Middleton hoping to slay mighty Memorial

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MTT News Desk's picture
Rob Reischel
Middleton's boys basketball team won a regional championship Saturday night. Now, the Cardinals take aim at mighty Madison Memorial in a sectional semifinal Thursday./Photo courtesy of Mary Bavery

SUN PRAIRIE — The parallels are downright eerie.

Middleton’s boys basketball lost twice to Sun Prairie this regular season, including once when a buzzer-beater broke the Cardinals’ collective hearts. But with the stakes highest last Saturday night, Middleton drubbed Sun Prairie, 75-64, in a WIAA Division 1 regional final.

Middleton also lost twice this regular season to Madison Memorial, the final time coming on a dramatic buzzer-beater. But like it did against Sun Prairie, Middleton has a chance to prove the third time is the charm.

Middleton and Madison Memorial will meet in a sectional semifinal Thursday in Watertown at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the sectional final Saturday at 1 p.m. in Sun Prairie.

“As I said after we lost to them on the heartbreaking buzzer beater, I know we will beat them,” Middleton junior guard Derek Rongstad said. “We are clicking at the right time and have complete confidence that we can play with and beat anybody in the state right now.”

Middleton enters with a 14-10 record, but has won eight of its last 11 games. Memorial is 20-4 overall and won a share of its 10th straight Big Eight Conference title with a 16-2 record.

Middleton, which was unveiling almost an entirely new team in November, dropped its season-opener to Memorial, 57-47.

But the Cardinals were a much-improved bunch when they went to Memorial on Jan. 10 and fell, 62-60.

Middleton led that night, 60-59, when the clock expired. But the referees ruled that Spartans head coach Steve Collins called timeout with 2 seconds left.

Memorial’s Jester Weah then inbounded from three-quarters court and hit Shareef Smith racing down the right sideline. Smith took one dribble, pulled up from 22-feet and drained a three-pointer as the horn sounded to give the Spartans an improbable 62-60 win.

“We know Memorial well and have a history with them,” Middleton junior point guard Luke Schafer said. “They play hard and they play hungry.

“But they’re beatable, just like every team in the state. We’ll see what happens.”

Memorial, a team traditionally packed with Division 1 talent, might not have its typical number of superstars. But the Spartans have specialized in winning close games.

Memorial is 6-0 in games decided by three points, or fewer. The Spartans also went 11-1 in games decided by single digits.

Jester Weah, who will play collegiate football at Pitt, leads the Spartans’ balanced attack with 12.2 points per game. But three other starters average at least 9.6 ppg.

“Memorial simply knows how to win,” Rongstad said. “I believe they don't have the same level of amazing basketball players like they have in the past, but they always seem to be able to finish games.”

Middleton will be trying to slay Memorial for the first time since Feb. 3, 2005. Since then, the Cardinals have dropped 19 straight games to the Spartans.

Middleton seventh-year coach Kevin Bavery is 0-16 against Memorial and his teams have been eliminated in the postseason by the Spartans in 2007 and 2010.

But Bavery insists no one is thinking about “The Streak.” Instead, the Cardinals are just focused on reaching the sectional finals.

“Never think twice about it,” Bavery said of the losing streak to Memorial. “For the majority of those games we have been competitive against Memorial teams, which sometimes had Division 1 athletes, and we've had three or four heartbreaking losses. So you tip your hat to them and move on.  

“I know that because they are our proximity rivals — and the fact that we've had some heartbreakers with them — that it takes on a life of its own. But really, all we do is focus on our next practice and then on our next game, whether it’s Memorial or anyone else. We simply focus on Middleton.”

Lately, that’s been a winning formula. The Cardinals hope it continues Thursday night.

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