Middleton rallies its way to state

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton's girls basketball team was all smiles after rallying past Madison Memorial in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final last Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

MONONA — Thirteen. Nine. Five. One.

As their deficit kept shrinking, their energy kept rising. The noise inside Monona Grove High School rivaled a Metallica concert.

And Middleton’s girls basketball team — which has been the hunted throughout this magical season — was thriving in its new role as the hunter.

“As soon as we started chipping away, you could feel everything changing,” Cardinals senior forward Karina Bursac. “We knew if we just kept playing like that, we had ‘em.”

They sure did.

Middleton, which trailed Madison Memorial, 37-24, at halftime of its WIAA Division 1 sectional final last Saturday, opened the second half on a stunning 20-3 run. The Spartans battled back and forged ties at three different points, but the Cardinals used a late 6-0 run to post a thrilling 61-58 win.

Middleton won its 20th straight game, improved to 25-1, and advanced to the state tournament for the ninth time since 2008. Bursac was brilliant for the Cardinals with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while senior forward Kendall Roquet had 12 of her 16 points in the second half and senior post Sitori Tanin added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Cardinals, who were state runners-up last season, are now gunning for their first-ever state title.

Middleton, the No. 1 seed at state, meets fourth-seeded Oconomowoc (22-4) in a state semifinal game Friday at 6:35 at the Resch Center in Green Bay. The winner of that game will play either second-seeded Bay Port (24-2) or third-seeded DSHA (23-3) in the state championship game Saturday at approximately 8:15 p.m.

Madison Memorial, which has never been to state, got a game-high 21 points from Penn State recruit Leilani Kapinus and finished the year 24-2.

“We played a lot harder during that run and it just gave us the confidence to know that we can play with them,” Roquet said. “It just gave us confidence to know that we could win the game.”

The chances of a Middleton victory certainly appeared slim at halftime.

The Cardinals had 15 first half turnovers against Memorial’s relentless full-court pressure. Tanin, Middleton’s leading scorer and rebounder, sat the final 6:44 with three fouls. And the Cardinals took 10 fewer shots than the Spartans due to their inability to hold onto the ball.

The result was a 13-point deficit for a Middleton team not accustomed to playing from behind.

“We weren’t going to panic,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “And you know, if I get all panicky, they’re going to get panicky. So the locker room at halftime was really calm. We said we have to do this, this and this better, and all of our timeouts, even at the end, it was try to keep all the emotions down and just go about business.”

They did exactly that.

First, Kind made an adjustment against Memorial press, having Roquet slash to the middle, then either beat the press with another pass or via the dribble. Middleton’s passes were crisper, girls came to the ball harder, and the Cardinals were able to turn it into a half-court game, which worked in their favor.

“We definitely practiced breaking their press a lot,” senior point guard Josie Lemirande said. “And we just kept our composure and played our game.”

Middleton opened the second half on an 8-0 run and pulled within 37-32 of the Spartans with 13:15 left. Bursac had four points during that stretch, Tanin and Lemirande both had baskets, and the Spartans went scoreless on their first eight possessions of the half.

Memorial briefly stopped the bleeding with a deep three-pointer from junior guard Maya White Eagle. But the Cardinals embarked on an electrifying 12-0 run over a 4 ½ minute stretch and took a 44-40 lead with 7:35 remaining.

Roquet, who averages 6.3 points per game and entered the day with just 11 three-pointers all season, was the impetus in this run.

First, Roquet buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to pull Middleton within 40-38 with 10:07 left. Roquet then drilled another three-pointer with 7:56 remaining that gave the Cardinals a 42-40 lead — their first since 8-6.

“Kendall, I love that girl,” Lemirande said of Roquet. “She was amazing when she hit that three. I told her, ‘you go on the top and you hit that three’ and she did. She did it. Oh my God. When that went in, I was just ecstatic. It was really a momentum changer.”

Roquet agreed.

“I was open a little bit throughout the game, and I don't usually take a lot of threes,” she said. “But then when I came off the bench, the coaches were like, ‘Shoot. You’re a good three-point shooter. Take it.’ And so when I got in the game I was open and I just had to have confidence in myself that I was going to knock them down, and I did.”

Bursac scored on a nifty, spin move just 20 seconds later and Middleton had its biggest lead of the game at 44-40 with 7:36 left. But the Spartans battled back and forged ties at 46 and 48 heading to the final minutes.

Lemirande answered with a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Cardinals a 53-50 edge with 1:53 left. Kapinus followed, though, with a rebound basket, was fouled and made the free throw to even things once again, 53-53, with 1:37 remaining.

Roquet, a 59.8% free throw shooter, was fouled on the Cardinals’ next possession and calmly drained both foul shots. After Kapinus missed on the other end, Roquet made two more free throws to give Middleton a 57-53 advantage with 48.3 seconds left.

Senior guard Evie Coleman drilled two more free throws with 27.8 seconds left to give Middleton a 59-53 lead. And the closest the Spartans came from there was after Kapinus made a three-pointer at the buzzer.

“Wow. Holy smokes,” Kind said. “At halftime (we said), ‘Guys, we talked about this before the game. You can’t be fading away from the ball when they’re pressing. You’ve got to be coming to the ball and go meet the ball.’

“And we did a better job of it in the second half. I think we were just a little timid against their press and we threw some really weak passes. And a lot of their offense comes off of turnovers and pushing the ball. So, we did a much better job of keeping them out of there in the second half.”

Middleton’s ability to protect the ball in the second half led to terrific results on both ends of the floor.

The Cardinals shot 12-of-23 from the field in the second half (52.2%). Middleton’s half-court defense was also sublime, as it held Memorial to just 5-of-27 shooting after intermission (18.5%).

In addition, the Cardinals outrebounded the Spartans, 29-11, in the decisive second half.

“We made a habit of doing stuff like this last year,” Kind said. “Get down by 13 and then work your way back. We did that a few times. And I think the kids realized that, too. We’re down 13, but we’re not out of it. We’ve just got to do things right.”

Lemirande agreed.

“Coach said before the game that pressure is an illusion,” Lemirande said. “So, we just had to play through it. The gym was insanely loud. We just had to tone it all out and play our game.”

They did — and now they’re just two wins from the first state championship in school history.

 

March 7

WIAA Division 1 sectional final

Middleton 61, Madison Memorial 58

Madison Memorial ………….. 37 21 — 58

Middleton …………………….. 24 37 — 61

MADISON MEMORIAL — Peters 2 0-0 6, Kapinus 6 6-8 21, Brown 3 4-7 10, Rankins 2 4-4 8, Sweet 1 0-0 2, White Eagle 1 1-2 4, Garcia 1 0-1 2, Thorns 1 3-4 5. Totals 17 18-26 58.

MIDDLETON — Lemirande 2 0-0 5, Tanin 3 4-6 10, Roquet 4 6-9 16, Coleman 2 6-7 10, Bursac 7 3-5 17, Monogue 0 0-1 0, Smith 1 1-2 3. Totals 19 20-30 61.

3-point goals — MM 6 (Kapinus 3, Peters 2, White Eagle 1); Mid 3 (Roquet 2, Lemirande 1). Total fouls — MM 24; Mid 19. Fouled out — Rankins, Garcia.

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