Middleton's boys basketball team heating up

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Derek Rongstad and Middleton's boys basketball team are seeded fourth in their regional./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

In the end, their recent hot streak didn’t matter as much as Kevin Bavery had hoped.

Bavery, Middleton’s boys basketball coach, went to his postseason seeding meeting Saturday hoping the Cardinals could land a No. 3 seed. But Bavery and Middleton settled for the No. 4 seed, despite winning six of its last seven games and eight of its last 10.

Middleton opens postseason play by hosting fifth-seeded Madison West on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal.

“We felt we should have gotten the No. 3 seed,” Bavery said. “But at some point we know that you have to beat anyone, anywhere, anytime in order to make it all the way.”

Middleton and Madison West split their two games this season, with both schools winning their home games. The Regents most recently upended the Cardinals, 85-72, on Jan. 26.

Sun Prairie, which is tied for the Big Eight Conference lead, is the No. 1 seed. League co-leader Madison Memorial is No. 2, followed by Madison La Follette, Middleton, Madison West, Watertown, Madison East, Verona and Oconomowoc.

After the initial votes were tabulated, teams had a chance to appeal. Middleton did just that and lobbied for the No. 3 position. But Bavery lost the re-vote to Madison La Follette, 4-3.

Middleton has an 12-8 overall record and is 10-6 in the Big Eight Conference. Madison La Follette is 10-11, 9-8.

But the Lancers won their head-to-head game with the Cardinals and played a tougher non-conference schedule.

If Middleton beats Madison West in its first tournament game, it would likely face top seeded Sun Prairie in a regional final on Feb. 23. That game would be in Sun Prairie.

The sectional semifinals are Feb. 28 at Watertown and the sectional finals are March 2 in Sun Prairie.

“Nothing easy about any part of it,” Bavery said. “We’re going to have to be at our best every step of the way.”

Middleton has been awfully good, of late.

Last week, the Cardinals toppled DeForest, 65-56, on Tuesday. Middleton then bested visiting Janesville Craig, 63-53, last Saturday.

“Since we've gotten healthy there has been a lot of trust in another developing, which has been a big key,” Bavery said. “Probably the biggest thing is that we are a confident team that plays without fear, yet plays loose. The guys know that if they think it's a good shot we want them to pull with confidence and that their teammates are going to go after it if they miss.” 

In the Cardinals’ win over the Norskies, junior guard Luke Schafer hit four three-pointers and led Middleton with 20 points. Junior Derek Rongstad added 17 points, while sophomore post Ian Hokanson chipped in with eight.

Middleton trailed, 26-23, after a sluggish first half. Hokanson had all eight of his points in the first half to keep the Cardinals close.

Schafer and Rongstad then both had 12 second half points, while senior forward Kade Schultz had all seven of his points in the second half.

“We woke up,” Bavery said.

Middleton needed to stay fully alert against Janesville Craig, which had defeated Madison Memorial two nights earlier. Thanks to Rongstad, that wasn’t a problem.

Rongstad had a game-high 25 points, along with eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocked shots.   

“Doc’s just taken his game to a new level this year,” Bavery said of his junior standout. “It’s kind of scary to think what he can do next year.”

Schafer continued his hot play with 14 points, while Schultz and senior forward Kenji Passini added seven.

It was “Senior Night” and Middleton made it a memorable evening. The Cardinals built a 31-29 halftime lead behind 11 points from Rongstad, six from Schafer and five from Passini.

Craig took a 38-37 lead early in the third quarter, but the Cardinals closed the period on a 9-0 run to grab a 46-38 advantage.
Rongstad keyed the run with back-to-back three pointers. On the second, Rongstad drew a foul and knocked down the free throw for a four-point play.

In the fourth quarter, Middleton made 8-of-10 free throws, including four straight from Schultz. The Cardinals made 14-of-17 free throws in the second half (82.4%).

• On deck: Middleton was at Sun Prairie Tuesday night, then heads to Madison La Follette Friday at 7:30 p.m. Then the Cardinals get a full week off before beginning postseason play against Madison West.

“Our focus is to have a great week with two strong opponents on the road in Sun Prairie and La Follette and then simply focus on Madison West starting next Monday,” Bavery said. “Then the mentality has to shift into a 'March Madness' mode, as the reality is it becomes a 'one and done' tournament and we are in a great sectional. We want to be the ones who are the doing the 'done' to our opponents one at a time!” 

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