Middleton girls knock off defending champs in semi
Kerry Gardner had 16 points and fellow senior Rachael Eklund added 13 as top-ranked Middleton used a strong second half to beat defending champion Milwaukee Pius 50-39 in a state semifinal Friday night at the Kohl Center.
Eklund grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for the Cardinals (26-1), who will face No. 2 Glendale Nicolet (25-2) on Saturday night. Middleton lost in the finals in 1993 and 2003.
Third-ranked Pius (25-2) shot 60 percent from the field and led 26-25 at halftime, but Middleton clamped down defensively after the break. The Lady Popes made just four of 26 shots in the second half (15.4 percent).
"We just stepped up defensively," said Gardner, whose team has won 26 consecutive games since losing to Morgan Park (Ill.) in its season opener. "Our half-court defense was definitely solid. We made them take the shots we wanted them to take and they weren't falling for them.
Eklund provided the offensive spark in the third quarter, scoring six straight points as Middleton went ahead 34-29.
"We know that if we shoot it and miss, there's a pretty good chance that Rachael's going to get it," Gardner said of Eklund, who had four of the Cardinals' 10 offensive rebounds. "She works so hard down there and she gives us those points that we really need, especially when a game is tight on the line like it was today. She came up huge for us."
The Cardinals didn't trail again, but Pius did tie it at 34 on a 3-pointer by junior Tierra Bender 21 seconds into the fourth. But Gardner answered with a 3 of her own from the right corner that put Middleton in front for good.
Bender and her sister, Terri, had 11 points apiece and sophomore Ally Matkovich added 10 for the Lady Popes, who were outrebounded 38-26.
"We just couldn't put the ball in the basket and couldn't come up with a big rebound, and that added up to a loss," said Pius coach Scott Herrick, whose team handed Nicolet its only loss, 67-63 on Dec. 28.