Middleton's girls fall to Verona

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MTT News Desk's picture
Gregg Hammill

Middleton’s girls’ basketball team wanted to prove it could knock off one the top teams in the Big Eight Conference when if faced second-place Verona last Saturday.

And the Cardinals found themselves in prime position to do just that until it all unraveled at the end.

Middleton led by nine points at halftime and took a seven-point lead into the final quarter, only to watch the Wildcats rally to tie the game in regulation. The Cardinals then dropped a heartbreaking 43-41 overtime decision.

“We had opportunities and we didn’t capitalize on them,” Middleton coach Jeff Kind said. “You’ve got to learn to finish the game. I thought we were in pretty good position, but we didn’t finish very well.”

Middleton, which remained in fourth-place in the league, dropped to 11-7 overall and 9-5 in the Big Eight Conference. Verona improved to 15-4 and 13-2 and swept the season series from the Cardinals for the first time since joining the league nine years ago.

Using its press, Middleton forced the Wildcats into a combined 15 turnovers in the second and third quarters. But the Cardinals struggled with their shooting in the fourth quarter, which affected their ability to employ their press.

“We’ve got to score so we can get into our press,” Kind said. “If we don’t score then we don’t get into our press. We went into one of those dry spells again and that makes it hard for us to keep that pace going like we did.”

Still the Cardinals had a chance to win the game in regulation.

Middleton, which went 1-for-9 from the field in the fourth quarter, took a 34-33 lead when Liz McMahon stole the ball at midcourt and scored with 1 minute, 29 seconds remaining. After Verona’s Lexy Richardson hit a free throw to tie the game at 34 with 37 seconds left, Middleton worked the clock down to 7.6 seconds and called timeout. The Cardinals inbounded and worked the ball in to Cole Jordee who couldn’t convert underneath the basket.

“We had a chance at the end of the game and couldn’t get the little shot at the end,” Kind said.

Verona took control in the extra period. Liz McMahon, who led the Cardinals with 12 points, fouled out just 17 seconds into overtime and the Wildcats took advantage.

Richardson connected on 3-of-4 free throws and a three-pointer by Marissa Mears stretched Verona’s lead to 40-34. The Cardinals’ Shannon McCauley hit a three-pointer to make it 40-37 with 2 minutes remaining.

A pair of free throws by Verona’s Jamie Hintz and a free throw by the Cardinals’ Jordee made it 42-38 with 39 seconds remaining. A traveling violation gave the Cardinals possession with 19 seconds left, but Jenna Blair’s three-pointer missed.

After a free throw by Mears, McCauley nailed a long-range three-pointer to make it 43-41 with just 2 seconds remaining, but Verona was able to inbound the ball and ran out the clock.

“We started to let things happen, not make things happen,” Verona coach Angie Murphy said. “We can’t play that frenetically. They got us out of our comfort zone and we were forcing things. The girls just relaxed, got stronger with the basketball, started finding gaps better and the momentum kind of swung our way.

“We hit some big shots, our defense really picked up and the girls really made some good adjustments. They really stuck together and kept battling back when we were down.”

McCauley had just two points in regulation, but stepped up with McMahon out and hit two three-pointers in the extra period.

“Coach was telling me that they’re probably going to sag back on me, so I should probably try to hit a three so they would have to come up and it would open more lanes for other people in the zone,” said McCauley, who finished with eight points for the Cardinals. “ I thought I’d give it a whirl and see if it goes in.”

The teams were tied at 10 apiece after the first quarter, but Middleton outscored the Wildcats 10-3 to take a 22-13 halftime lead. The Cardinals limited Verona to just 1-for-8 shooting and forced seven turnovers in the quarter.

“Coach stressed to us that we needed to get in the passing lanes and try to make all the passes as difficult as we could so they couldn’t really relax on offense,” McCauley said.

Middleton forced eight more turnovers in the third quarter, but Verona managed to convert 4-of-6 field goals to close within 31-24 entering the fourth.

“Except for giving them the looks in the post, I thought defensively we were pretty solid for the most part,” Kind said. “I’ll take the defensive effort.”

A free throw by Jordee gave Middleton a 32-24 lead at the 7:19 mark of the fourth quarter. But Verona slowly chipped away at the lead while keeping Middleton scoreless.

Mears converted one of her three three pointers, Hintz hit a pair of free throws, Shannon Kant scored inside and Hintz scored to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game at 33-32 since early in the first quarter.

“They picked up their intensity and we just weren’t getting rebounds and our shots weren’t falling as much so they just kept inching their way back,” said McCauley. “A couple of times they got offensive rebounds off missed free throws and that was a game changer.”

Murphy, a former player and assistant coach under Kind, had only positive things to say about the Cardinals.

“It’s a good program,” Murphy said. “Jeff is one of the best coaches in the state. I learned a lot from him, he’s a great coach.

“The girls are always ready, they had a good game plan. But we just ended up hitting more shots at the end.”

The loss left the Cardinals with an 0-5 mark against the top three teams in the conference — Janesville Parker, Verona, and Madison La Follette. Three of the losses were by five points or less.

“It’s one of those games that we would have, could have, should have,” said Kind. “I guess that’s part of what our battle is this year is learning how to finish a game like that against a really good team.”

McCauley is hoping the Cardinals get the opportunity to face the Wildcats again in the playoffs.

“We definitely improved from the last time that we played them,” said McCauley, whose Cardinals lost to Verona, 37-22, back on Dec. 22. “We showed that we could play with them and I hope we can play them again at tournament time.”

The Cardinals’ Natalie Staples missed the game due to a one-game suspension.

• On deck: Middleton travels to Sun Prairie Thursday night at 7:30, then hosts Janesville Craig Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The Cardinals also host Madison West Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Kind, the Cardinals’ coach, will then head to his postseason seeding meeting Sunday. Verona (13-2, 15-4) is almost certain to be the No. 1 seed and Madison La Follette (11-3, 13-5) is the likely No. 2.

Middleton (9-5, 11-7) is the front-runner for the No. 3 seed, but could get some competition from Sun Prairie (8-6, 10-8) for that spot.




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