DARLINGTON — Locked in a knock down, drag out slugfest with SWAL rival Mineral Point, the #2-seeded Darlington Redbirds flexed their muscles from the foul line connecting on 25 of the 31 free throw attempts on the night to knock out the #3-seeded Lady Pointers, 57-53, in a WIAA Division 4 regional final girls’ basketball game held at DHS on Saturday, Feb. 24.
The Redbirds (19-4 overall) took the lead for good on a pair of free throw by senior Chelsie Golackson with 3:22, and then went 9-for-12 at the line over the final 2:03 to earn a regional championship crown for the second year in a row.
“The Mineral Point game was certainly a nail-biter right down to the buzzer. We had some concerns about early foul trouble and struggling to score, but I’m pleased with the contributions from the bench and all of our girls battling through adversity for 36 minutes,” said Darlington head coach Kelly Rose after leading her Redbirds to back-to-back regional titles. “I got a little nervous when we missed a few around the four-minute mark, but the girls were able to use their varsity experience to confidently shoot and make their free throws down the stretch.”
With the win, the ‘Birds advance to the sectional semifinal contest at Richland Center High School on Thursday, March 1, against top-seeded and #1-ranked Aquinas (24-0), starting at 7 p.m. The Blugolds denied the Redbirds a shot at a state title a year ago, and they block the way to Green Bay this year after defeating Cuba City, 76-26, last Saturday night.
Thursday’s winner will meet the winner of the other semifinal between #4-ranked Saint Mary’s Springs (22-2) and Cambridge (19-5) at Baraboo High School on Saturday, March 3, beginning at 1 p.m.
“We’re excited to have earned another regional title. Our overall goal was to extend our season as long as possible, preferably longer than last year, which meant another potential match-up with La Crosse Aquinas. We have some film and information on Aquinas, and we will prepare as much as we possibly can for our game,” replied Rose.
Saturday’s game was a very physical battle from the opening tip. Darlington got into early foul trouble and had a pair of starters– Kennedy Rankin and Kaylee Meyers– spend most of the first half on the bench. The Redbirds got big contributions off the bench from junior Casey Glendenning (eight points) and sophomore Brenna McDonald (seven points) in first half.
The Pointers (17-7) led 6-2 early until the ‘Birds used a 10-0 run to go up 12-6. It was the largest lead for either team all night.
MP answered with a 7-0 run to regain lead at 13-12, but the lead switched hands four more times in first half. After a 3-point play by McDonald put the Redbirds up 25-24 with 1:32 to go in half, the Pointers got baskets from Malorie Johnson, McKenna Reichling and Morgan James to go into the locker room at the half up 30-27.
Meyers came out and hit two 3-pointers early in second half to give Darlington back the lead at 35-32. The Pointers regained the lead at 44-42 with 6:33 remaining following a 3-point play by Reichling and a 3-pointer by Kinch.
Darlington went back ahead at 46-44 on a basket by Rankin with 4:23 to go and took the lead to stay on Golackson’s free throws a minute later.
MP got within two twice in the final 30 seconds- once on a 3-pter by Kinch with :28 and again on a basket by Kaitlyn Kinch with :11, but the ‘Birds used free throw by Meyers and Rankin to hold off the Pointers.
Meyers scored 13 of her game-high 17 points in the second half while going 7-of-8 at the foul stripe over the final two minutes of play.
The Redbirds finished 25-of-31 at line for game, including a 16-of-21 effort at the line in the second half. The Pointers shot 7-of-18 at line for game, including a 4-of-13 performance in the second half.
Glendenning netted 10 points, McDonald scored nine points and junior Kathleen Mathias added eight for the Redbirds.
“Each member of this team is a valuable individual, and I am thankful for each role these young ladies are willing to play,” said Rose.
M. Johnson led the Pointers with 13 points, while Reichling and Kinch added 11 apiece for MP.
At Darlington, on Friday, Feb. 23, the Lady Redbirds kicked off their tournament run by vanquishing the visiting Wisconsin Heights Vanguards, 82-38, in a D4 regional semifinal affair.
The ‘Birds charged out to a 43-16 lead in the first half, and then came out to outscore the #7-seeded Vanguards (9-15) by a 39-22 margin in the second half to roll to a 44-point victory.
“The Wisconsin Heights game was a nice win against a young, athletic team. It can be a challenge to play a non-conference team with few common opponents during the play-offs, but our team utilized scouting film and information to earn a win Friday night. I believe one of the keys to the win was taking advantage of scoring opportunities off of their turnovers,” commented Coach Rose.
Kaylee Meyers led a balance Redbird attack with 22 points. Kathleen Mathias chipped in with 15 points and Kennedy Rankin added 11, while Brenna McDonald netted nine points and Chelsie Golackson and Meghan Douglas dropped in seven apiece in the win.
Ashlee Adler led the Vanguards with 11 points.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL FINAL
Mineral Point…….. 30 23 – 53
Darlington……....... 27 30 – 57
Mineral Point– N. Johnson 4, Aschliman 3, James 9, M. Johnson 13, Reichling 11, Schmitz 2, Kinch 11. Totals – 21 7-18 53.
Darlington – Brenna McDonald 9, Meghan Douglas 2, Casey Glendenning 10, Kathleen Mathias 8, Reagan Crist 1, Chelsie Golackson 4, Kennedy Rankin 6, Kaylee Meyers 17. Totals – 15 25-31 57.
3-point goals– MP 4 (Reichling 1, Kinch 3), D 2 (Meyers 2). Total fouls– MP 24, D 17. Fouled out– None.
WIAA DIVISION 4 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Wisconsin Hts…… 16 22 – 38
Darlington……....... 43 39 – 82
Wisconsin Heights–K. Adler 3, A. Adler 11, Keith 8, Handel 7, Hering 4, Bollig 5. Totals – 15 6-7 38.
Darlington – Brenna McDonald 9, Meghan Douglas 7, Lizzie Schwartz 2, Casey Glendenning 5, Kathleen Mathias 15, Reagan Crist 4, Chelsie Golackson 7, Kennedy Rankin 11, Kaylee Meyers 22. Totals – 34 20-27 82.
3-point goals– WH 2 (K. Adler 1, A. Adler 1), D 6 (Douglas 1, Golackson 1, Rankin 2, Meyers 2). Total fouls– WH 23, D 15. Fouled out– None.