SUN PRAIRIE — Madison Memorial senior guard Leilani Kapinus acknowledged her nervousness as she stepped on the basketball court for her first regular-season action just less than a year after being sidelined due to a knee injury.
The return of the 5-foot-11 Kapinus and the debut of 5-7 junior point guard Mia Morel, who transferred from Marshall, proved to be a huge success as the Madison Memorial girls basketball team pulled away for an 82-60 victory over host Sun Prairie in the Big Eight Conference regular-season opener Saturday night.
Penn State commit Kapinus scored 15 of her game-high 21 points in the first half and senior guard Emmoni Rankins added 18 points for the Spartans (1-0), who outscored the Cardinals 40-23 in the second half, including 21-4 in the final 6:25.
“I was really anxious,” Kapinus said. “I felt really jittery. My stomach had a bunch of butterflies. I am so happy to be playing again. This is my favorite team to play with. It was fun.”
Junior forward Ashley Rae led Sun Prairie (1-1) with 12 points, while freshman wing Avree Antony added 11 points off the bench.
Memorial, the league coaches’ preseason favorite, applied relentless, full-court pressure that took its toll on Sun Prairie down the stretch.
“We were solid for our first game,” Memorial coach Marques Flowers said. “For our first game, we executed some things well — better in the second half than in the first half. … We competed more in the second half. We were thinking more about what we needed to do and what they were trying to do, and adjusting. And that’s when we were able to take control.”
A 7-0 run, starting with a free throw by senior center Reette Thorns, allowed the Spartans to open a 12-point lead and take control down the stretch. Morel then converted a three-point play, giving the Spartans a 65-56 lead with 5:15 left. Junior guard Maya White Eagle then came up with a steal and made a 3-point shot from the top of the arc, boosting Memorial’s lead to 68-56 with 5:08 remaining.
Memorial used an 8-0 run to extend its lead to 76-58. Junior guard Charlotte Sweet, off an assist from Thorns, scored inside to make it 70-57. Morel then hit a 16-foot jumper, Kapinus scored on a putback and senior guard Daiysha Brown, off an assist from Morel, scored to open the 18-point lead.
“We just kind of ran out of gas,” said Sun Prairie coach John Olson, who is incorporating three freshmen into his rotation. “We were within five or six points … we just couldn’t get over the hump. That’s how these games go. You have to claw back. We worked our butts off.”
Sun Prairie rallied from a 32-16 deficit, closing within 42-37 at halftime.
Morel, who helped lead Marshall to the past two WIAA Division 3 state titles, scored nine of her 10 points in the second half. Kapinus, who committed to Penn State last week, said she chose Penn State because she really liked the coaching staff -- some of those coaches have recruited her since eighth grade. Kapinus played in five games last season before suffering a knee injury that required surgery.
“It was a good showing by both (Kapinus and Morel),” Flowers said. “We talked about for everybody — but for those two, in particular, because it was Leilani’s first game back and Mia’s first game in green and white — to just relax and let the game come to them.”
Sun Prairie, which reached the WIAA Division 1 sectional finals last year, is led by juniors Rae and Jazzanay Seymore, who had nine points Saturday night, and is mixing younger players into the lineup – including Antony, Marie Outlay (nine points) and Antionique Auston (eight points).
The Cardinals opened their season with a come-from-behind, overtime victory over Monona Grove on Tuesday.
A large, boisterous crowd was on hand for the intense, foul-filled game.
"It was like a sectional atmosphere," Flowers said. "It was a pretty big crowd for a first game."
Madison Memorial 42 40 — 82
Sun Prairie 37 23 — 60
MADISON MEMORIAL (fg ft-fta pts) — Kapinus 8 5-9 21; Morel 4 2-3 10; Brown 4 0-2 8; Rankins 7 4-7 18; Sweet 4 1-3 9; White Eagle 3 1-2 9; Garcia 0 0-1 0; Thorns 3 1-2 7. Totals 33 14-29 82.
SUN PRAIRIE — Antony 3 5-8 11; Rademacher 1 2-5 4; Radlund 0 2-2 2; Rae 3 4-6 12; Strey 2 0-0 5; Outlay 2 4-4 9; Austin 3 2-4 8; Seymore 4 1-2 9. Totals 18 20-31 60.
3-point goals: MM 3 (White Eagle 2, Sweet 1); SP 4 (Rae 2, Strey 1, Outlay 1). Total fouls — MM 24; SP 18.