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Redbirds upset state's No. 1 team
Darlingtons Alex Erickson (3) drives the baseline and drops in a layup in front of a Cuba City defender late in the second half of the Redbirds 63-53 upset win Friday. Erickson finished with 26 points.
DARLINGTON - Redbird Nation was ecstatic Friday night, as sixth-ranked Darlington knocked off the state's top-ranked team, Cuba City, 63-53, clinching a share of the SWAL championship.

"It feels great! The best moment of my life so far, I don't know what else to say," junior guard Tucker Wiegel said.

Darlington (19-3, 13-1), ranked No. 6 by the Associated Press and No. 9 in the Coaches Poll, lost to the Cubans (21-1, 13-1), ranked No. 1 in both polls, back on Jan. 15 by four points despite trailing by 15 after the first quarter.

In front of a capacity crowd Friday, the Redbirds got hot early and stayed hot.

After Tanner Havens scored in the paint, Alex Erickson drained back-to-back 3-pointers and scored on a layup in transition, giving the Redbirds a 10-4 lead. Cuba City, behind the premier shooting of UW-Milwaukee recruit Evan Richard, found themselves behind 16-13 at the end of the first.

"We knew we had to come out with intensity and that's what we did," Erickson said. "It felt good (hitting shots) and got the confidence up."

By halftime, the score was tied at 25.

"We had some missed opportunities, but we knew we had to get back to doing what we were doing that worked," Erickson said.

Cuba City grabbed the momentum out of the locker room in the third, scoring the first four points to take its first lead of the game. The advantage stretched to as much as five at 35-30 with 3:48 left in the frame, but Darlington made a late run. The Redbirds pulled off a 9-2 spurt over the final 2 minutes, 47 seconds to grab a 39-37 lead headed into the fourth. The last shot was a fade away by Colton Carpenter at the buzzer.

"We wanted this game. We wanted this conference," Carpenter said.

Darlington kept the momentum in the fourth, working the offense and hitting shot after shot to hold the Cubans to a two-possession deficit throughout much of the fourth. The Redbirds shot a blistering 80 percent from the field in the second half and made 12 free throws down the stretch in the fourth.

Carpenter, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, gave the Redbirds a spark of hustle down the stretch. Getting knocked down hard on several rebound scrums, Carpenter was the difference-maker.

"We needed someone else to step up and contribute for us, and he did that," Redbirds head coach Mike Hopkins said.

With just under three minutes to play, the Redbirds extended their lead to five at 51-46 when Erickson (26 points) pulled up and hit a 3 from 25 feet out, sparking a 15-7 run to close out the game.

"We knew we could take them. We knew we had to keep our composure, and we had the heart," Wiegel said.

Richard finished off his 26-point outing with a two-handed slam in transition with 8 seconds left and his team down 10 and the Redbird faithful counting down the seconds to rush the court in joy.

"It was definitely the most exciting game of the season. You only get to live and have a game like that one or twice in your entire high school career," Carpenter said.

Wiegel had eight points and Havens seven.

Unfortunately, Darlington doesn't have much time to celebrate the win. The Redbirds next play at home Tuesday against New Glarus in the opening round of the playoffs. New Glarus won the only other meeting this year, 72-57 in Darlington.

"New Glarus played about as well as they could have played and we didn't. We're a better defensive team than we were that night," Hopkins said. "We have to get back to work right away. This was like a tournament game, so it will help us in that respect. But we still have to execute and play our game."