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Defense, Frint topple Redbirds
Monroes Kevin Frint powers past Darlingtons Jason Boll in the paint during the second half of Mondays game. Frint finished with 19 points and the Cheesemakers won, 56-47.
MONROE - Both Darlington and Monroe want to play good defense against good non-conference opponents. On Monday night, the Cheesemakers accomplished both in a rousing 56-37 win.

"(Darlington) is a good enough team that they can go on some runs," Monroe head coach Pat Murphy said. "I told my guys they needed to play great defense and they needed to make enough shots down in the post. And we did that."

The Redbirds, 18-3 overall and ranked No. 6 in the Division 3 Associated Press poll, can usually be counted on to drop 62 points per contest, with 21.2 of those points coming from sharpshooting guard Alex Erickson. Erickson finished with just seven in the game.

"For us to score only 10 points at halftime after averaging 62, that's not even a good quarter for us at half," Darlington head coach Mike Hopkins said. "You have to give credit to Monroe. They are similar to us where defense is their heart and soul."

Erickson was held to just seven points and the Redbirds were just 16 of 47 (34 percent) from the field, including a forgettable 5-for-20 from beyond the arc. Monroe meanwhile shot 48 percent from the field and was 5 of 13 from distance.

"(Monroe) is very patient on offense. That's maybe one of our Achilles heals - I think we started shooting from outside too much early on that didn't fall," Hopkins said.

While both teams started sluggish on the offensive end, it was Monroe that waited for the right moment to strike. Leading just 5-4 in the closing seconds of the first quarter, Michael Barrett hit a jumper with two seconds left in the frame. Right off the bat in the second, freshman guard Alex Barenklau connected with Kevin Frint for a jumper and the Cheesemakers' offense was rolling.

Barrett hit another runner after a bucket by Darlington's Colton Carpenter, and Frint found junior guard Damian Penniston for the second of his three 3-pointers in the game, putting the Cheesemakers up eight.

"It was there tonight," Penniston said. "Since (Bryan) Tordoff went down we've needed guys to step up. I could have shot more but I didn't want to shoot too much and go 3-for-20."

Murphy commended Penniston on his defense after the game. Early in the season, Penniston's defense was a sore spot in his game, but now he takes pride in his "D."

"I couldn't play defense at all. I was lazy. So I got yelled at and ran. Tonight I played good defense and it feels good to do that against some good players," Penniston said.

Darlington got as close as four points at 14-10, but Monroe closed the half on an 8-0 run.

"We wanted to play our game and see what we can do, but Monroe is a tough team," Erickson said. "You're not going to get the looks you normally do because they are a tough team. We just have to keep working and move on."

In the second half, it was Frint who took over in the paint. The 6-foot, 7-inch center scored 15 of his 19 points in the final two quarters.

"We know they were a scrappy team, trying to keep it from going down low and take away that bounce pass," Frint said.

Monroe converted all three of its free throw attempts and with only five fouls in the game, held Darlington without a single shot from the line.

Penniston finished with a career-high 13 points and Barenklau had seven. Jason Boll led Darlington with 10 points. The Redbirds had nine players score in the game.

Both teams will now ready themselves for bigger conference games. Monroe (16-5, 9-2) needs a win Thursday at Monona Grove (11-10, 6-5) to win the Badger South outright.

"There's a whole lot of people down in Edgewood and Stoughton that are going to be pulling for us to lose. We just want to go in there and make plays," Murphy said. "This is the time of year when you want to play your best. We've won three in a row now and we haven't done that since January. We want to get something going here before playoffs."

Darlington hosts the state's top-ranked team, Cuba City (21-0) Friday. A win will net the Redbirds a share of the SWAL title, something Hopkins said should be on his players' minds now.

"(Tonight) is a disappointing loss with a disappointing effort, but I told the guys this doesn't change our seed in the playoffs, it doesn't change our conference standing - it's just our third loss of the season. It's not going to change our approach to Friday because we know we are going to need to play four solid quarters to have a chance at a conference title," he said.