Boys basketball team hopes for big second season

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Rob Reischel
Jake Klubertanz and Middleton's boys basketball team begins the postseason Friday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Casey Hellenbrand surveyed the damage.

He looked at what’s coming next.

And Middleton’s senior guard gave a fitting description of where Middleton’s boys basketball team currently sits.

“We get to start over, and that’s a good thing,” Hellenbrand said. “We’ve had a six-game winning streak this season and now we’re in a little bit of a rough patch. So I think we’re all excited to start over.”

The Cardinals ended the regular season losing three of their final four games, including their last two. Middleton dropped a 69-51 decision to visiting Madison La Follette on Senior Night last Thursday to wrap up the regular season.

Middleton fell to 13-9 overall, finished in sole possession of fifth place in the Big Eight Conference (10-8), and now gets a chance at new life. The Cardinals, the No. 6 seed in their sectional, host 11th-seeded Janesville Craig (10-12) in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal Friday at 7 p.m.

If Middleton advances, it would likely travel to third-seeded Madison La Follette (17-5) for a regional final Saturday at 7 p.m.

“I know our team can play with anybody,” said Middleton guard Sam Close, who led the Cardinals with 20 points. “We know we can play with any team in the state. It’s just putting together two halves of basketball.”

That was certainly the story against the ultra-quick, extremely athletic Lancers.

Middleton was terrific offensively in the first half and trailed, 42-37, at the break. Close erupted for all 20 of his points in the first half on 7-of-10 shooting and the Cardinals shot 14-of-23 from the field as a team (60.9%).

“I feel like once I find the groove, I can be one of the best shooters in the state,” Close said. “And I thank my teammates because they were the ones who got me open setting screens.”

Middleton’s blistering shooting helped it overcome 10 first half turnovers and runs of 13-0 and 8-0 by the Lancers. The Cardinals played straight man-to-man defense against La Follette all night, but had little success.

“They play with a lot of intensity and they shoot so well, too,” Hellenbrand said. “They’re a smaller team, but they’re quick and that makes them a tough matchup. It’s hard to simulate their speed and athleticism. We have to work on that.”

Any chance Middleton had of springing an upset on Senior Night ended in the first three minutes of the second half, when La Follette went on an 11-0 run and stretched its lead 53-37.

The Cardinals narrowed the deficit to 56-47 after Hellenbrand hit junior center Parker Van Buren for a screen-roll basket. But the Lancers immediately answered with a 13-2 burst, stretched their lead to 69-49 and pulled away.

Middleton finished the second half with just 14 points on 7-of-27 shooting (25.9%) and missed all six of its free throws. And after Close’s huge first half, he went 0-for-4 in the second half as La Follette turned its full attention his way.

“They’re a good basketball team. They’re one of the best in the conference, one of the best in the area,” said Middleton senior forward Jake Klubertanz, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. “You have to give credit where it’s due, too.

“They’re hard to defend. I’ll give ‘em credit. They’ve got five guys that can all drive to the rim and five guys who can all pretty much hit a shot. They’re tough to guard. We just have to figure something out.”

Middleton’s first order of business is figuring out a plan to defeat Janesville Craig. The Cougars downed the Cardinals, 45-43, on Feb. 9.

The Cougars are led by senior guards Jack Huml (15.5 points per game) and Aaron Leverson (14.8).

If Middleton advances, a likely date awaits with La Follette, who opens with 14th seeded Kenosha Bradford (7-15).

The Lancers defeated the Cardinals twice this year by an average of 18.5 points. Middleton averaged 24.5 turnovers in those two games, including 20 in the loss last week.

“We told our guys if we have more than 12 turnovers, we can not beat this team,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said of La Follette. “The key to beating La Follette, in my opinion, is you’ve got to be super strong with the basketball and you’ve got to get into your screen game and you’ve got to really hit bodies and you’ve got to read. We didn’t do that.”

The Cardinals are now hoping for another chance — with different results — on Saturday night.

“They beat us twice at our game and we’ve got to change up some things we’re doing,” Hellenbrand said. “They go on those runs and we’re just not able to stop it. Once they get going they’re hard to slow down, so hopefully we can find a way to do that.”

 

MADISON LA FOLLETTE 69, MIDDLETON 51

Madison La Follette ………….. 42 27 — 69

Middleton ……………………… 37 14 — 51

MADISON LA FOLLETTE — DoGray 6 0-0 14, Smith 0 1-2 1, Reeves Jr. 5 2-2 15, Probst 3 0-0 8, Stewart 7 1-1 19, DeGray 2 2-3 6, DaGray 1 0-0 2, Prather 2 0-0 4. Totals 26 9-0 69.

MIDDLETON — Thomas 2 0-0 5, Hellenbrand 1 0-0 2, Close 7 1-1 20, Klubertanz 6 1-1 13, Boyle 2 0-0 5, Scher 1 0-0 2, Deptula 1 0-0 2, Pa. Van Buren 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 2-8 51.

3-point goals — ML 11 (DoGray 2, Reeves Jr. 3, Probst 2, Stewart 4), MID 7 (Thomas 1, Close 5, Boyle 1). Total fouls — ML 15, MID 12.

 

 

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