Spartans end Middleton's year

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's Brogan Brunker and Storm Murphy (10) double team Madison Memorial's Chris Knight during the Spartans' 57-51 win in a sectional semifinal Thursday./Photo courtesy of Mary Bavery

SUN PRAIRIE — For nearly 50 minutes late Thursday night, Middleton’s boys basketball team sat inside their locker room at Sun Prairie High School.

The Cardinals didn’t discuss the details of their season-ending, 57-51, loss to Madison Memorial in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal.

Instead, Middleton’s players and coaches took turns talking about what this team — and this season — had meant to them. Some were brief. Others broke down in tears and couldn’t finish.

In the end, the messages were similar.

“This is just a bunch of guys that love each other,” Middleton senior post Jack Smith said. “You know, we’re just a family. At the beginning of the year, I don’t know if it would have been like that. We just really gelled as the year went on, became a family and really love each other. Love is the only word for it.”

The Cardinals almost loved the ending, too.

Middleton rallied from a 14-point second half deficit and pulled within 52-51 after a corner three-pointer by Storm Murphy with 52.0 seconds left. But the Spartans — who shot just 43.8% from the free throw line (14-of-32) — made five of their final eight free throws and the Cardinals went scoreless on their final four trips.

Middleton finished the year 19-6, while Memorial improved to 22-3 and now meets Madison East in a sectional final Saturday at Sun Prairie at 1 p.m.

Middleton senior forward Tyree Eady had nine of his team-high 12 points in the second half. Murphy added 11, junior forward Brogan Brunker had 10 points and Smith added eight points and eight rebounds.

Memorial’s Jake Ferguson, a University of Wisconsin football recruit, led all scorers with 15 points. Spartans senior guard Logan Knecht had 14 points, while senior center Chris Knight — a Dartmouth recruit — had 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.

“It’s hard. We focus down the stretch of the season that when it ends, it ends sudden and it hurts,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “And when you have a group like this with the potential they have to get to the Kohl Center and do some damage, it hurts a whole lot more.”

Memorial’s defense — and Middleton’s sluggish offense — hurt the Cardinals’ during the first 27 minutes. Middleton made just 8-of-31 shots (25.8%) and trailed, 41-27, following two Ferguson free throws with 9:12 remaining.

Middleton still trailed, 47-34, with 6:10 left when the Cardinals began taking the fight to the Spartans. Middleton embarked on an 11-2 run — highlighted by three-pointers from C.J. Fermanich and Ben Jackson and an Eady drive over the 6-foot-8 Knight — that pulled Middleton within 49-45 with 3:10 remaining.

“In the second half, we started playing Middleton basketball and played the way we have all year,” Eady said. “If we played that way the whole game, we obviously would have came out on top. But looking back, hindsight is 20-20.”

Eady — who had a pair of steals in the final 5 minutes when the Cardinals employed full court pressure — came up with a steal and three-point play that pulled Middleton within 51-48 with 1:37 left. Then after a Memorial free throw, Murphy drilled a corner three-ball that pulled the Cardinals within 52-51 with 58.1 ticks left.

“We just had to bring it together,” Smith said. “At halftime, we all got into it and realized this could be our last game and really wanted to make it count. So the last five or six minutes, it really set in.

“Once we got on ‘em, we realized and figured out we could still do this. And when it got down to one, I thought we had it. When you get that close, I thought we had ‘em right where we wanted them. I thought we were going to get it. It’s tough.”

After a free throw by Memorial’s Knecht made it 53-51, Eady drove at Knight, but lost the ball while attacking Memorial’s center. Middleton’s bench pleaded for a foul, but to no avail.

“Obviously I felt got hit,” Eady said. “But at that point in the game, the refs aren’t going to call anything. You’ve got to go up strong. The refs were good all game. I can’t complain about the refs. I just had to go up stronger with that.”

Memorial again made 1-of-2 free throws and extended its lead to 54-51, which kept it a one-possession game. But on the Cardinals’ ensuing possession, Jackson traveled. Middleton then came up empty on its final two possessions, as well.

Middleton finished the game shooting just 34.0% from the floor (17-of-50). Memorial shot a blistering 20-of-28 (71.4%), which made up for its free throw troubles.

“We’re not pretty. We’re not pretty,” said Memorial coach Steve Collins, whose team went 3-0 against Middleton this year. “We execute things well for the most part. We run our stuff.

“We’re not going to win a beauty contest, but we’re going to be in every game and we’re going to execute. If we can make our free throws, we’ll be even better.”

The Spartans couldn’t have been much better in the first half.

Memorial shot a scorching 11-of-15 from the field (73.3%), limited Middleton to 22.7% shooting (5-of-22) and took a 27-17 lead at the break.

The Cardinals trailed, 15-13, after two Brunker free throws with 4:31 left in the half. But the Spartans finished on a 12-4 burst to take a 27-17 halftime lead.

Kencht scored eight points during that run, including a 28-foot three-pointer at the halftime horn.

Afterwards, Bavery admitted his team was tight at the outset.

“I think because we lost two (to Memorial), in their minds they felt they had to get off to a good start,” Bavery said.

Middleton crept within 29-24 early in the second half. But the Spartans answered with an 11-3 run to push their lead to 41-27 midway through the second half.

Still, the Cardinals never felt they were buried.

“That’s the thing about their game,” Smith said of Memorial. “Even when it feels like they’re blowing you out, you’re still in it.”

Middleton was in it right up until the final seconds. And that’s what made the loss sting so much.

“We didn’t talk about the game,” Bavery said of the postgame discussions. “We talked about our season and becoming a family over the course of the season and how special this group of seniors was. There are just so many people in that room that are going to go on and do great things. It’s just hard to imagine you’re not going to be in the gym each day. It really is.”

Smith agreed.

“I love those guys,” Smith said of his teammates. “Learned everything from the coaches and learned everything from the other guys. Loved every second of it.

“I would say this was probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a sport. I’ve been with all those guys since fourth grade and a lot of the success I had I owe to those guys. All those guys are like brothers. I’m going to miss them.”


March 9

WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal

Middleton ………………………………. 17 34 — 51

Madison Memorial …………….….. 27 30 — 57

MIDDLETON — Ashford 1 1-3 4, Brunker 2 6-8 10, Eady 5 1-1 12, Fermanich 1 0-0 3, Jackson 1 0-0 3, Murphy 3 2-2 11, Smith 4 0-0 8. Totals 17 10-14 51.

MADISON MEMORIAL — Bennett 2 0-1 4, Ferguson 5 5-10 15, Knecht 4 3-5 14, Knight 4 4-9 12, M. Caropreso 4 0-1 8, N. Caropreso 1 0-2 2, Wilson 0 2-4 2. Totals 20 14-32 57.

3-point goals — MM 3 (Knecht 3), MID 7 (Ashford 1, Eady 1, Fermanich 1, Jackson 1, Murphy 3). Total fouls — MM 16, MID 14.


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