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Redbirds overcome slow start to blow doors off Bulldogs
Darlington’s Maddie Gratz dribbles around a Boscobel defender in her team’s WIAA Division 4 regional quarterfinal game on Tuesday, Feb. 20. The Redbirds beat the Bulldogs 71-46. - photo by Casey Lindecrantz

DARLINGTON — Despite an opening nine minutes that featured an 11-4 run favoring No. 11-seeded Boscobel (7-17), the hosting sixth-seeded Redbirds (17-8) pulled a dominating performance over the closing 27 minutes of Tuesday’s WIAA Division 5 Regional matchup to win, 71-46.

“I thought the kids really stepped up last night,” Darlington head coach Brad Solberg said. “We didn’t start particularly well, but we weathered it and got some momentum going.”

Scoring early and often wasn’t in the cards for either squad — Jaidyn Evenstad (12 pts) downed only the second of two shots from the charity stripe at 16:23 to claim the first score of the game. The first field goal of the game waited until just past the 15-minute mark as Grace Smith (9 pts) drained a three, putting the Bulldogs ahead, 3-1.

The Redbirds tied the game up a minute later as Sadie Goebel (8 pts) drove from the top of the key through tight defense for a layup.

Boscobel grabbed a pair of 2-pointers by 12:50, and an Evenstad free throw — the second-of-two again — put the game at a 7-4 deficit for Darlington.

The Bulldogs pushed their advantage to 11-4 by 9:50 courtesy of an Erin Knowles (16 pts) rebound-and-release, but the Redbirds weren’t content with letting the game roll away.

“All eyes were on Knowles last night,” Solberg said. “It sounds weird knowing she had 22 points, but I felt like we did a pretty good job on her. She didn’t get many easy or uncontested looks. She is that good of a ball player.”

Maddie Gratz (22 pts) responded soon after Knowles’ field goal with a long 3-pointer at least a foot beyond the arc.

Goebel next responded to a basket from MaKenzie Fritz (12 pts), driving down the court and taking matters into her own hands with a layup through Maya Baumeister and Fritz.

A Goebel steal moments later resulted in a heavily contested jumper in the paint that found its mark from Lylah Norgard (7 pts). Goebel claimed the first game-tying shot at 6:30, capping a 9-2 run favoring Darlington.

Aubrey McCarthy (12 pts) was the next Redbird to get on the board. She faked a shot outside the arc in the wing, then took her chance to get around Fritz and drive to the hoop. The resulting shot tied the game at 15 points with 5:30 to play in the half.

Five more points belonged to Darlington courtesy of a two at the elbow from Gratz, and a three from McCarthy in the right wing. At a 20-15 deficit with 3:50 on the clock, Boscobel’s head coach Erik Kinney called a timeout.

The Redbirds weren’t in the mood to keep things close, and over the final moments of the half, Darlington extended its lead to a 27-18 split.

“I thought Lylah Norgard was a catalyst on the offensive end last night,” Solberg said. “Maddie Gratz got things going as the game went on. I thought she played a really mature game.”

Gratz cranked out a three within the first 30 seconds of the second half, and that set the tone for the remainder of the game as the Redbirds outscored the Bulldogs, 44-28, to the final buzzer. 

Even in the win, Solberg knows there are tougher opponents ahead.

“We are looking forward to Mineral Point,” he said. “They are a complete team, and we know the problems they present. We will need to be disciplined for the entire game.”

The Pointers enter the Regionals as a No. 3-seeded team, and they finished ahead of Darlington in the SWAL as runners up with a 12-2 conference record (19-4 overall).