MIDDLETON — The Sun Prairie girls soccer team was looking to make program history. It was only the third time the Cardinals had earned the regional crown and a trip to the WIAA Division 1 sectionals, and were now seeking to make the trip the sectional finals. But they had to go through second-seeded Middleton to get there.

In the end Middleton had a little more left in the tank earning a 2-0 victory over third-seeded Sun Prairie on Thursday.

“We earned the right to be there. We were prepared,” said SP head coach Matt Cleveland.

The Sun Prairie Cardinals had lost 3-2 to the Middleton Cardinals three weeks earlier in a game that decided the Big Eight Conference championship.

“Obviously, another big one with Middleton; we knew each other very well and it wasn’t a guessing game,” Cleveland added.

Sun Prairie’s plan was to keep Middleton’s shots down and try to prevent a score in the first half.

“To be honest, Middleton is good,” said Cleveland. “we wanted to keep them at zero for the first half; (it would be) awesome for us to be up 1-0.”

Sun Prairie (10-5-4) almost got the first goal 20 seconds after the start when Alexis Baker, the 2019 Big Eight Player of the Year, ran past the Middleton back line to take her first shot of the night, which unfortunately went just wide of the goal. Then Middleton enacted their own defensive plan to shut down Baker offensively, by man-marking her and often guarding her with two or three players.

Sun Prairie’s defensive game plan was working. Momentum was good and there was intense back and forth. Both Cardinal teams had limited opportunities to shoot. In the 44th minute, Middleton made a breakaway. Sara Malinowski sprinted after and went down trying get the ball away. It was a 1-on-1 shot and Jillian Buenger made a huge save.

“We were already thinking we were OK, that it would be 0-0 at half,” said Cleveland.

But then, just 21 seconds until the whistle, Middleton’s Emily Raisleger lofted the ball from mid-field into the goalie box, connecting with Tyler Wilson who rifled the ball into the net giving the host Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

Now down by a goal, Cleveland observed: “Our energy fizzled right after this, and we had to change what we were thinking” as the teams went into the break.

Middleton took possession right away in the second half, driving Sun Prairie back into their defensive zone. Sun Prairie held tough with a shift in the back line. Malinowski came off the field not feeling well, and Olivia “Tato” Zimmerman stepped in to help fight off Middleton’s attack. Cleveland thought Sun Prairie “had better opportunities (in the second half), but Middleton defended really well. They knew Baker and Grace Aughey and didn’t let us get the (over-the top ball) shots.”

Illirjana Zyteja pestered the Middleton mid-field, and Aughey blasted a shot that sailed just over the goal. Zyteja and Baker teamed up for several overlapping runs, and at one point Baker was sandwiched in the box by four Middleton defenders to stymy the Sun Prairie attack.

Both teams kept the pace through the 70th minute, but neither team was able to convert. Malinowski, back in for the SP Cardinals, shut down a Middleton breakaway, but Middleton was able to steal a pass and return for a 1-on-1 that went wide. A collective sigh of relief from the crowd was short-lived.

In the 75th minute, Middleton sealed their trip to the sectional finals with a run up the sideline and a cross into the box that Kendall Roquet sent to the back of the net. Now down by two, “It was tough,” said Cleveland, “the second goal took the wind right out of us. It became a different game. Middleton made it happen.”

Sun Prairie finished out the remaining minutes with all seniors on the pitch.

Sun Prairie was held to seven shots in the game, three on goal. Middleton finished with 16 shots, nine on goal. Sun Prairie goalkeeper Jillian Buenger had seven saves.

Middleton lost 3-2 to Waunakee in the sectional final Saturday.

MIDDLETON 2, SUN PRAIRIE 0

Sun Prairie 0 0 — 0

Middleton 1 1 — 2

First half: M — Wilson (Raisleger), 44:39.

Second half: M — Roquet (Bunz), 74:57.

Goalies: SP (Buenger) 7; M (Gehrke-Kallstromer) 3.

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