Boys basketball team hitting all the right notes

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Will Comerford and Middleton's boys basketball team is off to a 6-0 start./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton’s boys basketball team gathered late last-Thursday and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to standout senior guard Logan Raffel.

When it was over, one of the assistants hollered, “Boy, that was rough.”

That might have been a kind breakdown of the Cardinals’ singing. Fortunately for Middleton, though, it keeps hitting all the right notes on the court.

Middleton used a late 10-0 run and pulled away from Janesville Craig for a 60-49 win. The Cardinals are 6-0 overall and remained atop the Big Eight Conference at 6-0, while the Cougars fell to 3-4 overall and 3-2 in the league.

“We feel great,” said Raffel, who celebrated his 18th birthday with 13 points. “We’ve got a great run going and we’ve got a great group of guys that all stick together and all complement each other’s games really well. And we just have a great energy, too. We’ve all been playing since we were little, and we all just mesh really well.”

Senior center Easton Zempel led the Cardinals with 14 points, 13 rebounds and didn’t miss a shot from the floor or the foul line. Junior wing Gavyn Hurley added 14 points, as well.

“I knew I had a decent night, but I did not think it was that good,” said Zempel, who made all three of his field goal attempts and all eight free throws. “I knew I was getting a lot of rebounds. They were very physical down there, but I was just able to use my height to my advantage and snag all the rebounds and get to the free throw line.”

Middleton had a major advantage in size, as its starters were an average of three inches taller than Craig’s. But the Cougars were a scrappy bunch that moved the ball extremely well, had several gifted shooters and led, 43-40 midway through the second half.

In a 3 minute, 45-second window, though, the Cardinals embarked on a 10-0 run and surged to a 50-43 lead with 5:48 to play. Craig never crept closer than five from there and that burst helped Middleton maintain its perfect record.

“We settled on about six guys down the stretch and matched their size,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “One of the nice things about this team is we can play big, we can play small and hurt you in a lot of ways.”

The Cardinals certainly hurt the Cougars with their run.

Hurley started the fun with a lay-up with 9:35 remaining that pulled Middleton within 43-42. Senior forward Mike Roach followed with a traditional three-point play, then Roach set up Nick Meinholz for a corner three-pointer that gave the Cardinals a 48-43 edge with 7:45 left.

Roach was a backup on Middleton’s JV team two years ago, then he didn't go out for basketball last season. Now, he’s a starter and integral part of what the Cardinals have cooking. 

“Mike’s changed so much over the last couple of years,” Bavery said. “He’s grown a couple inches and he’s a 6-foot-5 athlete now.”

Two possessions later, Zempel drained a pair of free throws to give the Cardinals a 50-43 lead. The Cougars crept within 54-49 with 1:15 to play, but Middleton finished on a 6-0 run as senior guard T.J. Bauer had a pair of lay-ups and senior guard Nick Meinholz drilled a pair of free throws.

“I thought we played great at the end,” Zempel said. “We just did what we had to do to take the lead and maintain it throughout the rest of the game.”

While the Cardinals’ offense was solid down the stretch, it’s defense was sublime.

Over the final 10 minutes, Craig shot just 3-of-17 from the floor and scored only six points. The Cougars had four turnovers in that stretch and averaged just 0.35 points per possession.

Middleton’s length and athleticism helped it close quickly on shooters. And a Craig team that relies on the three-point shot went ice cold at the worst possible time.

“Our defense is really solid this year,” said Raffel, whose team held the Cougars to 36.3% shooting (20-of-55). “We have a lot of length that can really bother a lot of teams.”

Zempel agreed:

“We’re very lengthy and are able to use that to our advantage,” Zempel said. “I think we’re looking really good and our defense is a big reason why.”

It took the Cardinals a while to get going against Craig, though.

Hurley and Raffel both had 10 first half points as Middleton grabbed a 29-24 edge at the break. Zempel and Roach both added seven first half rebounds, and the Cardinals held the Cougars to just 9-of-26 shooting (34.6%) in the opening half.

Craig began the second half with a 10-2 burst, though, and grabbed a 34-31 lead just 2:45 into the half. Senior guard Luke DeGraaf hit a pair of three-pointers in that stretch, while senior guard DeMarcus DeValk (17 points) and senior forward Hayden Halverson both had baskets, as well.

“We knew how good they were,” Raffel said of Craig. “We watched their film and knew what was coming, but we adjusted pretty well to go out on shooters and to keep playing together.”

They sure did — especially in the final 10 minutes when Middleton closed the game with a bang.

The win not only helped the Cardinals stay perfect. It also helped them head into a 13-day Christmas break feeling extremely festive.

“We’re very excited, extremely excited,” said Zempel, a Winona State baseball recruit. “Obviously there’s work that has to be done. But I think we’re doing really good.”

Zempel’s head coach certainly wasn’t arguing.

“I would say in the last four or five years, this is clearly our best team,” Bavery said. “It’s really fun to walk into practice. The vibe is good. The vibe is good across the team.”

Even when the signing isn’t.

• Middleton 67, Verona 43 — The Cardinals rolled past the Wildcats on Dec. 14.

Junior wing Gavyn Hurley led Middleton with 31 points, including a pair of three-pointers.

“Gavyn’s just taken a huge step this year,” said senior point guard Logan Raffel. “He’s improved so much it’s incredible.”

Senior guard Nick Meinholz added nine points and Raffel scored eight.

Middleton led, 32-25, at halftime, then ran away from the Wildcats in the second half.

• On deck: Middleton hosts Neenah on Dec. 29 at 6 p.m., then hosts Watertown on Dec. 30 at 6 p.m.

 

 

Dec. 16

Middleton 60, Janesville Craig 49

Janesville Craig ……….. 24 25 — 49

Middleton ………….. …..… 29 31 — 60

JANESVILLE CRAIG — Clark 3, DeValk 17, Bertagnoli 2, McCormick 10, Collins 2, DeGraaf 8, Halverson 5, Tyler 1, Hughes 1. Totals: 20 2-7 49.

MIDDLETON — Logan Raffel 13, Nick Meinholz 7, TJ Bauer 7, Kaden Fosdick 2, Easton Zempel 14, Gavyn Hurley 14, Mike Roach 3. Totals: 19 17-20 60.

3-point goals: Mid. 5 (Raffel 2, Hurley 2, Meinholz); JC 7 (DeGraaf 2, McCormick 2, Clark, Halverson, DeValk). 

 

Dec. 14

Middleton 67, Verona 43

Madison East ……….. 25 18 — 43

Middleton ………….. …..… 32 35 — 67

VERONA — Murphy 13, Anderson 11, Badger 10, Armstrong 4, Zimmerman 3, Farrell 2. Totals: 16 6-14 43.

MIDDLETON — Logan Raffel 8, Nick Meinholz 9, TJ Bauer 3, Kaden Fosdick 4, Owen Cooney 6, Gavyn Hurley 31, Will Comerford 2, Mike Roach 4. Totals: 23 15-16 67.

3-point goals: V 5 (Murphy 3, Zimmerman 1, Badger 1); Mid 6 (Raffel 2, Hurley 2, Meinholz 1, Bauer 1). 

 

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