Middleton's boys fall twice

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Max Oelerich and Middleton’s boys basketball team dropped a pair of games last week./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

This certainly isn’t the way Middleton boys basketball team wanted to enter the postseason.

But in a week mired by a pair of excruciating losses, all was not lost for the Cardinals.

Middleton fell at Big Eight Conference champion Sun Prairie, 72-70, last Tuesday. But the host Cardinals needed a 27-foot three-pointer at the buzzer from Nebraska recruit Nick Fuller just to force overtime.

Middleton then lost at Madison La Follette, 68-63, last Friday in a game that was nip-and-tuck the entire way.

While Middleton enters the postseason on a two-game losing streak, it did go 8-4 down the stretch. The Cardinals also finished the regular season 12-10 overall and tied for third place in the Big Eight at 10-8.

“We've gone 8-4 during a nice stretch run to end the regular season… and we were within tenths of a second of that being 10-2,” said Middleton coach Kevin Bavery, referring to buzzer-beating losses at Madison Memorial and Sun Prairie. “La Follette was another example of a game where we got a little panicky with a couple of late possessions instead of trusting to make one more pass, getting one more reversal, to really get someone in rhythm.

“We finished in a third place tie in the Big Eight … something this group should be very proud of. It's kind of like the Big Ten in that so many teams are capable and you end up beating each other up throughout the season.”

Middleton’s battle with Sun Prairie was certainly like a heavyweight fight.

Middleton led, 62-59, with 12.9 seconds left and Sun Prairie had the ball. Middleton debated whether to foul, or not, which would have eliminated the possibility of a three-point shot. But the Cardinals eventually elected to play man-to-man defense.

“The 12.9 on the clock was a little more time than we wanted to foul,” Bavery said. “And timing when to foul before someone gets up into a shot is tricky. The players decided they wanted to play it out.”

Nick Noskowiak, who led Sun Prairie with 31 points, couldn’t get off a shot as Derek Rongstad defended. But Noskowiak skipped the ball back to Fuller, who had Luke Schafer in his face.

But Fuller showed why he’s a Division 1 recruit, and drilled a 27-foot three-pointer as time expired to force overtime.

“No second guessing how we played that final defensive possession,” Bavery said. “But going forward we'll give fouling stronger consideration in a similar situation.”

In the extra session, Sun Prairie scored five straight points from the line and grabbed a 72-67 lead. Max Oelerich banked in a three-pointer for Middleton with 1.5 seconds left, but it was too little, too late.

“We had the No. 1 seed in our sectional and conference co-champion to the brink of victory, and we did everything right in those final seconds of regulation to force them to make an impossible shot,” Bavery said. “And then they hit the impossible shot.”

Middleton hung with Sun Prairie in a contest that became an Instant Classic.

Sun Prairie jumped to a 15-9 lead early on. But Schafer, who led Middleton with 25 points, knocked down a three-pointer at the end of the first quarter to give MHS an 18-17 lead.

Sun Prairie surged back ahead, 30-22, late in the second quarter. But Middleton answered with a 10-1 run and took a 32-31 halftime lead.

Schafer had 12 points at the break for Middleton, while Noskowiak had 19 for Sun Prairie.

“We did a great job of attacking their zone,” Bavery said. “In our first game, Derek Rongstad was injured and did not play. We turned the ball over too much, especially out top and that led to run out points for them. 

“His size out top helped us to distribute the ball better. We screened with key angles to allow us to get past that initial line of defense, and were willing to make the extra pass all night.”

The third quarter was tight throughout, and the teams were tied, 46-46, heading to the fourth.

Middleton built a 59-54 lead following a Sun Prairie technical, but Noskowiak drilled a three-pointer to narrow the lead to 59-57. Middleton was still clinging to its 62-59 lead, when Fuller played hero for Sun Prairie.

“We were disappointed that we didn't close out the win,” Bavery said. “But I couldn't be more proud of how well we played against their highly ranked team, which is well deserved.”

Middleton finished the night with 13 three-pointers, which tied the school record. Middleton also made 13-of-27 from beyond the arc, a highly-impressive mark of 48.1%.

In addition to Schafer’s 25 points, he added four assists and three steals. Kade Schultz had 16 points and five rebounds, while Oelerich had 11 points and six rebounds.

“Schafer had a monster overall game,” Bavery said. “Schultz hit key shots and we were extremely aggressive attacking the offensive boards.”

Middleton hoped to bounce back against Madison La Follette. But the host Lancers outscored the Cardinals, 27-22, in the fourth quarter and prevailed, 68-63.

Rongstad led Middleton with 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while Schafer had 11 points. Kenji Passini added seven rebounds and four assists, while Tyler Markel had six rebounds.

“La Follette brings extreme pressure and that should serve us well, especially in the half court,” Bavery said. “But we didn't relax and just go in to our backdoor cuts and we didn't attack off the dribble enough early. And they hurt us with their press when we didn't get a middle presence consistently, and when we did we weren't always meeting the pass aggressively.”

Much like Sun Prairie, this game was razor close throughout.

Middleton led, 14-11, after the first quarter and 24-23 at halftime. After three quarters, the game was tied at 41.

Middleton built a four-point lead early in the fourth, before the Lancers charged back and prevailed.

Now, it’s off to the postseason.

“This year (the playoffs) are as wide open as they’ve ever been,” Bavery said. “And we're playing as well and as confident as anyone in the tourney heading in.”

• From the infirmary: Middleton junior center Andrew Torresani was lost for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Torresani suffered the injury in Middleton’s loss at Sun Prairie.

“Andrew has had the most injury misfortune of just about any high school athlete that I can remember,” Bavery said. 

That’s for sure.

Torresani had a torn ACL his freshman year, then needed season-ending shoulder surgery during this past football season. Torresani returned to the basketball courts in early November, but now faces another rehabilitation stint.

“We are hopeful for his return by the start of the basketball season next year,” Bavery said. “He is a great kid and a hard worker, and if anyone can come back ready to go again it's Andrew. 

“First and foremost is the overall future health and well-being of his knee going forward. Functioning for the long term, as a person and not as an athlete, is our biggest concern. But if all goes as planned and he is 100% ready to go, we're excited about what he can bring to us in his senior season of basketball next year.”

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