Emily Pierson did everything she could to find some positives Friday night.
The Janesville Craig guard couldn’t help, however, but feel a little bit like a potentially season-defining victory had been stolen from her on Senior Night.
Pierson buried 9-of-12 3-point attempts on the way to a career-high 33 points, and the Cougars trailed Big Eight Conference co-leader Middleton for exactly 1.4 seconds.
Unfortunately for them, it was the final 1.4 seconds, as Cardinals senior Hannah Flottmeyer completed a three-point play with just over a second left to give Middleton a stunning 68-67 victory on Bob Suter Court.
“I’m so happy with how we played tonight but also just so sad, because we almost had it,” said Pierson, who went 11 of 16 from the floor overall. “The team played great. Some of the calls were tough. But I’m so proud, because we played amazing.”
Craig was on the wrong end of a pair of close calls in the final minute as it tried to preserve a lead that once got as high as 18 points.
Up four with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Cougars were whistled for a foul on Cardinals junior Sitori Tanin. Tanin’s shot attempt appeared to come after the foul call, but it was ruled good and she went to the line for a potential three-point play.
Tanin’s free throw missed, but she hauled in a loose rebound and hit the put-back to tie the game.
Craig junior Sarah Gregg made a pair of free throws to give the Cougars a two-point lead with 15 seconds left. They got the initial stop on defense at the other end, but Flottmeyer powered in for the rebound and put-back and eventually sealed the game with a free throw.
“Our kids deserved better; they just can’t seem to catch a break,” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken said. “They played their hearts out. We’ve played Sun Prairie to overtime, (Madison) Memorial to overtime. Now we lose on one like this, and it’s tough.”
Pierson seemingly could not miss for the first 22 minutes of the game. She made a 3 in the first minute and had 20 points by halftime, when Craig led 33-25.
Pierson then made four of her first five shots coming out of halftime, including three more 3-pointers.
“What an effort on Senior Night,” Storbakken said. “The crazy thing is I told Emily in class today she was going to make nine 3-pointers.”
That mark is a school record for 3s in a game.
“Everyone was here, so I was just like, ‘Let’s do this,’” Pierson said. “When I was warming up, I was like, this is just the time to let it loose, not worry about it and shoot. I had a blast.”
Sophomore Claudia Fieiras added 14 points for the Cougars, including a driving bucket with a little more than 12 minutes remaining that put Craig up 54-36.
The Cardinals spent the last dozen minutes whittling away at the deficit. They got back within single digits with about nine minutes remaining and within four with 5:16 left.
The Cougars (9-11, 5-11), though, never gave up their lead until those final two possessions.
Flottmeyer’s final play gave her a team-high 23 points, and Tanin added 16 as the Cardinals (14-5, 13-2) took advantage of their length down low to remained tied with Sun Prairie for the Big Eight lead.
Brooke Parkhurst had 10 points for the Cougars.
Craig will learn its postseason position after a seeding meeting today. Pierson hopes she and the Cougars can build off their Friday effort.
“I will take the loss in this game if it means we do well in the tournament,” Pierson said. “That time is coming, and I think our team will do really well if we play like this.”
MIDDLETON 68, CRAIG 67
Middleton (68)—Lemirande 2-0-5, Tanin 7-2-16, Roquet 0-1-1, Coleman 4-0-12, Bursac 3-1-7, Dunn 0-2-2, Accola 0-2-2, Flottmeyer 7-9-23. Totals: 23-17-68.
Craig (67)—Gregg 1-2-5, Pierson 11-2-33, Parkhurst 3-4-10, Fieiras 5-2-14, Dunlavy 1-3-5. Totals: 21-13-67.
Middleton 25 43—68
Janesville Craig 33 34—67
3-point goals—Middleton 5 (Coleman 4, Lemirande), Craig 12 (Pierson 9, Fieiras 2, Gregg). Free throws missed—Middleton 6, Craig 7. Total fouls—Middleton 20, Craig 18.