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Sabers push Middleton to brink

March 22, 2011

Franklin girls basketball coach Guy Balistreri said it best: the Sabers needed 10 seconds. But they only had eight.

Playing with a berth in the WIAA Division 1 state tournament on the line, Franklin couldn't get a shot off against Middleton's defense in the final sequence of the game, and the Cardinals held on for a 61-59 victory at Kachel Gymnasium in Whitewater in a Super Tuesday contest.

Franklin came into the matchup as a heavy underdog, playing against a Cardinals team with 24 consecutive victories and the No. 1 ranking in the state according to the Associated Press.

But Franklin (17-8) played undaunted basketball, staging a series of runs to keep Middleton within arm's length all night. Down 2 points with 8 seconds to go off a missed free throw, Mariah Hill (team-high 17 points) took the ball in the forecourt but was unable to get a clean look before time expired.

"That rebound by (Jenna) Coenen at the end was the biggest rebound of the year for her," Balistreri said of the senior's board in the final seconds. "We knew we had to get it up ... we needed two extra seconds."

Middleton’s Kasey Williams missed the front end of a bonus and initially held her own rebound before Coenen pulled it away. Franklin, which had used its final timeout after Coenen's bucket with 15.8 seconds pulled the Sabers within 2 points, had to make something happen in a hurry.

Coenen finished with 14 points, and the Sabers shot 52 percent as a team, including 10 of 19 from 3-point range.

Franklin used a pair of quick 6-0 runs at the end of the first two quarters to stay close, though Middleton's lead swelled to 9 points midway through the third, 45-36. But Franklin scored the next 11, tying the game on a Cassidy Mihalko basket with 1:44 left in the third and taking the lead on Coenen's two free throws 20 seconds later.

Hill scored 5 of those 11 points and calmly delivered 5 more points in the fourth as Franklin inched closer.

"We didn't get down on ourselves and kept fighting and fighting the past eight games, and we've been able to take it to them every time," Hill said. "It's a bigger court and everything, and we knew we could out-run them. The first half, we did, and then we started to slow down, but I think overall, we kept our tempo."

Thanks to a handful of baskets off quick outlet passes, Franklin answered Middleton's first punch, a 14-0 run in the first quarter that led to a 17-7 lead. The Sabers scored the final three baskets of the first to pull within 18-15, then matched the Cardinals basket-for-basket the rest of the half to head into the locker room down, 33-32.

"We came into this more prepared for this game than we've ever been prepared for a game in our life," Balistreri said. "we thought we could do this. We had the confidence -- not overconfidence, just confidence. Their putbacks and second shots early in the game hurt us. Their outside shooting ... I don't know what to say."

Middleton made 9 of its 22 shots from beyond the arc, and with defenders straining to keep perimeter shooters from good looks, Middleton was able to grab 17 offensive rebounds. Rachael Eklund (16 points, 11 boards) was the primary recipient.

Three others scored in double figures for Middleton -- Kerry Gardner (16 points), Kristen Gunderson (11) and Mika Passini (11).

"We knew it was going to be a tough team, and we played them pretty good," Hill said. "I'm disappointed; it's my senior year, but I think we all gave it our all and I wish them all the luck next year."

The Cardinals may have benefited from some late clock operation, as well. Off Coenen's final basket, the Cardinals' first pass was to a secondary inbounder standing out of bounds. The clock began to roll, and approximately two seconds dwindled off the clock before it should have actually started, when the second inbounder hit her target downcourt on a baseball pass.

Middleton will face Milwaukee Pius XI in the state semifinals Friday.

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