MIDDLETON — An early deficit Tuesday night prompted a quick timeout by Middleton boys volleyball coach Ben White.
He had witnessed this before in the postseason and realized his top-seeded team needed to settle down against fourth-seeded and fired-up Madison Memorial.
The host Cardinals overcame 10-6 and 19-17 deficits to claim a hard-fought first set, and then gained full control en route to a 25-21, 25-12, 25-13 victory over Madison Memorial in a WIAA sectional semifinal.
“At 10-6, I just said, ‘Stay calm,’” White said. “We’ve been in this situation many times, fortunately, where we have been the No. 1 seed and we play a conference team in the playoffs. We know the first 10 to 20 points, they are going to jump out at you.
“You have to try to stay calm, weather the storm and have that belief that we are a talented enough team that the ebbs and flows will even out and we can come back.”
Big Eight Conference regular-season and tournament champion Middleton (32-6) advanced to the sectional final and will host Burlington at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“We just had to calm down,” said Cardinals senior setter Andrew Lepage, who had a match-high 28 assists. “Some of it was nerves to start out. … (White) told us to play our game and settle down. He said they will have a high point and will go down eventually.”
The Spartans , who finished second in the Big Eight regular-season and tournament, scored six consecutive points and grabbed the early first-set advantage. Senior libero Gage Krumbach had three service aces and 6-foot-3 senior Grayson Lehmann’s cross-court kill made it 10-6.
The Cardinals later scored six consecutive points and claimed a 23-19 lead, winning the last five points in that flurry with senior left-hander Brady Schmitt serving.
“We played really well,” said Spartans coach Steve Collins. “A couple things snowballed on us, but we did play really well and if we had gotten that first game maybe we could have made a little run at it. After that, we stopped passing the ball and had some unforced errors.”
Middleton then took command in the second and third sets with a style of play that White likened to the deadly grip of a boa constrictor or anaconda.
“We are not a flashy team,” White said. “I’ve described our team as a snake that slowly squeezes you. You don’t really realize what is happening until you look up at the score and see us up by five, eight and then 10 points. We don’t usually go on great runs.”
The Cardinals, however, finished the match with a flourish.
Senior middle hitter Brian Vergenz crushed a kill and junior middle hitter Sam Dettman followed with a block kill for a 22-12 lead.
After Spartans junior Josh Barth delivered a kill, Middleton’s Dettman, junior outside hitter Eagan Peters-Michaud and senior right-side hitter Casey McKean earned kills to end the match.
“At the end of Game 3, we had some really big hits,” White said. “It was fun to see the guys put it together for a five-point stretch, where they had blocks and kills. If we do that, we can be pretty dangerous.”
The victory put the Cardinals one victory away from their goal of a state tournament berth.
“We want to get to the last day,” Lepage said.
Middleton 25 25 25
Madison Memorial 21 12 13
MIDDLETON (leaders): Kills — Vergenz 9, McKean 9. Blocks — Krantz 2. Assists — Lepage 28. Service aces — Blair 3. Digs — Blair 13, Robson 12.
MADISON MEMORIAL (leaders): Kills — J. Krumbach 6, Lehmann 4. Blocks — Broihahn 4, Kennedy 3. Assists — Lundal 9, Collins 5. Service aces — G. Krumbach 3. Digs — G. Krumbach 11, J. Krumbach 6.
Waukesha Catholic Memorial 3, Madison West 0
In the Wales Kettle Moraine sectional, the host Crusaders took a 25-20, 25-20, 25-17 victory over the Regents.