DARLINGTON — Darlington wants it known that they’re not going to give up their SWAL title without a fight.
The Redbirds (4-0 overall, 1-0 SWAL) began their title defense by taking down the rival Mineral Point Pointers, 56-53, in a back-and-forth battle at DHS on Friday, Dec. 8.
“The win over Mineral Point was an important one, being our first conference game and being against one of the top teams in the state. This week was a great measuring stick for our team to see where we are at, and I am very happy with how we stepped up and performed,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena. “That said, we can’t be satisfied with where we are at. We have a lot of games ahead of us and a lot of things to improve on.”
The #4-ranked Pointers (2-1, 0-1) were picked as one of the pre-season favorites to unseat the Redbirds atop the SWAL, but the ‘Birds were ready to step up to the challenge on Friday night.
Using a spirited defensive effort to slow down high-scoring Pointer guards Isaac Lindsey and Chase Wendhausen, the Redbirds shot out to a 28-17 halftime advantage.
“I can’t say enough about the effort these kids put forth. Playing man-to-man defense against a dribble-drive team as talented as Mineral Point is mentally and physically draining. I’m very proud of how hard the guys played,” Uppena remarked.
The Pointers shaved the Darlington lead down to three just minutes into the second half, and then used a 21-8 run to pull ahead 47-39 with eight minutes remaining.
Still trailing by seven with just under seven minutes to go, the Redbirds put the clamps on the Pointers defensively and closed the game with a 13-3 scoring run to rally from behind for the sixth consecutive victory over the Pointers.
Senior Tony Ruesga and freshman Carter Lancaster each hit two clutch free throws in the final 31 seconds to seal the win for the ‘Birds.
“We talked at half time about being ready for a run to start the half, and to be ready for them to increase their defensive pressure. I think we were a little shell shocked to start the second half when they put the pressure on and it took us a while to figure it out,” admitted Uppena. “Getting down to a team as good as Mineral Point is not ideal and we could have folded, but I think we saw what this team is made of and the determination they have to not give up.”
Lancaster finished with a game-high 20 points for the Redbirds. Junior Stryker Fitzsimons tallied 11 points, and junior Tucker Lange added seven points in a winning cause.
Freshman Brayden Dailey led the Pointers with 18 points and sophomore Wesley Berget followed with 12 points, while Lindsey was limited to nine points and Wendhausen held to five by the ‘Birds.
At Dodgeville, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Redbirds outscored the host Dodgers in a high-scoring second half, 49-38, to come away with an impressive 68-56 non-conference victory.
“Against Dodgeville, I thought our execution on both ends of the floor was the key to our success. Offensively, we added some new wrinkles that I thought were effective in getting our playmakers in a position to be more successful. On the other side of the ball, our team defense was very solid. We were certainly undersized, and we probably will be all year, but we played with a lot of heart and were able to frustrate Dodgeville,” commented Coach Tom Uppena.
Carter Lancaster led three Darlington players in double figures with 18 points. Tony Ruesga matched his career-high 15 points and senior Tanner Evenstad added 12 points for the ‘Birds.
Bryce Prochaska poured in a game-high 20 points to lead the Dodgers. Brantley Eastman added 15 points for the hosts.
Darlington has a key SWAL game at Cuba City on Thursday, Dec. 14, and returns home to host Platteville in another tough non-conference contest on Tuesday, Dec. 19.
Mineral Point…… 17 36 – 53
Darlington………. 28 28 – 56
Mineral Point – Dailey 18, C. Wendhausen 5, Lindsey 9, G. Wendhausen 7, Stumpf 1, Berget 12, Heisner 1. Totals – 20 9-13 53.
Darlington– Kameron Blosch 4, Tanner Evenstad 4, Trae Schilling 3, Tucker Lange 7, Carter Lancaster 20, Stryker Fitzsimons 11, Tony Ruesga 4, Matthew Douglas 3. Totals – 21 11-15 56.
3-point goals– MP 4 (Dailey 2, C. Wendhausen 1, Lindsey 1), D 3 (Schilling 1, Lange 1, Douglas 1). Total fouls– MP 19, D 14. Fouled out– none,
Darlington………. 19 49 – 68
Dodgeville………. 18 38 – 56
Darlington– Kameron Blosch 3, Tanner Evenstad 12, Tucker Lange 3, Carter Lancaster 18, Bailey McGuire 8, Stryker Fitzsimons 7, Tony Ruesga 15, Brogan Evenstad 2. Totals – na.
Dodgeville – Phillips 6, James 3, Eastman 15, Glonek 9, Molldrem 3, Prochaska 20. Totals – na.
3-point goals– DA na, DO 0 na. Total fouls– DA na, DO na. Fouled out– na.