Middleton girls ready for loaded sectional

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Halle White (left) and Middleton's girls basketball team could meet Verona in a sectional final Saturday. First, the Cardinals play Janesville Craig Thursday./File photo

Welcome to the Big Eight Sectional.

Middleton’s girls basketball team, which shared the conference’s regular season title, now aims for a sectional title and a trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament this weekend.

The second-seeded Cardinals meet third-seeded Janesville Craig Thursday at 7 p.m. in a sectional semifinal at Madison La Follette. Top-seeded Verona and fifth-seeded Sun Prairie meet in the other sectional semifinal.

The winners square off Saturday at 1 p.m. in a sectional final at Janesville Craig. That location could move, though, depending on who emerges from the sectional semifinals.

“It’s a tough sectional,” said Janesville Parker coach Jennah Hartwig, whose team lost to Middleton in the regional finals last Saturday. “It’s tough when only one team from the Big Eight is going to be able to make it to state.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the way it should be. I think that our conference is big enough and strong enough that we shouldn’t all be in the same sectional. That’s not right.”

Those around the Big Eight certainly agree with Hartwig. But for now, that’s the hand the league has been dealt.

And for Middleton (21-3), that means finding a way to defeat Janesville Craig (18-6) for a third time this season.

The Cardinals edged the Cougars, 77-75, in overtime in Janesville on Jan. 9. Middleton junior wing Alexis Thomas drilled a 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer allowing the Cardinals to escape that night.

Junior guard Bria Lemirande also scored a career-high 37 points in that game.

The Cardinals then toppled Craig, 87-74, in the regular season finale on Feb. 20. Sophomore post Halle White led Middleton with 22 points that day.

The Cardinals also defeated Craig in a sectional final last March, meaning Middleton is sure to see a Cougars team with a lot to prove.

“They’re always a good matchup with us, and it’s always two really evenly matched teams,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said of Craig. “We have to play well to beat them. No cakewalks anymore.”

Craig’s top player is senior guard Delaney Schoenenberger, who averages a team-high 17.3 points per game. Senior guard Annie Schumacher also averages 12.3 points per game.

In Middleton’s win over the Cougars two weeks ago, Schoenenberger erupted for 30 points and Schumacher added 20. The Cardinals kept the rest of the Cougars in check, though, and prevailed.

“We really need to focus on the two guards,” Thomas said. “They’re really good, then just keep playing tough defense in the post and just play the game we know how to play. Use our speed, keep driving and work our zone offense.”

If Middleton wins — and the seeds hold true to form — it would meet Verona in a sectional final Saturday.

The Cardinals routed the Wildcats, 83-60, in just the second game of the season. But Verona pounded Middleton, 73-56, on Feb. 9.

The teams both finished Big Eight Conference play at 17-1 and shared the league title.

“That’s our goal right now is to play Verona again,” Lemirande said. “We just really want revenge with them. I think if we play Verona, we’re going to want it more because we have so much anger built up against them.”

Thomas agreed.

“I would like to see Verona again,” she said. “We really want to get back at them. Being able to have a second chance to get them would be great.”

The Wildcats have three NCAA Division 1 players in their frontcourt, a group that has given opponents fits for years now. Each member of that trio is also a senior, though, meaning their next loss is the last loss of their high school career.

If Middleton and Verona meet for a chance to get to state, Parker’s Hartwig believes the Wildcats will be tough to stop. But she also knows how much pressure would be on Verona’s veteran team.

“Verona would be the favorite,” said Hartwig, who led Parker to its first state championship in 1993 and was also named the AP state player of the year that season. “They were the ones that beat Middleton last time. But I think it could be either one of those two.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure on Verona. A lot of pressure on Verona. With all the Division 1 kids they have on their team, the pressure’s on them to make it to state.”

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