Middleton tops Stoughton, stays unbeaten

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MTT News's picture
Dan Larson/For the Times-Tribune
Middleton boys basketball coach Kevin Bavery watched his team improve to 9-0 with a win over Stoughton Saturday./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

STOUGHTON — Time and time again, Middleton tried to create some separation.

And Stoughton just kept nipping at the Cardinals' heels.

But in the end, the Cardinals — ranked third in the Division 1 boys basketball WisSports.net coaches poll — had just enough to escape and claim a 61-54, non-conference victory Saturday afternoon at Stoughton High School.

“They were shooting the lights out,” Gavin Hurley, Middleton's leading scorer coming into the contest (20.0 points per game), said of the Vikings weathering every blow his team landed in large part by connecting for 11 3-pointers. “They're good shooters, but they were making everything today.

“So we couldn't pull away, but we came away with the 'W' and that's all that matters.”

With the victory over the Vikings (8-3), who were ranked fifth in Division 2 in mid-December following a 4-0 start before back-to-back losses to Mount Horeb and Madison Edgewood, the Cardinals (9-0) remain unbeaten on the season.

And their poise in the second half is a big reason why.

Trailing 25-18 with a little under 4 minutes left in the first half, Stoughton scored 10 unanswered points — eight of them by Ty Fernholz, including a turnaround jumper on the baseline, a 3-pointer from the right corner and a buzzer-beating 3-ball from 26 feet — to take a 28-25 lead at the break.

It was a wake-up call for Middleton.

“I felt like our team chemistry was a little off in the first half. People were getting frustrated at each other, so we kind of just chilled in the locker room,” Hurley said. “We knew that the first couple minutes of the second half were the most important minutes of the game for us, so we needed to go out there and play hard for those first couple minutes.”

Which is exactly what the Cardinals did.

Six-foot-6 senior Owen Cooney scored in the paint on Middleton's opening possession to cut the deficit to 28-27 and then with 50 seconds gone by in the half Will Comerford canned a 3-pointer  from the right wing to give the Cardinals a 30-28 lead.

Stoughton's Carter Sullivan answered with a 3, but Kaden Fosdick's basket inside gave the Cardinals the lead again at 32-31 with 15 minutes, 15 seconds remaining and they didn't trail the rest of the way.

Their advantage certainly wasn't insurmountable, though.

Which is why plays like the one Comerford and Hurley connected on — a fastbreak alley-oop that made it 39-34 with 14 minutes to go — were crucial.

“Me and Will have been playing on the same team since fifth grade. We're best friends. They used to call us 'Peanut Butter and Jelly' back in the day, so we've got a little connection,” said Hurley, who finished with 16 points. “I wanted it. We were actually practicing alley-oops this morning in shootaround, so I was ready to get one today.”

Stoughton pulled within two at 44-42 with just under 10 minutes to play and then again with 8:38 left on a 3-pointer from the left corner by Sawyer Schipper that made it 47-45. But a couple minutes later Middleton led by six at 51-45 following a circus putback by 6-8 junior Carter Kadow.

The closest the Vikings came after that was within four on two separate occasions.

The first time, Hurley had the antidote — converting an and-one to make it 56-49 with 1:27 left.

And following a 3-ball by Schipper that made it 56-52, Fosdick got to the free throw line and made both to make it 58-52.

The dagger, though, was delivered by Hurley — the last of his 16 points coming after he tore the ball away from a Stoughton player near midcourt and raced away for a fastbreak lay-up while getting fouled to make it 60-52.

Middleton did several things well over the final 18 minutes in order to stave off Stoughton's upset bid, but cooling Fernholz off was a big one.

The Vikings' junior, who had a game-high 19 points, had eight points in the second half — making just three field goals.

“We were trying to stay attached to him most of the game, but they set about a thousand screens per play for him so it's kind of hard to do that — talk through that,” Hurley said.

Middleton coach Kevin Bavery agreed.

“He's good outside primarily, but then he's good inside with mismatches. So that was an issue for us,” Bavery added of Fernholz's ability to post up when teams put smaller, quicker guards on him as opposed to players with length like Hurley.

Hurley did draw the lion's share of the work on the Vikings' sharpshooter, a common task for him.

And sometimes having to expend so much defensive energy can take its toll on the offensive end, especially when other teams play zone like Stoughton did in the first half before Middleton was eventually able to shoot the Vikings out of it.

“When they went to zone he got frustrated — he tried to drive and got the ball stripped and was looking for calls and so forth, and that didn't come his way,” Bavery said. “But he's always got a motor and always knows where he's got to be and sees opportunities. So even though I didn't think he was having his best game, he was doing a lot of things that people don't notice.

“But then the fruition came (at the end). That's what the best players on your team are supposed to do — they're supposed to make big plays at big times.”
Stoughton's zone was a problem across the board for Middleton in the first half.

“We were trying to drive into traffic and we were taking shots too quick,” Bavery said.

But the Cardinals slowed things down after halftime, and better results followed.

Fosdick, who had eight points in the second half and finished with 13 on the afternoon, was a driving force, causing chaos leaving his man on defense and disrupting Stoughton's offensive rhythm in what Bavery called the Cardinals' “rabbit concept.”

“He did that a few times. It energizes the whole team,” Bavery said.

Middleton's emotional leader gets the job done in other ways, too.

“He's been with us since he was a freshman. The one thing he's always brought is energy, and now to that energy he's brought more maturity,” Bavery said. “He's as unselfish as they come. Believe it or not, he has a really good 3-point shot. But he would rather take the ball off the dribble and find somebody else inside. And he cleaned up — there were three or four putbacks out of him that were big tonight.”

Comerford finished with 11 points and Cooney had 10, giving Middleton four scorers in double figures — a balanced effort to be sure.

And while it might not have been Middleton's best effort of the season, it very well might have been the Cardinals' best win.

“These are the kind of games that we need,” Bavery said. “We've had a lot of games where we get up big and we kind of coast -- this is probably the best challenge we've had from start to finish.

“We told the boys before the game, 'In our world there is no such thing as a non-conference game; every game is an opportunity to get better.' I'm really proud of how they played down the stretch.”



Middleton ....... 25 36 -- 61

Stoughton ....... 28 26 -- 54

MIDDLETON — (fgm ftm-fta pts) — Gavyn Hurley 7 1-3 16, Isaiah Oliver 2 0-2 6, Kaden Fosdick 5 3-4 13, Carter Kadow 1 0-1 2, Owen Cooney 4 2-6 10, Avery Houden 1 0-0 3, Will Comerford 4 0-0 3. Totals: 24 6-16 61.

STOUGHTON — Sawyer Schipper 6 2-2 17, Jay Johnson 3 0-0 8, Ty Fernholz 7 0-0 19, Carter Sullivan 2 0-0 5, Ben Harman 1 0-0 2, LeShawn Brown 1 1-2 3. Totals: 20 3-4 54.

3-pointers: Middleton 6 (Hurley 1, Oliver 2, Houden 1, Comerford 3), Stoughton 11 (Schipper 3, Johnson 2, Fernholz 5, Sullivan 1). Total fouls: Middleton 10, Stoughton 14. Fouled out: None. 



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