Thomas plays hero for Cardinals

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's Bria Lemirande scored 37 points in a win over Janesville Craig last Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Alexis Thomas glanced at the clock and saw the final seconds quickly vanishing.

Teammate Bria Lemirande, who had dominated the game throughout, was stuck in traffic. Little did Thomas know she’d soon be asked to play hero for Middleton’s girls basketball team.

“At those final seconds of the game, I never doubted us,” said Thomas, a junior guard. “I knew we were quick enough and smart enough to find a way to come back and win. Anything is possible in this moment, I thought.”

Anything and everything.

With the Cardinals trailing host Janesville Craig, 75-74 in overtime, Lemirande kicked to Thomas three-feet behind the top of the key. Thomas calmly released a 23-footer, then watched it splash through the net as the horn sounded giving Middleton an enormous 77-75 road win.

“I have never really hit a game-winning shot like this one before,” said Thomas, who finished with 14 points. “Knocking it in from so far out was such an amazing experience and something I’ll always remember. It was very exciting in the moment, but at the same time, it didn't feel real. I was in shock, but my team and I were thrilled.”

With good reason.

Middleton improved to 9-0 at the midway point of the Big Eight Conference season and 11-2 overall. The Cardinals maintained their one-game lead in the loss column over second place Verona (9-1, 11-2), while the Cougars slipped into third place (7-2, 9-4).

Lemirande had a game for the ages, knocking down four three-pointers and scoring a career-high 37 points. Lemirande’s output was the most by a Middleton player since Angie (Halbleib) Murphy poured in 45 in during the 1992-’93 season.

Craig put three players in double figures, led by senior guard Annie Schumacher’s 21 points.

“Craig was tough,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “Every time it looked like we might get some breathing room, they came back and the game stayed close throughout. I was pleased that our girls just kept battling, and even when Craig pulled ahead a couple times late, we were able to answer.”

Schumacher’s drive and basket with 18.4 seconds left in overtime gave Craig a 75-74 lead. The red-hot Lemirande then tried attacking, but ran into a wall of Cougars.

Earlier in the day, many of the Cardinals watched Maryland’s Melo Trimble bury a 23-footer at the horn to beat the University of Wisconsin. This time, Lemirande fed Thomas — who did exactly what Trimble had done a few hours earlier in Madison.

“They’re down by one, and she makes a tough shot,” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken told the Janesville Gazette. “We executed the game plan. They looked lost in that last possession. I didn't even think they were going to get a shot off, but she takes a 23-foot shot and drains it.”

Thomas’ heroics capped a thrilling, back-and-forth affair.

Craig led, 33-32, at halftime. The Cougars’ advantage would have been four, but Thomas drained a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer, as well.

In the second half and overtime, Lemirande put on a show, scoring 25 of her 37 points. Lemirande shot a blistering 12-of-16 from the field (75.0%) and 9-of-12 from the free throw line (75.0%) on the night.

Lemirande’s remarkable performance certainly left her teammates impressed.

“Bria played an outstanding game and I'm so proud of her,” Thomas said. “Having a career high in an important game like this really shows how great of a player she is.

“Her passes were amazing, she consistently played smart and tough through the whole game, and took it to the rack when it really mattered. She played great pressure defense that turned into her amazing offense. Her penetration really helped set up outside shots, and that was a key to the game.”

There were eight ties and six lead changes in the second half. And when Schumacher missed a shot at the buzzer, the game went to overtime knotted at 64.

The second overtime was nip-and-tuck, as well, with six more lead changes and three ties. Neither team led by more than three points in the extra session.

Finally, Thomas stepped up and played hero.

“I completely remember looking at the clock and watching Bria trying to drive it into the lane, and I took a quick glance at the clock and saw five seconds left,” Thomas said. “That’s when I realized we needed a quick shot. I had a lot of confidence … and I was just sort of speechless when I actually saw it go in.”

Kind was also thrilled how his team broke down Craig’s zone defense throughout the game.

Teams have been frustrating Middleton with a bevy of zone defenses recently, and the Cardinals have spent too much time dribbling laterally on the perimeter. Against Craig, though, Middleton worked the ball inside and out, setting up better looks for its outside shooters.

The Cardinals finished the game with 11 three pointers.

“We made some adjustments to our zone attack and were able to get the ball inside and go inside-out for some open threes, and also to get some of our perimeter players the ball inside and let them work in the middle of the zone,” Kind said. “It definitely helped and Bria was especially effective when she got the ball inside. We'll continue to work on that as we're expecting to see a lot of zone the second time through the conference.”

For now, the Cardinals hit the midway point of the conference season on a high — thanks to the steely grit and steady hand of Thomas.

“Craig is such a strong team and beating them is always a good win for us,” Thomas said. “Everyone played an important role in this game and I couldn’t be happier. I can't wait to see what the future holds for us. We have to keep our composure and just keep getting better.”

Kind agreed.

“Craig was a big win for us,” he said. “We always seem to get their best down there and this was no exception. Great win heading into the second half of the conference season”

• Middleton 110, Beloit Memorial 37 — Middleton put six players in double figures and hammered the host Purple Knights last Thursday.

Thomas led the Cardinals with 14 points, while sophomore guard Claire Staples added 13.

Middleton led, 67-17 at halftime. That’s believed to be the Cardinals’ most points in a half under 24th-year coach Jeff Kind.


Jan. 9

Middleton 77, Janesville Craig 75

Middleton .................... 32 32 13 — 77

Janesville Craig .......... 33 31 11 — 75

Middleton — A. Lemirande 1-2-5, Webber 1-0-3, Thomas 4-3-14, McDonald 2-0-4, Staples 2-3-7, Flottmeyer 0-1-1, B. Lemirande 12-9-37, C. Lemirande 2-0-6. Totals: 24-18-77.

Craig — Schumacher 6-5-21, Foster 2-2-6, E. Pierson 1-0-3, Carlson 7-5-19, Laesch 1-0-2, Schoenenberger 5-0-12, Brittingham 6-0-12. Totals: 28-12-75.

Three-point goals—Middleton 11 (A. Lemirande, Webber, Thomas 3, B. Lemirande 4, C. Lemirande 2), Craig 7 (Schumacher 4, Pierson, Schoenenberger 2). Total fouls—Middleton 20, Craig 23. Fouled out—Carlson, Schoenenberger.


Jan. 5

Middleton 110, Beloit Memorial 37

Middleton ....................... 67 43 — 110

Beloit Memorial ............... 17 20 — 37

MIDDLETON — Anderson 3 0-0 8, Ballweg 4 0-0 8, Flottmeyer 5 0-0 10, Hibner 4 0-0 10, B. Lemirande 3 1-2 7, A. Lemirande 4 2-2 11, C. Lemirande 3 2-4 10, McDonald 2 3-6 7, Schafer 4 0-0 9, Staples 5 1-2 13, Thomas 5 2-4 14, Webber 1 0-0 3. Totals 43 11-20 110.

BELOIT MEMORIAL — Edwards 1 0-0 2, Godwin-Dorsey 3 1-4 7, Griffin 4 0-1 8, Jones 3 0-0 6, Marshall 5 1-1 11, Williams 1 1-2 3. Totals 17 3-8 37.

3-point goals — MID 13 (Anderson 2, Hibner 2, Lemirande 1, Lemirande 2, Schafer 1, Staples 2, Thomas 2, Webber 1). Total fouls—MID 11, BM 16.

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