Craig ends Middleton's year

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Parker Van Buren and Middleton's boys basketball team lost to Janesville Craig in the regional semifinals./Photo courtesy of Mary Bavery

In many ways, they overachieved from Day 1.

Middleton’s boys basketball team was dealt a crushing blow last October when Max Schlicht — arguably its most talented player — was lost for the season due to an ACL injury.

In rather impressive fashion, though, the Cardinals still went 13-9 in the regular season, snapped an ugly losing streak against Madison Memorial and received the No. 6 seed in an 18-team sectional.

Last Friday night, though, those accomplishments meant little.

Visiting Janesville Craig toppled the Cardinals, 61-52, in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal. And as the Middleton’s coaches and players exchanged season-ending hugs and high-fives, there were tears coming from every corner of the Cardinals’ locker room.

“It hurts a lot,” senior point guard Jack Boyle said. “The end is hard.”

Middleton coach Kevin Bavery agreed.

“This was a team that really liked each other and you could tell that in the end,” said Bavery, whose team finished 13-10 overall. “They were really genuine kids and the junior and senior classes really got along well.

“I would say after we lost Max, we kind of had to re-set and re-adjust, but these guys came pretty close to maximizing their potential. They have a lot to be proud of.”

Middleton could never find a winning formula against Craig, though.

The extremely well-disciplined Cougars turned the ball over just seven times and shot 77.8% from the free throw line (14 of 18). On the other end, Craig switched ball screens which stymied Middleton shooters, denied entry passes to the post and held Middleton to 37.3% shooting (22 of 59).

Cardinals junior center Parker Van Buren had one of his finest nights in a Middleton uniform, finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Junior forward Jake Klubertanz added 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The rest of the team, though, combined to shoot 8-of-36 from the field.

“We thought we had some great matchups inside with me and Jake,” Van Buren said. “But there were some little things we were struggling on in our offense.

“(Craig) was definitely confident and played that way. And there was a lot of stuff we didn’t do as well as I know we can.”

Craig used a 9-2 run late in the first half to take a 28-19 lead and the Cougars held a 30-22 halftime advantage. Craig shot 13-of-28 in the first half (46.4%) and sharp-shooting guard Jack Huml had 10 of his 19 points before intermission.

Middleton lost shooters in transition and the Cougars often wound up with wide-open shots.

“Our transition defense really killed us in the first half,” Van Buren said. “Huml’s a great player and I know we lost him a couple of times.”

Middleton, which settled for too many jump shots in the first half, did adjust and made a more conscious effort to pound the ball inside in the second half. Van Buren and Klubertanz combined for just six first half shots, but then had 17 in the second half.

That change helped Middleton claw its way back.
First, the Cardinals opened the second half on a 6-0 run — two lay-ups from Van Buren and another from senior guard Sam Close — to pull within 30-28. Then after Craig extended its lead back to 35-28, Middleton smacked the Cougars with a 9-0 run and took a 37-35 lead — its first since 14-11.

Van Buren started the surge with a lay-up and a five-footer. Klubertanz powered to the basket for a traditional three-point play, then Van Buren attacked the rim for another lay-up that gave Middleton the lead.

On the other end, Middleton’s defense intensified and Craig missed five consecutive shots.

“We started to deliver the ball on time and our offense really picked up,” Bavery said. “Parker and Jake did a great job finishing in there.”

Craig adjusted, though, sending quick double team help and getting stronger play from its posts. And midway through the second half, the Cougars went on a 10-0 run that turned a 39-38 deficit into a 48-39 lead with 5:43 remaining.

From there, Middleton was fighting an uphill battle.

“That was a really big stretch, for sure,” Boyle said. “They got some good looks and they were really executing their stuff.”

Craig scored on five of six possessions in that run, while the Cardinals missed five consecutive shots.

“They had a little momentum, but our guys really battled back,” Craig coach Ben McCormick told the Janesville Gazette. “They (Middleton) obviously made an emphasis to go to the post.

“But our goal was to take away their 3-point shooters, and in the second half they didn’t have any (threes). So I give our kids credit. They really executed our game plan defensively.”

A traditional three-point play by Van Buren pulled Middleton within 48-42. And the Cardinals followed by getting three consecutive defensive stops. But Middleton went scoreless on its next five possessions, a span of 3:39.

Craig then made eight straight free throws in the final minute and ended Middleton’s season.

“After we lost Max, I don’t know if we had the highest of hopes,” Van Buren said. “That was a big deficit to overcome. But I think we definitely surprised some people and still had a pretty good year.”

Added Boyle: “We could have done even better. We lost some close games we could have pulled out and our first game with Memorial wasn’t good. But we also did some really good things and it was a fun team to be a part of.”


March 1

Janesville Craig 61, Middleton 52

Janesville Craig ……….. 30 31—62

Middleton ………………. 22 30—52

Craig —Huml 6-4-19, Scoville 1-0-2, Bertagnoli 3-0-7, Rizzo 2-2-8, Fieiras 1-0-2, Leverson 3-5-11, Lynch 4-3-12. Totals: 20 14-18 61.

Middleton —Thomas 2-0-6, Close 3-0-7, Scher 1-0-2, Boyle 2-0-5, Klubertanz 4-5-13, Van Buren 9-1-19. Totals: 21 6-11 52.

3-point goals—Craig 7 (Huml 3, Rizzo 2, Bertagnoli, Lynch), Middleton 4 (Thomas 2, Close, Boyle). Total fouls—Craig 12, Middleton 17.


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