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Blanchardville Barnburner
Darlingtons Chayse Hermanson keeps Pecatonica defender Alisha Esselstein at bay while coming up the court in transition in the first half of Mondays game in Blanchardville. Darlington won, 71-67.
BLANCHARDVILLE - Darlington was treated to its toughest ball game all year Monday night, courtesy of Pecatonica. The Vikings played likely their best all-around game this season, but fell late 71-67.

"I take my hat off to Pec, because they gave us absolutely everything we could handle," Darlington coach Mike Chambers said. "For a while it didn't look very good for us. That was an intense game. That was a fun high school basketball game."

Pecatonica (1-8) took the lead midway through the first and held the advantage until the final two minutes of the game. That's when Darlington (8-2) was able to get to the free-throw line and take what little control of the game it could.

"We haven't been pressured or been in this tight of a game yet. We responded down the stretch and were able to pull it out," Chambers said.

With 1:05 left and Darlington clinging to a 69-67 advantage, Pecatonica's Alisha Esselstein tipped a Redbird pass into the back court. One official called a jump ball -which would have given Pecatonica the ball- but the back judge allowed a Redbird timeout to be taken.

Moments later Amy Jorgenson hit a free throw to make it a 3-point game, and Pecatonica couldn't get another shot to fall through.

"(Wins) are always nice, but we couldn't enjoy it tonight," said Pecatonica head coach Tom Wilkins. "I kept telling our kids to play hard and play hard all the time. Stay at it, and they did."

The Vikings had lit up the scoreboard early and often, with a slew of buckets coming from behind the 3-point line. Pecatonica hit 10 3s in the game, including four from sophomore Lizzy Britt and three from senior Ellie Gifford.

"Lizzy has played great the last couple of games. She's really come around," Wilkins said. "We've been waiting for her to become our third scorer. That's huge for us. And all of a sudden she's a 3-shooter, and I don't think she's ever been one in her life."

Gifford led all scorers with 24 points. Esselstein had 17 and Britt added another 16.

The Vikings, who went on a 10-0 run late in the first quarter to secure the early lead, led 20-15 after the first quarter. By halftime the advantage had risen to 35-28. Pecatonica's largest lead was at 43-30 midway through the third, after 3s by Esselstein and Gifford.

"They had a run on us where we lost a little focus," said Wilkins, whose team allowed the Redbirds to go on an immediate 12-0 run to bring the score back to within one. "We called a couple timeouts to try to get ourselves back into it."

Pecatonica held off Darlington until the 2:34 mark in the fourth, when Redbird sophomore Cassidy Chambers drilled a 3 to tie the score at 66. Moments later Claire Scott gave Darlington its first lead in over three quarters with a free throw.

The Redbirds finished 29 of 50 from the charity stripe, while Pecatonica was just 9 of 20.

"We've been shooting our free throws pretty good lately, but I don't think we shot them quite as well as we have been," Mike Chambers said. "But boy, if you give those away, who knows what's going to happen. You've got to be able to make free throws, especially down the stretch. We hit just enough to get the win."

Again for Pecatonica, fouls seemed to come back and bite the Vikings. Three players fouled out and a total of 28 fouls were called on Pecatonica, compared to just 17 by Darlington.

"We got ourselves in foul trouble again. We just can't do that," Wilkins said. "That's something we're going to have to learn. Free throws just killed us."

Jorgenson led the Redbirds with 20 points. Elizabeth Mathias scored 13, Claire Scott had 10 and Carley McDonald, Miranda Wiegel and Cassidy Chambers each chipped in eight.

"Amy kind off took control, and we expect that of her. She did exactly what we hoped and what we expect of her to do," Mike Chambers said.

Darlington next hits the hardwood at home against Fennimore on Friday. Pecatonica, meanwhile, hosts Juda on Thursday.