MAZOMANIE – Darlington ran out to an early lead and never eased up, stunning the #4-ranked and top-seeded Wisconsin Heights Vanguards, 54-47, to capture a WIAA Division 4 regional girls’ basketball title in a regional championship game held at WHHS on Monday, Feb. 27.
The Lady Redbirds (17-7 overall) took the lead just moments into the game on a basket by senior Taryn Rankin and they never gave it up as they upset the Vanguards (22-2) to claim their first regional crown since 2011.
“I am incredibly proud of this team’s perseverance. They stayed composed throughout the entire game to earn this regional championship. This is a program that has been building for about four years. We’re finally seeing the results of time-dedication and hard work on and off the court,” said Darlington head coach Kelly Rose.
Darlington built up an early 10-3 advantage after getting baskets from five different players to start the game, and they extended the lead to as many as 12 in the first half before the host Vanguards fought back with a 15-6 scoring run to cut the gap to 26-23 at the intermission.
The Redbirds started off the second half with a 9-0 outburst to regain a 12-point advantage, and then spent the rest of the game defending their lead. The Vanguards got as close as five late in the game, but the ‘Birds went 7-for-11 from the free throw line in the final two minutes to lock down the victory.
“I was very impressed with the team’s ability to maintain the lead throughout the game. There were a few moments you could feel the momentum begin to shift, but we remained focused on the ultimate goal,” admitted Rose. “Wisconsin Heights is a very talented team; and they made last night’s game one of the most competitive we have played thus far.”
Kathleen Mathias led a balanced Darlington attack with 13 points, while T. Rankin finished with six points and a team-best eight rebounds.
Kaylee Meyers netted nine points and Callie Norton chipped in with eight points, while Sadie Fitzsimons and Kennedy Rankin added seven points apiece for the ‘Birds.
Haylee Adler scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Vanguards. Kristen Barman had 13 for the hosts.
Darlington advances to sectional play where they will meet SWAL-rival Mineral Point (19-5) in a D4 sectional semifinal contest at Monroe High School on Thursday, March 2. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re excited to see Mineral Point on Thursday. It’ll be another great game,” said Rose, whose team split their season series with the defending state champion Pointers this season. Each team won on their home floor.
The winner advances to the sectional final against the winner of Thursday’s other sectional semifinal game between #1-ranked Aquinas (24-0) and #3-ranked Melrose-Mindoro (24-0) at Baraboo High School on Saturday, March 4, with a state tournament berth on the line. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.
At Darlington, on Friday, Feb. 24, the #4-seeded Lady Redbirds forced 43 turnovers on defense, which led to a season-high 83 points on offense, as they defeated the #5-seeded Belleville Wildcats, 83-65, in a wild D4 regional semifinal contest.
The teams traded the lead six times early on until a 9-2 run put the Redbirds ahead to stay. The hosts took a 36-30 lead into the locker room at the halftime break.
The Wildcats (16-8) scored the first basket of the second half to get within four, but the ‘Birds scored 30 of the next 35 points to open up a 66-39 advantage midway with under nine minutes to play.
However, Belleville was not going to go down without a fight. The ‘Cats used a 18-1 run to cut a 27-point Darlington lead down to 10 at 67-57 with 2:53 remaining, but the ‘Birds were able to put the game away at the foul line by sinking 8-of-12 free throw attempts over the final two minutes, 47 second to claim the victory.
“The Belleville game was another confidence-booster for our team. Belleville is an athletic, hard-working team that gave us everything they had. I think in the end, we remained composed and made sure our defense didn’t falter,” replied Coach Kelly Rose.
Meyers scored 15 of her season-high and game-high 23 points in the second half to carry the ‘Birds over the ‘Cats. Mathias added 13 of her 21 points in the second half as well for Darlington, who outscored Belleville 18-0 from beyond the 3-point arc in the game.
Bethany McDonald scored 12 points, and Fitzsimons and T. Rankin added 11 points apiece to give the Redbirds five players in double figures.
Grace Schulting poured in 20 points and Rachael Heittola chipped in with 19 for the Wildcats.
WIAA D5 REGIONAL FINAL
Darlington…………… 26 28 – 54
Wisconsin Heights… 23 24 – 47
Darlington – Callie Norton 8, Sadie Fitzsimons 7, Bethany McDonald 2, Kathleen Mathias 13, Taryn Rankin 6, Kennedy Rankin 7, Kaylee Meyers 9, Chelsie Golackson 2. Totals – 19 12-18 54.
Wisconsin Heights – Zander 3, Doherty 2, K. Kraemer 2, K. Adler 5, A. Adler 4, Barman 13, H. Adler 18. Totals – 15 14-19 47.
3-point goals– D 4 (Norton 1, Fitzsimons 1, K. Rankin 1, Meyers 1), WH 3 (K. Adler 1, A. Adler 1, H. Adler 1). Total fouls– D 19, WH 15. Fouled out– None.
WIAA D5 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Belleville…………… 30 35 – 65
Darlington…………. 36 47 – 83
Belleville – Shrader 2, Schulting 20, Sies 7, Diaz 9, O’Rourke 2, Halvensleben 6, Heittola 19. Totals – 24 17-30 65.
Darlington – Callie Norton 2, Sadie Fitzsimons 11, Bethany McDonald 12, Kathleen Mathias 21, Taryn Rankin 11, Kennedy Rankin 2, Kaylee Meyers 23, Chelsie Golackson 1. Totals – 32 13-24 83.
3-point goals– B 0, D 6 (Fitzsimons 1, McDonald 2, Meyers 3). Total fouls– B 22, D 28. Fouled out– B: Sies, Diaz; D: Norton.