Middleton hammers No. 2 Verona

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Dennis Semrau/Special to the Times-Tribune
Abbey Webber and Middleton's girls basketball team cruised past Verona last Tuesday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It took Middleton nearly five minutes to break the ice with its first field goal of the game during its Big Eight Conference girls’ basketball season-opener last Tuesday night.

But after sophomore guard Claire Staples came off the bench to sink a three-pointer, the Cardinals surged ahead and never looked back.

Junior guard Bria Lemirande scored 19 points to pace four Cardinals in double figures as Middleton soared to a convincing 83-60 victory over Verona to get its conference season off to a stellar start.

“We weren’t really expecting that at all. We were expecting a tight game the whole time if not being down,” Bria Lemirande said. “But we had to keep pushing and keep our energy and intensity up.”

Junior guard Alexis Thomas finished with 18 points, while Staples added 14 and junior guard Alyssa Lemirande chipped in with 11 as Middleton (2-0 overall, Big Eight), ranked third in the wissports.netpreseason Division 1 poll, overwhelmed second-ranked Verona (2-1, 0-1).  

“They have a tenacity about them that we don’t have,” Verona coach Angie Murphy said of the Cardinals, who applied relentless pressure on defense and attacked the basket fearlessly on offense. “I don’t think we played every possession with a sense of urgency and passion and they did.”

With a trio of 6-foot-2 players in the starting lineup, Verona held a major size advantage.

Middleton’s tallest player is 5-11 freshman Hannah Flottmeyer and the Cardinals started a pair of 5-10 players in juniors Taylor McDonald and Carlee Lemirande.

However, Middleton countered its size mismatch with an amazing display of speed, quickness and sizzling shooting that eventually overwhelmed the stunned Wildcats.

“If we can get inside and kick it out, we’ve got some decent three-point shooters and if we can find them a lot of times they can knock them down,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “I was very pleased with the way we kept the pace up and kept them running. Some kids came off the bench and did a great job for us. It’s a good team win.”

It didn’t take long for Verona to try to exploit its size when it got the ball inside to 6-2 senior Kira Opsal, a Winona (Minn.) State recruit, for a layup and a trip to the free-throw line that netted two points and an early 4-0 lead.

But Staples, who missed the Cardinals season-opening win against Stoughton nursing an ankle injury, entered the game and drained back-to-back three-pointers to spark a 13-0 surge that gave Middleton a nine-point lead at the 12:51 mark of the first half.

“It was nice to have her back,” Kind said of Staples, who finished with a team-high four three-pointers. “She played a real nice game for her first varsity game.”

Staples was happy to contribute to the victory over the Wildcats.

“I’ve been working on my shot a lot,” Staples said. “It’s just kind of in the moment and it works when you knock down shots. I don’t know if I really think about it. It just happens.

“Everybody shot really well tonight. We all did well all around.”

That was an understatement as Middleton shot 36.7% from three-point range (11 of 30) and added another 10 points on fast break layups.

“We knew Verona was going to be a super team coming in, so we came out hard and fired up and I’m glad with what we did,” said Thomas, a member of the Middleton state championship golf team this fall. “We have great speed, great quickness, so that’s our key to the game and our defense as well.”

University of Wisconsin recruit Grace Mueller sank a layup to trim the Wildcats deficit to 13-6. But Bria Lemirande started an 11-2 run with a free throw and ended it with a three-pointer to firmly put the Cardinals in the driver’s seat.

“When the energy is high everybody gets rocking and there’s a lot of talking and we all get going,” Staples said. “It’s awesome.”

The Cardinals’ overall depth — which will come into play with teams playing two 18-minute halves instead of four eight-minute quarters this season — was evident with nine players scoring in the first half.

“That’s definitely one of the things we thought about with that extra four minutes,” Kind said. “If you have the depth that’s going to help you. I think everybody is still learning a little bit how to do it. So far I’d have to say I like it.”

Added Alyssa Lemirande: “We’re really going to be pushing the pace and that’s something that’s going to help us a lot this year.”

Verona made a late run in the first half when Alley Johnson sank a layup with 4:14 left before the break to cap an 11-2 spurt and pull the Wildcats within 30-23.

But Thomas scored five points, including banking in a three-pointer from the left wing, to push the Cardinals’ lead back to 14 points on their way to a 45-32 halftime lead.

Verona was able to work the ball inside most of the night. But the Wildcats were never able to get into any kind of a rhythm due to Middleton’s steady play on both ends of the court.

“We made sure we kept a lot of pressure on the outside, so they had a hard time getting the ball inside,” Bria Lemirande said. “When they did get it on the inside, we made sure we helped the posts because they’re a lot bigger than us.”

Mueller led Verona with 19 points, while Opsal added 14. But the Wildcats 1-2 punch in the post wasn’t enough to compensate for Middleton’s baseline-to-baseline relentlessness.

“They’re a tough-nosed team and they really took it to us,” Murphy said. “We’re not there yet. We’ll get better, but to be out-rebounded and out-toughed, we’ll have to find an answer for that.”

The Cardinals grabbed their largest lead of the night when Alyssa Lemirande — one of the triplets who started along with her sisters Bria and Carlee — scored off a fast break to push the margin to 68-41 midway through the second half.

“We’ve been waiting for it and it’s finally happened,” Alyssa said of playing alongside her sisters. “It’s exciting to see what the team can do this year.”  

Verona ………….…………….. 32 28 — 60

Middleton …………………..  45 38 — 83

VERONA — Rudnicki 9, Hei 3, Trilling 5, Johnson 6, Luehring 4, Mueller 19, Opsal 14. Totals 21 16-33 60.

MIDDLETON — A. Lemirande 11, Hibner 6, Webber 3, Thomas 18, Staples 14, Flottmeyer 3. B. Lemirande 19, C. Lemirande 3, Ballweg 6.Totals 31 10-20 83.

Three-point goals — MID 11 (A. Lemirande, Hibner 2, Webber, Thomas 2, Staples 4, C. Lemirande); V 2 (Hei, Trilling). Total fouls — MID 25, V 18.


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