a row and now at the Kohl Center, it’s pretty special. Both have always been dreams of ours and we’re living them, so it’s been awesome even though none of the games finished the way we wanted them to,” stated Redbird senior guard Ryan Glendenning.
Led by an all-senior starting line-up featuring three players 6’5” or taller, Destiny (26-1 overall), an independent Christian High School with an enrollment of 296 located in Milwaukee, had the size, speed and athleticism to challenge the senior-led Redbirds (27-1) all over the court. Darlington’s five starters are all 6’2” and under.
“We haven’t seen a team even close to that all year, and when you only have one day to prepare it’s really tough. I’m proud of the kids for coming out and battling like they did. I just wish we could have brought home a different color ball,” Uppena added.
The Redbirds traded the lead with the Eagles in the opening minutes, going up 3-2 on a layup by senior guard Will Schwartz and extending the lead to 5-2 on a pair of free throws by Glendenning with 15:32 remaining in the first half.
An 8-0 scoring burst by Destiny– punctuated by an alley-oop slam dunk by senior Terrance Banyard– put the Eagles ahead to stay.
It became a game of catch-up from there as the Eagles used their size on both ends of the floor to maintain their lead.
The ‘Birds got back within three points on three occasions until the Eagles reeled off 11 unanswered points to extend their lead to 25-11 with 8:36 to go in the half. It was the most the Redbirds had trailed by in any game this season.
“We needed to settle down a little bit. We didn’t come out with the same composure that we did against Cameron. I think we were a little jittery,” said Uppena. “We didn’t make a lot of shots either and we didn’t do a good job of stopping their transition. That’s how they got out to their big lead.”
Darlington closed the half on a 16-7 run to close the gap to 34-29 by the break. Senior guard Trevor Johnson scored all six of his points during the run to lead the rally. Senior forward Hunter Johnson added four points, while Schwartz, Glendenning and senior center Josh Soper each scored a layup during the run.
“They had some great shot blockers, but we had to keep taking it strong at them,” commented Schwartz, who was named to the Wissports.net All-Tournament following the state games and was selected to the WBCA Division first-team All-State squad. “We were down big, but I knew the whole time that this group of seniors weren’t going to give up. We came back and showed we could play with them.”
Soper brought the ‘Birds back within five on a layup to start the second half, but the Eagles poured in the next six points to push the lead back to double-digits just three minutes into the period.
The Destiny lead hovered around 10 until Schwartz and Glendenning sparked a 14-6 scoring run to bring the ‘Birds back within one possession. Schwartz sank a free throw and had two layups during the run, while Glendenning sank a pair of 3-pointers, including a trey that made it 55-53 with 5:37 remaining.
“I was proud of our kids for fighting and not giving up. When you’re that close, it’s one bucket here or one bucket there. If you can get the lead, the whole game changes and how it plays out changes. One more shot goes, and I think I like our chances to come out on top. We just didn’t get the rolls today,” explained Uppena.
The Eagles built the lead back to nine on a layup and another dunk by Banyard with 2:19 to play. Schwartz got it back to 62-55 on a pair of free throws with 2:03 to play, however with time running down the ‘Birds were forced take some chances which led to four turnovers and a 14-0 run by Destiny to end the game.
With the game well in hand, the Eagles didn’t ease up. Banyard felt the need to put an exclamation point on Destiny’s first-ever state title with a pair of showboat dunks in the final 30 seconds and junior Diovonte Caldwell added a breakaway layup with two seconds left to make the final score 76-55.
“We fought to the end. The score is a lot further apart than what the game really was. It’s just the way things turned out. I’m proud to have played with these guys since second grade. It’s something a lot of people here can’t say they did,” said Hunter Johnson.
Schwartz agreed with his long-time teammate adding, “This year was the cherry on top of everything we’ve been doing. Ending our season at state, there’s nothing to hang our heads about. It’s been a great journey. I want to thank the coaches and everybody in the community. It’s been awesome.”
Darlington was outscored 44-28 in the paint and 22-13 on second chance points, while Destiny’s bench outscored the Redbirds’ bench, 27-0, in the game.
“The toughest thing about playing them was that they were big, so you have to compensate for that. But they have good shooters, too, so it’s not like you can pack everyone in the lane,” noted Glendenning.
Destiny shot over 48 percent (31-for-64) for the game. Darlington connected on just 33 percent (19-for-58) of their shots from the field, including a 9-for-31 effort in the second half. The ‘Birds went 0-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc in the first half, and finished just 3-for-22 from long range on the day.
Schwartz finished with a double-double for the Redbirds, scoring a team-high 18 points and pulling down a team-high 10 rebounds in his final game. He closes his career just 45 points shy of 1,000.
Glendenning chipped in with 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. H. Johnson tallied eight points, five assists, four boards and three steals; while Soper added seven points and nine rebounds and T. Johnson netted six points with two assists.
Joining those five playing their final prep game at the Kohl Center were fellow seniors Chad Golackson, Brayden McDonald, Hayden Hardyman and Mason Stone.
“That’s one heck of a group of seniors. Those kids are amazing. They play so well together, they play so hard and their basketball IQ is through the roof,” said Uppena about a senior class who went 66-11 on the court in their varsity career. “They have given everything they have to this program. I can’t thank them enough for how they made the community, the school and their parents feel. It’s been one heck of a ride. I’m thankful to be a part of something this special.”
WIAA D4 STATE FINAL
Darlington………… 27 28 – 55
Destiny……………. 34 42 – 76
Darlington – Hunter Johnson 8, Will Schwartz 18, Ryan Glendenning 16, Josh Soper 7, Trevor Johnson 6. Totals – 19 14-19 55.
Destiny – Banyard 22, Robinson 9, Posey 5, Johnson 4, Caldwell 14, Markland 4, Jones 4, McGee 14. Totals – 31 13-18 76.
3-point goals– DA 3 (Schwartz 1, Glendenning 2), DE 1 (Robinson 1). Total fouls– DA 17, DE 16. Fouled out– DA: H. Johnson.