Middleton's girls rally past King
FRANKLIN — Natalie Staples will be the first to tell you, it didn’t matter if she ever made another shot on the basketball court — much less a game-winner. Now that it’s happened, though, Staples admits it’s a world a fun.
Just 28 months ago, Staples nearly lost her left arm — and her life — in an ATV accident. Last Friday, Staples completed her remarkable comeback in grand fashion.
Staples, a senior guard for Middleton’s girls basketball team, played hero for the Cardinals during the semifinals of the Christine Rathke Memorial Tournament at Franklin.
First, Staples hit a three-pointer with 22 seconds left to give Middleton its first lead of the second half against powerful Milwaukee King. Staples then blocked a potential game-tying three-pointer by King’s Shakeela Fowler at the buzzer to preserve a 62-59 win.
“I’ve never made a game-winning shot in my life, so that was pretty great,” said Staples, whose team improved to 5-3. “I was just kind of in the moment and was feeling it, so I let it go.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s WIAA Division 1 state semifinals won by the Generals. And while the stakes weren’t as high, the drama was certainly on par.
“It was a great win,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “We really had to battle.
“We still have a lot of room for improvement and need to clean a lot of things up. But we definitely made some big plays at the end of the game.”
Middleton trailed, 58-53, with 1 minute 40 seconds left. But the Cardinals scored on their final four possessions, closed the game on a 9-1 run and notched their biggest win of the year.
Middleton junior center Anna Bunyan had 16 points and 10 rebounds in what Kind called, “the game of her life.” Staples had 10 of her 15 points in the second half, while junior forward Liz McMahon added nine points and sophomore forward Cole Jordee had eight.
King junior forward Brooksie McWilliams led the Generals (7-2) with 16 points, while Fowler had 14 points and five assists, and sophomore forward Akaylah Hayes added 11 points.
“After the state semifinals last year, we just wanted to prove we could beat them,” Bunyan said. “I thought our team was very confident and ready to go.”
Certainly down the stretch they were.
First, McMahon scored to trim the Cardinals’ deficit to 58-55 with 1:30 remaining. Following a King free throw, Staples rebounded her own miss and scored to pull Middleton within 59-57 with 53 ticks left.
The Cardinals pressed full court and trapped the Generals whenever possible, then got the mistake they craved by forcing an over-and-back violation with 37.6 seconds left.
On Middleton’s ensuing possession, McMahon drove through the lane and King’s defense collapsed. McMahon then found Staples all alone in the left corner, and the Cardinals’ sharp-shooter buried the go-ahead three-pointer.
It was Middleton’s first lead of the second half.
“Even when we were down, everybody stayed really positive,” Staples said. “And I thought our team did a really good job of keeping their composure.”
Fowler had a chance to give the Generals the lead back, but the lightning-quick point guard missed a floater in the lane with 10 seconds left. Bunyan grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and made two free throws to give Middleton a 62-59 lead with 8.5 seconds left.
Fowler had one final chance to tie the game and force overtime. But Staples partially blocked Fowler’s three-pointer from the top of the key and the Cardinals were soon celebrating.
“It was a very frustrating finish to the game,” King coach Craig Machut said. “With such a young team like we have, we have to learn how to finish games. We just haven’t mastered that yet.
“We played well in the middle quarters, but we didn’t pull away when we had the chance. And we paid for it later on.”
Middleton played a solid first half and led throughout.
The Cardinals’ biggest advantage came at 21-13 early in the second quarter following a basket by Jordee. But King closed the half strong and pulled within 27-26 at the break when Fowler drilled a three-point shot at the horn.
The Generals then opened the third quarter on an 8-1 run — highlighted by four points from both Fowler and Hayes — and took a 34-28 lead.
“They kind of took control in the middle of the game,” Kind said. “They were beating us to some loose balls and getting a lot of second chance points.
Middleton tied the game twice, but never took the lead. Until Staples played hero, that is.
“I had a good summer and made some big strides, but knew I really had to prove myself this year,” said Staples, who was a reserve on Middleton’s state semifinals team last year, but has moved into the starting lineup this season.
“Still, I didn’t think I’d get this much playing time. This has been a lot of fun.”
Nothing was quite as fun as the late rally for a young Middleton team that’s beginning to find itself.
“It was a great win,” said Bunyan, who made 7-of-8 free throws and knocked down a three-pointer. “One of our goals is to always play hard, not soft. And I think that really helped us.”
“This was a really good win for us,” he said. “And I think by the end of the year we’re going to be a pretty good team. These games can really help you get better. I hope this is a building block.”
Milwaukee King ……………. 13 13 18 15 — 59
Middleton ……………………. 19 8 15 20 — 62
MIDDLETON — Wolff 4, Dean 3, Raffel 3, McMahon 9, McCauley 4, Staples 15, Jordee 8, Bunyan 16. Totals 23 21-30 62.
MILWAUKEE KING — Gilliam 4, Fowler 14, Sally 6, Martin 3, Dye 2, Hayes 11, McWilliams 16, Davis 1, Chappelle 2. Totals 27 8-14 59.
3-point goals — Mi 5 (Wolff 1, Raffel 1, Staples 2, Bunyan 1), MK 3 (Fowler 2, Sally 1). Total fouls — Mi 20, MK 19.