MINERAL POINT – Darlington’s two-year reign as regional champions came to an end at the hands of SWAL rival Mineral Point on Saturday night.
The #6-ranked Pointers charged off on a pair of quick scoring bursts early in each half to put distance between themselves and the Redbirds as they rolled to the WIAA Division 4 regional title with a 75-50 victory.
Sophomore Isaac Lindsey scored nine of his game-high 26 points during a 20-7 run that turned a four-point Pointer advantage into a 36-19 lead midway in the first half, and freshman Brayden Dailey scored eight of his 24 points during a 19-6 outburst in the second half that erased all hopes for a Darlington comeback.
“That’s as good a team as there is in the state. They have so many weapons on offense and their defense is so tough. When they are clicking like they were tonight, they’re pretty tough to defend. Your margin of error is pretty thin,” said Redbirds’ head coach Tom Uppena.
After the Pointers (20-4 overall) used a quick 6-0 burst to open up a 16-9 lead, the Redbirds (16-8) pulled back within four on a 3-pointer by junior Tucker Lange.
The Pointers answered with back-to-back 3s by junior Garrett Wendhausen and Lindsey to go ahead 22-12, and then added three free throws and another 3-pointer by Lindsey to build up a 28-15 advantage. The SWAL champs took a 42-23 lead into the locker room at the intermission.
The Redbirds began the second half with baskets by freshman Carter Lancaster and junior Stryker Fitzsimons and a 3-pointer by senior Tanner Evenstad to cut the deficit down to 12 at 42-30.
However, the Pointers regained the momentum with six unanswered points, and then used a pair of three-point plays from Dailey in transition to pull ahead 61-36 with just under 10 minutes remaining.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to down the stretch. We had some turnovers and gave them some easy layups in transition. You can’t do those things against a good team like them,” commented Uppena.
Lindsey sank two 3-pointers and four free throws down the stretch to put the finishing touches on the Pointers victory.
Lancaster, who battled foul trouble throughout the game before fouling out late in the second half, finished with a team-high 12 points.
Evenstad netted 11 points, while Fitzsimons tallied nine and Lange added seven for the ‘Birds.
Playing in their final prep game for the Redbirds were seniors Kameron Blosch, Tanner Evenstad, Bailey McGuire, Tony Ruesga and Brogan Evenstad.
“They are an incredible group of young men. They have been sitting in the shadows a long time, so to see them stick it out, work their butts off and then get their chance to show what they can do says a lot about them,” said Uppena. “The success we had last year was because of guys like them pushing the guys ahead of them in practice. I’m incredibly proud of them for what we did as a team this year, but– more importantly– about who they are as individuals and the great young men that they are.”
At Darlington, on Friday, March 2, the rubber match with Cuba city bounced the way of the Darlington Redbirds behind some great defense, a big night at the free throw line and a clutch performance off the bench by junior guard Matthew Douglas.
The #4-seeded Redbirds shot their way into a regional championship game for the third straight season after going 21-of-34 from the foul line on the night to cut down the #5-seeded Cuba City Cubans, 59-40, in a WIAA Division 4 regional semifinal boys’ basketball game.
The two SWAL rivals had split their two regular season contests with the Cubans winning 66-45 in Cuba City on Dec. 14, and the Redbirds getting their revenge with a 71-65 win at home on Jan. 30. It was all Darlington in the rubber match.
“It was a great team victory. I give the kids a lot of credit. We prepared hard for them and I think it showed. Even though we were the higher seed, I think a lot of people thought we might lose this one tonight, so it was great to see the kids come out and play incredible defense,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena after his team held the Cubans to a season-low 40 points.
Darlington took an early 4-0 lead on baskets by senior Kameron Blosch and freshman Carter Lancaster, and the ‘Birds held onto the lead for the rest of the night.
The Cubans (15-9) attempted to take the air out of the ball early, holding it for long periods nearly the midcourt line and remaining patient on offense. However, once the Redbirds extended their lead to 9-2 on five unanswered points from junior forward Stryker Fitzsimons, the Cubans were forced to play catch-up the rest of the night, but they never got closer than three.
Douglas buried two 3-pointers in the final two and a half minutes of the half to put the Redbirds up 20-13 at the intermission, and the ‘Birds pushed the lead to 11 in the opening moments of the second half.
The Cubans cut the Darlington lead down to 29-25 on a breakaway layup by Brady Olson with 12:45 to play, but a three-point play by Lancaster and a trey by Douglas jumped the lead back to 10 at 35-25 just a minute later.
The Cubans answered back with an 8-1 run of the own to get back within three at 36-33 with exactly eight minutes remaining. However, Douglas stepped up again sinking his fourth triple of the night, and then converting an old-fashioned three-point play just 34 seconds later to put the ‘Birds back up 42-33 with 6:51 to go.
“Coach throws me in there to get some shots up and hope I catch fire like I did tonight,” said Douglas. “To do that against a good Cuba City team coached by Hall of Famer Jerry Petitgoue, I was pretty happy.”
Cuba City got back within six twice more, but the Redbirds’ defense held the Cubans to just a single basket over the five minutes of play while Fitzsimons, Lancaster and senior Tony Ruesga combined to go 11-for-12 at the foul line down the stretch to seal the victory.
“We’ve been shooting free throws all week because we knew it would come down to free throws. I don’t know what was up with Carter and I early missing a few at the line, but they started to fall for us,” stated Fitzsimons.
Darlington went 10-of-22 at the line to start the night before ending strong to finish 21-of-34 on their free throws for the game.
“That was our intention to be aggressive, attack the paint and get to the foul line, and we did that. The kids made the ones that matter most down the stretch,” commented Uppena.
Fitzsimons went 11-of-14 at the line to finish with 15 points, while Lancaster went 8-of-14 at the line on his way to 14 points. Douglas also netted 15 points after hitting all four of the team’s 3-pointers.
Sophomore Jackson Noll tallied seven of his team-high 11 points in the first half for the Cubans, who were held to just 1-of-18 shooting from 3-point range and going just 5-of-8 from the foul line after combining to shoot 44-of-53 from the stripe in the teams’ first two meetings.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL FINAL
Darlington………. 23 27 – 50
Mineral Point…… 42 33 – 75
Darlington – Tanner Evenstad 11, Cade Murray 1, Tucker Lange 7, Carter Lancaster 12, Bailey McGuire 5, Stryker Fitzsimons 9, Tony Ruesga 5. Totals – 18 10-13 50.
Mineral Point– B. Dailey 24, C. Wendhausen 6, Lindsey 26, G. Wendhausen 7, Berget 8, Heisner. Totals – 30 9-15 75.
3-point goals– D 4 (Evenstad 1, Lange 1, Lancaster 1, Ruesga 1), MP 6 (Lindsey 4, G. Wendhausen 2). Total fouls– D 13, MP 13. Fouled out– D: Lancaster.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Cuba City……….. 13 27 – 40
Darlington………. 20 39 – 59
Cuba City – Blake Robson 4, Brayden Holzemer 3, Jackson Noll 11, Jack Misky 6, Preston Bousley 2, Brady Olson 8, Jake Langmeier 6. Totals – 17 5-8 40.
Darlington – Kameron Blosch 6, Tanner Evenstad 6, Carter Lancaster 14, Stryker Fitzsimons 15, Tony Ruesga 3, Matthew Douglas 15. Totals – 17 21-34 59.
3-point goals– CC 1 (Noll 1), D 4 (Douglas 4). Total fouls– CC 21, D 11. Fouled out– None.