DARLINGTON – Head coach Riley Fitzsimons had a lot to be nervous about heading into Darlington’s make-up game with Mineral Point on Thursday night. How would his team respond to the early start time? How would his team handle the distraction of the holiday break? How would his team handle the pressure of a battle for second-place in the SWAL with their rivals from just up the road?
Turns out, the Lady Redbird skipper had nothing to be nervous about.
The Redbirds (7-2 overall, 4-1 in SWAL) dashed out to an impressive 17-4 first-quarter lead behind the superb senior scoring duo of center Claire Scott and guard Cassidy Chamber and a smothering pressure defense, then cruised the rest of the way to post a 45-35 victory over the visiting Pointers in a prep girls’ basketball game at DHS on Dec. 27.
The win moved Darlington into sole possession of second-place in the league standings behind unbeaten Cuba City, while the Pointers (3-4, 3-2) slipped into fourth-place.
Scott got the Redbirds rolling in the opening moments of the game when she used some aggressive drives down the lane to score a three-point play and another lay-up to put the hosts ahead 5-0.
Scott added another tough shot in the lane and scored a fast-break lay-up on an assist from Chambers following the Redbird steal to finish the first quarter with nine points, while Chambers sank a pair of 3-pointers and added two free throws in the quarter to finish with eight points to lead the ‘Birds out to a 17-4 lead.
“This game made me nervous, but the girls really responded well,” said Fitzsimons. “We wanted to come out hard, pressure the ball and attack the basket. I thought we could do that with Claire because I knew (Mineral Point) would try to take Cassidy out of the game early.”
Scott and Chambers each added baskets in the second quarter to extend the lead to 21-6, but the Pointers went 5-for-10 at the foul line in the final four minutes of the opening half to trim the deficit down to 10 points by the intermission.
Darlington’s offense caught fire again in the third quarter, netting 20 points in the stanza while holding the Pointers to just nine to build up a 41-20 advantage.
“They’re a young team and usually the best way to beat a young team is to put pressure on them because they can’t handle it as well. That’s what we did. Defense is our key. If we can turn that defense into offense (with turnovers) it’s good for us,” Fitzsimons explained.
Buckets by Chambers and Scott early in the fourth quarter gave the hosts their largest lead of the night at 45-23. The Pointers outscored the ‘Birds 12-0 over the final six minutes of the game to make the final score appear more respectable, but the outcome was never in jeopardy as the Redbirds defeated Mineral Point for the sixth straight time.
“I told them it’s not just coming out strong. It’s how you finish. We can start off strong, but it’s getting over that hump which makes a great team, and we haven’t quite got over that hump and continued to put it on an opponent. Once we get there, we’ll be a pretty good team,” said Fitzsimons.
Chambers finished with a game-high 20 points to pace the Darlington attack, and Scott chipped in with 16 points for the hosts.
Freshman Jessica Schultz struck for seven of her team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Pointers, while sophomore Natalie Chubb followed with nine points.
Darlington heads to Benton on Thursday, Jan. 3, for a non-conference game against Benton/Shullsburg. The Redbirds return to SWAL action at Boscobel (3-1) on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
Darlington 45, Mineral Point 35
Darlington… 17 4 20 4 – 45
Mineral Point…. 4 7 9 15 – 35
Mineral Point – Qualley 5, Pittz 4, Dolphin 1, Mitchell 1, Wainwright 2, Chambers 2, Chubb 9, Schultz 11. Totals – 9 14-25 35.
Darlington – Cassidy Chambers 20, Cassidy Cox 2, Abigail Merriam 4, Claire Scott 16, Alexa Hardyman 3. Totals – 16 6-13 45.
3-point goals – MP 1 (Qualley 1,), D 5 (Chambers 4, Hardyman 1). Total fouls – MP 10, D 20. Fouled out – D: Evenstad.