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Redbirds survive Warriors
Darlingtons Hunter Johnson scores over Black Hawks C.J. Leuzinger during the first half of the Redbirds 50-47 win over the Warriors Monday. Johnson scored 14 points. ( Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
SOUTH WAYNE - Behind senior Heath Butler's clutch shooting, Black Hawk gave unbeaten Darlington a scare before the Redbirds survived a barnburner to knock off the Warriors 50-47 Monday.

Butler scored a game-high 28 points and drilled six 3-pointers on 11-for-17 shooting. Darlington senior Cole Whalen scored a team-high 17 points and sophomore Hunter Johnson scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Redbirds rally from a 10-point deficit to improve to 7-0, 3-0 SWAL. The Redbirds were playing without senior Cole McDonald, who suffered a sprained ankle.

"It's always great to get a win on the road especially against a tough team like Black Hawk," Whalen said. "I knew Heath was in foul trouble. When he was in there he was guarding Ben Muhlstein. That freed me up. I knew I had the matchup. I knew I had to step up because they would be looking at me with the size advantage."

It was a frantic finish. Butler knocked down a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left to slice the Redbirds' lead to 48-45. The Warriors (3-2, 2-0 Six Rivers East) then came up with a steal on the press and that led to Butler's layup to cut the Redbirds' lead to 48-47.

With 8.8 seconds to go, Darlington senior Dane Siegenthaler made two free throws to give the Redbirds a three-point lead. With fouls to give before reaching the bonus, the Redbirds looked to foul late. It appeared that Butler was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left. Officials ruled he was fouled before the shot. The Warriors had one last gasp, but an inbound pass was stolen by Darlington sophomore Trevor Johnson to ice the victory.

"We were obviously looking to get Heath the ball," Black Hawk coach Charlie Anderson said. "Jacob Quinn is the second option on the play and is supposed to flare out. It got kind of congested. We had two options on the play. Darlington just made a play in the end.

"I told them in the locker room that as a coach you don't believe in moral victories. If you are better going out than you were going in than that is a positive. We were better at 9 o'clock than we were at 7:30."

Early on, the Warriors were up to the challenge. Buter scored 13 points in the first quarter and hit three 3-pointers to help the Warriors storm out with a 15-5 run. After Butler picked up his second foul late in the first quarter, he was forced to the bench. The Redbirds capitalized with a 15-0 run from late in the first quarter that spanned into the second. Darlington sophomore Will Schwartz, who started in place of McDonald, made a layup and was fouled before the buzzer in the first quarter. He converted the conventional three-point play by sinking the free throw to cut the Warriors' lead to 17-10 and that sparked the surge.

Darlington senior Cole Trumble knocked down a 3-pointer and Whalen scored down low to highlight the run. Darlington senior Dane Siegenthaler scored on a putback about midway through the second quarter to give the Redbirds a 27-17 lead. The Warriors got a 3-pointer from senior Shawn Woodruff to help them cut the Redbirds' lead to six points at the half, 28-22.

"We got down early, but we didn't panic," Johnson said. "We kept chipping away at it."

It didn't take the Warriors long to make a run in the second half. Quinn and Tayler Rupnow each made 3-pointers to tie the game at 28 early in the third quarter. Johnson banked in a 3-pointer falling out of bounds near the Redbirds' bench late in the third quarter to give Darlington a 37-35 lead to start the fourth quarter. The Redbirds led by as many as six points in the second half, but the Warriors wouldn't go away. That set the stages for a thrilling finish.

Darlington coach Mike Hopkins said the Redbirds were not going to completely shut down Butler.

"He's a quality player," Hopkins said. "It's like I told him, when the other coach has to do something to keep the ball out of his hands, it's a compliment to his ability. I thought we did a better job on him in the second half."

Woodruff scored seven points and Rupnow chipped in five points.

Butler guarded Darlington senior Ben Muhlstein and bottled him up, holding him scoreless. Muhlstein entered the game averaging 14 points per game and was one of the Redbirds top scorers. Schwartz added eight points for the Redbirds. Anderson didn't consider having Butler guard Whalen down low because he was in foul trouble and wanted to follow the script set up before the game.

"As a coach, our game plan was to have him guard Ben Muhlstein," Anderson said. "It worked. We had our opportunities late to win it."

Johnson was kicking himself for missing a free throw with 16 seconds left that could have given the Redbirds a little more breathing room. They were able to overcome the missed free throw and 13 turnovers when the Warriors turned the ball over with a pass that sailed out of bounds on the break.

"When I put it up, I thought it was good," he said. "When Black Hawk got it and threw it out of bounds, I had a sigh of relief because they didn't capitalize."

Darlington will face a challenge in the new year. The Redbirds have two of the state's top six ranked teams in their conference led by Mineral Point, which is ranked No. 2, and Cuba City, which is ranked No. 6. Hopkins isn't looking too far ahead.

Hopkins said McDonald could return from his sprained ankle after Christmas and could play against Pecatonica Dec. 30.

"Rankings don't matter," Hopkins said. "When we won state in 1990, we were not very highly ranked at the start of the season and we know where we ended up."