DEERFIELD – A sectional appearance has been a long time coming for the Darlington boys’ basketball team, but the 3rd-seeded Redbirds will not have to wait much longer after taking down the 2nd-seeded Deerfield Demons, 64-51, in a WIAA Division 4 regional championship game at Deerfield High School on Saturday, March 5.
“It’s been a long time personally for me since I’ve been to sectionals and a long time for the program. I’m happy for them to experience this. It’s good for our community. We had a road game tonight, but I think we had just as many, if not more, fans here than Deerfield. The school is the heart of every community,” said Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins, who last took the Redbirds to sectionals as a coach in 1990. As a program, Darlington hasn’t been to a sectional since 1996.
“As I told the team before their first playoff game, this is why you did a lot of traveling in the summer, going to tournaments in the Dells and playing weekly in the Stoughton league to face tougher competition. It’s paid off for us.”
The Redbirds (19-5 overall) will face SWAL-rival Cuba City (17-7) in a D4 sectional semifinal game at Verona Area High School on Thursday, March 10. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
“Having a great friendship with Coach (Jerry) Petitgoue, I know he’s a competitor and so am I. We’ve had enough battles with one another,” commented Hopkins, whose team split with the Cubans during the regular season, falling 55-48 back on Dec. 3, and posting a 69-45 win on Jan. 22. “We can’t take them for granted. It’s a whole new night and a new game. He always has something he hasn’t shown us yet, so we will be expecting something a little bit different.”
Thursday’s winner advances to the sectional final game in Baraboo on Saturday, March 12, against either #3-ranked Melrose Mindoro (24-0) or Aquinas (13-11) with a state berth on the line. Tip-off is set for 1p.m.
Darlington got off to a hot start last Saturday night and held the lead over the Trailways South champion Demons (22-3) for all but 59 seconds of the game. Junior guard Ryan Glendenning’s basket just 43 seconds into the game put the Redbirds up early and they ran their lead to 7-0 as the host Demons misfired on their first eight shots, including four from beyond the 3-point arc.
Deerfield answered back with a 9-2 run to briefly tie the game at nine all, but Glendenning hit a 3-pointer with 10:16 to play to put the ‘Birds ahead to stay. That shot kicked off a 14-0 Redbird run, and the Demons never got closer than three the rest of the night despite some foul trouble for Darlington throughout the night.
“We frustrated them, especially in the first half. They really didn’t get into the flow on offense,” added Hopkins. “We had a good game plan thanks to assistant coaches Brad Solberg and Tom Uppena, but the players deserve all the credit for executing the game plan we put together. We could have done with a few less fouls, but I was pleased with the overall effort.”
The Demons closed within 37-34 on a 3-pointer by Parker Knapp with 10:50 to play, but Darlington used a 12-7 scoring spurt to build up a 49-39 lead with 6:44 remaining and then coasted in from there. The ‘Birds went 5-for-8 at the line in the final minute, 23 seconds to lock down their first regional title in 20 years.
Glendenning scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half to lead the Redbirds out to a 27-22 halftime lead, and Schwartz netted nine of his 15 points in the second half to help the ‘Birds push the lead out to double digits.
Junior Trevor Johnson added eight points thanks to a 3-for-4 effort at the foul line, while juniors Josh Soper, Chad Golackson and Hunter Johnson each tallied seven points for the Redbirds.
After missing most the season with an injury suffered during Darlington’s state football game, H. Johnson was cleared to return to the team at the start of the tournament. He played sparingly in Friday’s victory over Cambridge, but he gave the Redbirds a big spark off the bench in Saturday’s regional final when early foul trouble by Soper and Golackson led to some extended minutes.
“We didn’t know if he’d get to play in the tournament, but we got the clearance and we’ll keep our fingers crossed. We certainly needed him and the other guys off the bench tonight to get through the first half,” admitted Hopkins.
Senior forward Blake Ehrke– Deerfield’s leading scorer on the season at over 21 points per game– managed a hard-earned 15 points to lead the Demons, who were averaging nearly 77 ppg. but were held to a season-low 51 points by the Redbirds.
Knapp scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half to keep the Demons in the game until late, while senior Tristen Jourdan and sophomore Nate Siewert chipped in with eight points apiece for the hosts
At Darlington, on Friday, March 4, the Redbirds put all five starters into double figures en route to a 76-60 regional semifinal victory over the Cambridge Blue Jays.
The Birds’ raced out to a 27-8 lead on the Blue Jays (13-11) just over 10 minutes into the game, and then continued to hold a comfortable lead the rest of the night behind a balanced offensive attack and a stellar defensive effort which led Cambridge to 60 points for just the eighth time this season.
Trevor Johnson poured in 22 points and Ryan Glendenning added 20 points to lead Darlington, who went 15-for-20 at the foul stripe as a team.
Josh Soper followed with 12 points, while Will Schwartz and Chad Golackson tallied 10 points apiece for the ‘Birds.
J.T. Parish sank five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 33 points for the Blue Jays, who were also knocked out of the WIAA football playoffs by the Redbirds this past fall.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL FINAL
Darlington……. 27 37 – 64
Deerfield……… 22 29 – 51
Darlington – Will Schwartz 15, Brayden McDonald 5, Ryan Glendenning 15, Trevor Johnson 8, Hunter Johnson 7, Josh Soper 7, Chad Golackson 7. Totals – 25 7-10 64.
Deerfield – Knapp 13, Jourdan 8, Ehrke 15, Siewert 8, Jahr 1, Schindler 2, Perry 4. Totals – 16 13-20 51.
3-point goals– DA 7 (Schwartz 1, McDonald 1, Glendenning 2, T. Johnson 1, H. Johnson 1, Golackson 1), DE 6 (Knapp 3, Jourdan 2, Ehrke 1). Total fouls– DA 20, DE 17.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Cambridge…… 18 42 – 60
Darlington……. 36 40 – 76
Cambridge – Currie 2, Parish 33, Horton 4, Blanchar 2, Jarlsberg 12, Kaashagen 6, Kaare 1. Totals – 22 9-11 60.
Darlington – Will Schwartz 10, Brayden McDonald 2, Ryan Glendenning 20, Trevor Johnson 22, Josh Soper 12, Chad Golackson 10. Totals – 29 15-20 76.
3-point goals– C 7 (Parish 5, Jarlsberg 2), D 3 (Johnson 2, Golackson 1). Total fouls– C 16, D 15.