Middleton forced to share Big 8 title

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Rob Reischel
Storm Murphy and Middleton's boys basketball team lost to Janesville Craig Thursday and finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Eight Conference./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Everything was in place for a party that was long overdue.

But someone forgot to tell Janesville Craig that Thursday was supposed to be a night of celebration for Middleton’s boys basketball team. Instead, the Cougars decided to crash the Cardinals’ bash.

Middleton had a chance to secure the outright Big Eight Conference title with a win over the upstart Cougars. Instead, Craig toppled the Cardinals, 59-54, and Middleton was forced to share.

Middleton, Sun Prairie and Madison Memorial all tied for the league’s top spot with 14-4 conference records. On a happy note, it did mark the first time Middleton has won a share of the league title since 2001 — when many of the current Cardinals were 2- and 3-years old.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Middleton junior forward Tyree Eady, who led all scorers with 20 points. “We should have won tonight and we wouldn’t have had to share conference.

“I’m frustrated, certainly not satisfied. There are two teams we have to share it with now, but I still think we’re the best team.”

Middleton and Sun Prairie entered the night with 14-3 league marks, one game ahead of Madison Memorial. But Sun Prairie lost at Madison East, while the Spartans toppled Verona.

That meant Madison Memorial claimed a share of its 13th straight conference title. Sun Prairie shared the league title for the second time in four years.

“It’s definitely bitter right now,” said junior guard C.J. Fermanich. “The sweet part hasn’t set in yet. We would have loved to take this by ourselves, but we were just flat.”

Flat. Tight. Or maybe just outplayed.

Middleton (18-4 overall), the No. 4 team in the state, clearly wasn’t itself much of the night. And the Cardinals dug themselves a 40-22 hole with 14:20 left.

“I definitely think we were tight,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “It was one of those deals where we had everything to gain, and everything to lose. Those can be tough sometimes.”

To the Cardinals’ credit, they battled back. Eady scored 11 straight Middleton points and sparked a 13-2 run that helped the Cardinals close within 42-35 with 9:42 left.

A three-pointer from the wing and a pair of driving lay-ups highlighted Eady’s scoring spree.

“My mindset was really that we’re just not going to lose this game,” Eady said.

Fermanich (10 points) knocked down a 12-footer and Eady drilled another three-pointer to pull the Cardinals within 44-42 with 6:06 left.

But Middleton followed with three straight empty possessions. And Craig junior forward Nick Lynch — who shared team-scoring honors of 15 points with junior guard Jake Negus — drilled a three-pointer from the right corner to give the Cougars a 47-42 lead.

“That was a huge shot,” Bavery said. “We just couldn’t get even or take the lead in that stretch. We had chances.”

Middleton had a few more chances in the closing minutes.

Trailing, 47-44, with just more than three minutes left, Middleton got Fermanich free in the left corner for a potential game tying three-pointer. Fermanich’s shot was halfway down, but somehow spun out.

Craig extended its lead to five points, before junior guard Storm Murphy had a pair of assists and a lay-up that pulled Middleton within 54-52 with 44 seconds left.

Craig was unflappable from the foul line down the stretch, though. The Cougars made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 31.6 seconds and were 10-of-12 in the last 2:09.

Overall, Craig hit 21-of-30 free throws and scored its final 10 points from the line. Middleton, on the other hand, shot just 7-of-13 from the line (53.8%).

“We wanted it really bad for our seniors,” Fermanich said. “It’s a tough one to lose.”

Middleton’s rough start was simply too much to overcome, though.

Cardinals sophomore forward Brogan Brunker (nine points, nine rebounds) scored with 4:03 left in the first half to pull Middleton within 21-20. But Craig answered with a game altering, 13-0 run and led, 34-22 at halftime.

The Cougars scored on five of seven possessions and knocked down three three-pointers during their burst. Middleton, on the other hand, went 3:45 without a point before Eady scored late in the half.

“We’re 22 games in and we still don’t trust our full actions,” Bavery said. “To be into late-February and to still be a work in progress … that’s not ideal.”

Neither was the start of the second half.

The Cougars opened the half on a 6-0 run and built a 40-22 lead. Combined with Craig’s first half finish, the Cougars’ burst was 19-2 over a stretch of 7:43.

“They’re a great team,” Eady said. “I don't know how they have nine losses, or whatever, in the conference. But the game was decided in the first half, and the start of the second half.”

Indeed it was — which forced Middleton to share the league instead of claiming sole possession of the title.

“I compared it to kissing your sister,” Bavery said. “But it is a hell of an accomplishment.

“Right now, I know they don’t appreciate it. And they might not appreciate it for a while. But this is a great league, and to get a share of the title is a special thing.”

Fermanich — and the rest of the Cardinals — understood Bavery’s point. But Middleton wasn’t in the mood to celebrate that accomplishment Thursday night.

“You go back to the start of the year and I don’t think anyone thought we’d do this,” Fermanich said. “But as the year went along, it became clear that we could win it.

“It doesn’t feel great right now, but this is the best league in the state. So someday I’m sure we’ll appreciate it more than we do right now.”

 

Feb. 25

Janesville Craig 59, Middleton 54

Janesville Craig ………………….. 34  25 — 59

Middleton ………………………....  22  32 — 54

Janesville Craig — Payton 8, Lynch 15, Hoppe 2, Negus 15, Wright 2, Anhold 13, Cramer 2, Jensen 2. Totals: 16-21-59.

Middleton — Brunker 9, Murphy 10, Eady 20, Ashford Jr. 5, Fermanich 10, Markel 0. Totals: 21-7-54.

Three-point goals — JC 6 (Lynch 3, Negus 2, Payton), Mi 5 (Eady 2, Ashford Jr., Murphy, Brunker). Total fouls — JC 10, Mi 22. Fouled out—Markel.

 

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