A frustrating shooting night spelled the end of the season for the Muskego girls basketball team.
The Warriors just could not get any shots to drop early against Middleton in a WIAA Division 1 sectional championship contest on Saturday night at Sun Prairie, and it cost them a 58-46 loss.
Muskego hit just four field goals in the first half in falling behind by 16 and was only 7 for 40 (18 percent) at the three-quarter mark. Only a 7 for 17 performance in the fourth quarter lifted the Warriors to a still-chilly 25 percent for the game and made the score more respectable.
Warriors head coach Brian Hirtz, whose team finished 18-8, was quick to credit the defense of the Cardinals for most of his team’s shooting woes.
“Some of the shots we normally make weren’t falling for us early,” Hirtz said. “I think Middleton’s very good at getting you playing a little faster than you want to play, and our shots weren’t falling, maybe because they were a little rushed. That’s a credit to them (the Cardinals). They are very disciplined and very tough on both sides of the floor.
“Part of (our problem) was their defensive pressure and the way they spread us out. We haven’t shot that poorly all year.”
Even the lob pass to post player Renee Bennett, which worked early and often in Muskego’s semifinal triumph over Franklin on Thursday, was not available against Middleton.
“Again, that’s their defensive pressure on the ball, where it’s hard to get the ball into the post,” Hirtz said.
Middleton head coach Jeff Kind, whose team moved to 21-5 and will play in this week’s state tournament, agreed that the Cardinals’ defense was the key to the game.
“We did a nice job, I thought, of executing our defensive game plan,” Kind said. “We did a nice job of not letting them get comfortable and dump the ball down into their post players. I was very happy with the way we were playing defense in the first half.”
Middleton went on an 11-2 run to close the first period with a 16-5 advantage. The Cardinals, despite netting just three shots from the floor in the second quarter, built their lead to 30-14 at the half.
Jessica Mlachnik opened the second half with a basket, but then Middleton’s Liz McMahon hit three straight shots to open the margin to 37-16. Jenna Hanson connected on a 3-point field goal as Middleton took a 44-19 lead late in the third period.
The Warriors finally started to find the shooting range in the fourth period, as Colla hit a pair of 3-point field goals and Cattani added another. The closest they were able to get, though, was 56-46 with about a minute left.
“I’m super proud of the kids for never giving up and fighting all the way through,” Hirtz said. “We talked about that at halftime, saying we’ve got a chance to go to state here. We’ve got to keep fighting and keep pushing through.
“Finally, some shots started to fall for us, and we got a little momentum there, but it was too little, too late.”
Colla paced Muskego with 11 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, while Mlachnik and Cattani each put in nine points. For Middleton, Madeline Staples tallied 22 points and McMahon 18.
Muskego once again fell short in its attempt for its first appearance in the state tournament, although the Warriors did reach the final eight for the first time in school history.
Muskego has now lost in the sectional final four times in five years.
“We’re still trying to get over this hump right now,” Hirtz said.
The coach was proud of the team’s effort in reaching the sectional title game again.
“This is a team that I don’t think a lot of people thought would get as far as we did,” he said. “We had some early struggles, and we put a heck of a run together late in the year, beating some really good teams and getting all the way to the sectional final.
“I’m really proud of the girls, the way they came together at the end of the season. We peaked at the right time and just couldn’t get it done tonight.”
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