RICHLAND CENTER — Darlington knew that if they hoped to have a chance in Thursday’s sectional rematch with #1-ranked and undefeated Aquinas they would have to get off to a good start. Unfortunately, the Blugolds had other plans.
The top-ranked and undefeated Lady Blugolds pumped in the game’s first nine points to put the Lady Redbirds in a deep hole just two minutes in, and then broke off on scoring runs of 11-0 and 17-0 later in the opening half to build up a 41-11 halftime lead before cruising to a 73-36 victory in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal game played at Richland Center High School on March 1.
The Blugolds (26-0 overall), who defeated Darlington, 64-40, in a sectional final game in Baraboo last season on the way to a runner-up finish at state, secured a return trip to Green Bay by blowing away Cambridge, 86-33, in a sectional final contest back at Baraboo on Saturday.
Aquinas has won their four playoff games by an average of 45.5 points per game with their win over Darlington (19-5) being their closest game of the post-season. The 36 points scored by the Redbirds were the most scored against the Blugolds in the playoffs.
“We wanted to get back to this game to face them, and we got back here. We’re one of 16 teams left, so I can’t be upset about that. We’re a growing program, and I’m so proud how far we’ve come. It always hurts (to end a season), so this stings a little bit,” said Darlington head coach Kelly Rose.
Sophomore center Courtney Becker netted 12 of her game-high 14 points in the first half to lead Aquinas. Sophomore point guard Lexi Donarski scored nine points and senior guard Kyah Steiner added eight points in the first half for the Blugolds.
Junior guard Kaylee Meyers scored the Redbirds’ first basket at the 16:06 mark of the first half, and the ‘Birds got as close as 11-6 on a basket by junior Kathleen Mathias with under 13 minutes remaining in the half.
Aquinas ran off 11 unanswered points build up a 22-6 lead with 7:43 to go, and the Blugolds netted the final 17 points of the half to build up a 30-point halftime advantage.
The Redbirds committed nearly twice as many turnovers than points scored in the first half, including a stretch of seven straight possessions where they turned the ball over without getting off a shot attempt.
“We talked about the errors at halftime. Yes, they are a very good athletic team who wants you to play faster than you’re used to, but some of those errors were our own errors. We talked about ball security all night. That was going to be the number one thing, taking care of the ball. We started to play better in the second half, but by then it was a little too late,” Rose admitted.
Aquinas maintained a comfortable lead the entire second half despite a spirited second-half effort by the Redbirds. Both teams went deep in their benches down the stretch as Darlington put 10 players into the scoring column, while the Blugolds had 13 players score in the game.
Meyers led the Redbirds with 11 points. Senior guard Meghan Douglas added six points in her final prep game, and junior Reagan Crist tallied five points off the bench for the Redbirds, who had their 11-game winning streak snapped by the Blugolds.
“There are mixed emotions definitely,” said senior Chelsie Golackson. “It was a goal for us to get as far as we could in the playoffs. It was a team effort to get here. Obviously, we came up short tonight, but we did the best we could.”
Donarski and senior Madessa Collins scored nine points apiece for Aquinas, who advanced to Saturday’s sectional final game in Baraboo to face Cambridge after their upset victory over #4-ranked Saint Mary’s Springs.
Playing in their final prep game for the Redbirds were seniors Meghan Douglas, Chelsie Golackson and Kennedy Rankin.
“Those three seniors have been the rock of this program. They are role models on and off the floor. I’m very proud of how far they’ve come in their four years,” remarked Rose. ‘For them to go from sub-.500 teams to being conference champions and consecutive regional champions, there is nothing for them to hang their heads about. I’m going to miss them.”
WIAA DIVISION 4 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
Darlington…… 11 25 – 36
Aquinas……… 41 32 – 73
Darlington – Brenna McDonald 1, Meghan Douglas 6, Lizzie Schwartz 2, Casey Glendenning 1, Kathleen Mathias 4, Reagan Crist 5, Maddie Crist 2, Marissa Gould 2, Chelsie Golackson 2, Kaylee Meyers 11. Totals – 13 8-18 36.
Aquinas– B. Bahr 5, Peterson 8, Theusch 3, Scheidt 2, Morgan 2, Reichenbacher 1, Donarski 9, Rezin 5, Collins 6, Steiner 13, Balduzzi 1, Becker 14, Koblitz 4. Totals – 28 10-17 73.
3-point goals– D 2 (Douglas, R. Crist), A 7 (B. Bahr 1, Peterson 2, Theusch 1, Donarski 1, Rezin 1, Collins 1). Total fouls– D 18, A 14. Fouled out– D: Mathias.