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Emotional Panthers push #2 Redbirds to the brink
IowaGrant boys nearly stun unbeaten Darlington on Team Tripalin benefit night
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Senior Charlie Richards drives to the basket during Fridays 6151 loss to undefeated Darlington. Richards finished with 10 points in the game.

MIFFLIN — An emotional Iowa–Grant boys basketball team gave undefeated Darlington everything it had in a special Southwestern Wisconsin Activities League game Friday night at IGHS.

With their former head coach Toby Tripalin in attendance, the Panthers led the second-ranked Redbirds by six points at halftime and held it until midway through the second half, before succumbing to Darlington’s relentless full-court pressure in a hard-fought 61–51 loss on Team Tripalin benefit night.

The Panthers (9–11, 7–5 made seven 3-pointers in the first half, including four in a 14–2 run over the final 3:50 of the opening half to build a 28–22 halftime advantage.

Iowa–Grant pushing the lead back to six at 40–34 with 10 minutes to play on a breakaway layup by senior Chad Thomas, but Darlington went on a 19–5 run over the next five minutes to take control of the game. I–G got as close at 55–51  with 2:15 left on back-to-back layups by freshman Michael Winders and Thomas, but Darlington made 6 of 10 from the free throw line in the final 1:42 to close out the win.

Senior guard Will Schwartz scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the second half to lead the Darlington comeback. Cousins Hunter Johnson and Trevor Johnson added 12 each for the Redbirds, who improved to 21–0 and 13–0 in the SWAL.

Thomas scored a team-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Panthers in defeat. Richards added 10 points and Simon made three 3-pointers to finish with nine points off the bench.

“It was one of the best atmospheres that I have had the pleasure of being a part of,” said I–G head coach Ryan Hill. “I felt our guys fought hard the whole game. I think that they showed good composure when we got down early and had trouble scoring. We took a time-out and regrouped and just concentrated on one possession at a time to work our way back in the game. Overall I was pleased with how we handled their pressure. I was very proud of our team the way we played against one of the best teams in the state.”

But Friday night’s game was about much more than a final score to those in attendance for Team Tripalin benefit night.
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.
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 (pictured on Page 14). Gard, a graduate of Iowa–Grant High School, is now the head coach of the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.

“The benefit showed just how many people Toby had such a big effect on and how much support there is for him in the community,” added Hill. “It is amazing how so many people contributed to this great cause. It was a great atmosphere and a positive experience for many to realize that something like this is much bigger than the game of basketball.  I thought it was a class act by the three communities of Iowa-Grant, North Crawford, and Darlington to come together for this cause.”

Tripalin led the Panthers to a 63–78 mark during his six seasons as head coach, including one of the best seasons in school history just last year. Tripalin’s 2015–16 Panthers went 22–2 overall and won the program’s first conference title in 22 years with a perfect 14–0 mark. Tripalin and wife Jessa have two young children, Benedict and Evelyn.

Last Tuesday, Iowa–Grant suffered a 63–54 loss at Fennimore. Sophomore Reid Larson scored a team-high 16 points to lead the Golden Eagles (15–6, 10–3), who had four players in double figures.

Senior point guard Caleb Hill scored a game-high 17 points to lead the Panthers in defeat. Thomas added 14 points and Richards finished with 11.

Iowa–Grant earned the sixth-seed in its WIAA Division 4 half sectional and will host #11 Orfordville Parkview (4–16) when the WIAA playoffs begin on Tuesday night.

The Panthers will close out the regular season with Senior Night on Thursday at home against Mineral Point (15–6, 10–3). I–G’s seven seniors will be honored prior to the game.

Fennimore 63, Iowa–Grant 54
(from Tuesday, Feb. 14 @ Fennimore)
Iowa–Grant            21    33     —  54
Fennimore            38    25     —  63
Iowa–Grant (9–11, 7–5) — Erik Raimer 2, Jackson Vigen 4, Gerrit Hunt 1, Caleb Hill 17, Chad Thomas 14, Charlie Richards 11. Totals — 16 17-23 54.
Fennimore (14–6, 9–3) — Trey Hunt 3, Reid Larson 16, Kellen Kenney 10, Liam Kenney 10, Cole Needham 8, Derek Kephart 2, Dakota Govier 14. Totals – 24 10-16 63.
3-point goals — IG: 5 (Hill 1, Thomas 2, Winders 1, Richards 1); F: 5 (Larson 3, Needham 2). Total fouls — IG: 13, MP: 21. Fouled out — none.

Darlington 61, Iowa–Grant 51
(from Friday, Feb. 17 @ Iowa–Grant)
Darlington            22    39     —  61
Iowa–Grant            28    23     —  51
Darlington (21–0, 13–0) — 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 (9–12, 7–6) — Jackson Vigen 2, Payton Simon 9, Caleb Hill 8, Chad Thomas 17, Michael Winders 5, Charlie Richards 10. 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.