DARLINGTON - There was a new school look when Darlington renewed its old school rivalry with Black Hawk in their season opener.
The Redbirds returned just one of their top six scorers from a year ago when they tied for the SWAL title and rolled up a 22-3 overall record, while the Warriors entered their first game of the season without five of their top seven scorers from a year ago and with a brand new head coach.
Each team suffered through their fair share of growing pains the first time out in 2011, but it was the ‘Birds who were able to shake off some offensive woes to shoot down the Warriors, 43-32, in a physical boys’ basketball game at DHS on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
“Overall, I was encouraged about a lot of things, especially on defense. We put in a few new wrinkles to our defensive system this year and (we had) just a week to implement them,” said Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins. “There are a lot of adjustments we need to make to continue to improve, but the players deserve the credit for putting the new wrinkles into action.”
One of the new wrinkles was a 1-2-2 zone the Redbirds (1-0 overall) went into in the fourth quarter that caught Black Hawk (0-1) a bit off guard.
The Warriors opened the fourth quarter with junior guard Coltin Piefer converting a pair of technical foul free throws– that were awarded after Darlington got caught with too many players on the court to start the period– to cut the Redbirds’ lead to 29-28.
Black Hawk failed to convert on their possession following the foul to keep the hosts ahead by a point, then the ‘Birds ripped off eight consecutive points- including three straight layups off of turnovers to open up a 37-28 advantage.
Senior Brandon Hardyman scored six of Darlington’s points during that run, while senior Mitchell Whalen added six of his eight points in the fourth quarter to help the Redbirds put the game away.
“Brandon and Mitchell are really the only two players with experience as starters, but even they are playing different roles than last year. The first half, especially the first quarter, it seemed that all our players were trying to do too much on the offensive end of the floor,” Hopkins noted. “At halftime, part of the discussion was about being patient and reading the situation. Our offense in the second half was much better. We had good execution, making better decisions with the basketball in our hands.”
Black Hawk built up a 9-2 lead right out of the gates behind junior Cory Rupnow’s five-point effort in the opening stanza, but the ‘Birds fought their way back thanks to a strong second quarter scoring burst by Hardyman.
A 3-pointer by Jake Martin just before the first quarter buzzer sounded ended a nearly six minute scoring drought for Darlington and cut the Warriors’ lead to 9-5. Then, Hardyman scored nine of the first 11 points of the second quarter to put the ‘Birds on top 14-11 midway through the period.
A basket by Rupnow and a pair of free throws by Piefer moved Black Hawk back into the lead with 3:40 to play in the first half, but a three-point play by Hardyman put the ‘Birds back on top 17-15.
Senior Hayden Schliem brought the Warriors even with a basket with 1:08 left in the half, and that’s where the teams stood at the intermission.
Hardyman, who scored all 12 of the Redbirds’ points in the second quarter, knocked down another shot with 6:03 to play in the third quarter to put the hosts ahead at 21-20 and they held onto the lead up until the final horn.
Hardyman finished with a game-high 20 points for the ‘Birds.
“(Brandon) does have that potential to take control of a game at both ends of the floor, especially with quickness and jumping ability. (He) was our engine in the second quarter, but we struggled to be tied at halftime,” said Hopkins. “However, basketball is a team game and we will be a much better team with more balanced scoring.”
Whalen added eight points and had four steals. Martin netted five points, while Griffin Heinberg chipped in with four points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Kent Miehe led the Redbirds with four assists.
Rupnow tallied 14 points and seven rebounds to lead the Warriors. Schliem added eight points and Piefer tallied six for the guests.
“I thought our team held our own against a very physical, taller Darlington team. Our team provided a great effort, but just came up short due to a string of turnovers in the fourth quarter,” stated Black Hawk head coach Corey Manlick following his first game with the Warriors. “I’m disappointed in the loss, but happy with our kids performance and we are making very good strides in the right direction.
I told (them), Rome wasn’t built in one day, so changing your old ways and habits will not happen in a day or even a week. It takes time, but also dedication by (them) to want to change the old ways to what I find appropriate.”
Darlington opens conference play on Thursday, Dec. 1, when they head to Cuba City for a huge early-season SWAL showdown with last year’s co-champions, the Cubans. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The Redbirds return home to host Platteville in a non-conference game on Monday, Dec. 5.
Black Hawk will be at Belmont on Thursday, Dec. 1, and at home against Highland on Tuesday, Dec. 6, for a pair of non-conference games versus Six Rivers West foes.
Black Hawk… 9 8 9 6 - 32
Darlington….. 5 12 12 14 - 43
Leading Scorers: Black Hawk– Cory Rupnow 14, Hayden Schliem 8, Coltin Piefer 6, Cuyler Meier 4. Darlington– Brandon Hardyman 20, Mitchell Whalen 8, Jake Martin 5, Zach McArthur 4, Griffin Heinberg 4, Cedric Flesher 2.