Blazers once again fall short in D5 state final

N.E.W. Lutheran's Dakota Zinser tries to dribble by a Thorp defender during their Division 5 state title game Saturday. (Doug Ritchay/WLUK)
N.E.W. Lutheran's Dakota Zinser tries to dribble by a Thorp defender during their Division 5 state title game Saturday. (Doug Ritchay/WLUK)

MADISON — Mark Meerstein was given the silver ball and at first when he hoisted the trophy up he didn't raise it all the way above his head.

On his second try the coach put the silver ball above his head, but it was clear on his face and his players this wasn't the plan.

The N.E.W. Lutheran boys basketball team was expected to bring home its first WIAA state title Saturday, but somebody forgot to tell Thorp that. The 9-loss upstart took advantage of bad shooting performance by the Blazers and stunned N.E.W., 49-42, in the Division 5 state title game at the Kohl Center.

It's the second straight runnerup finish for N.E.W. and was the second year in a row the Blazers were held to 42 points in the title game.

"You can't shoot that poorly," Meerstein said. "I guess 42 is our number down here. Next time when we game plan were going to game plan to keep them under 42. We were 0 for 12 from three, we missed layup after layup; that's not our game."

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N.E.W. (27-2) entered the state tournament averaging 68 points per game and scored 77 in a state semifinal win over Sheboygan on Thursday. Furthermore, leading scorer Dakota Zinser scored a career-high 33 points on Thursday as the Blazers shot 55 percent.

They had to feel good entering Saturday, especially playing against a team few expected to reach the state final. But the first half was a sign.

N.E.W. led at half, 20-13, but the 20 points were not what it's used to scoring. It made 8 of 23 shots (35 percent), but maybe the second half would be different.

It was, for Thorp (19-9), which outscored the Blazers, 36-22, after the break and made 13 of 19 shots for 68 percent. N.E.W. was 9 of 25 in the second half for 36 percent.

"The shots didn't go down today," said Zinser, who led N.E.W. with 14 points. "We missed a lot of 'bunnies' and they rebounded. The shots did not want to go down today.

"Today, we just couldn't get out of our slump."

What also hurt N.E.W.'s offense was foul trouble. Center Nathan Toenjes was battling fouls as much as Thorp and fouled out after scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half.

The 6-7 senior, who played 22 minutes, was effective when on the court but was a victim of hustle plays that resulted in fouls.

"He plays hard," Meerstein said. "He sat more time (today) than he has this year. It affects you. In the past, if we've had that trouble, guys stepped up.

"He's got a linebacker mentality in him. We missed his presence."

N.E.W. now has three silver balls, all gathered since 2010. With its only regular-season loss to Division 2 Pulaski (55-53) in the third game of the season the Blazers, who were on a 25-game winning streak, never thought of not winning gold on Saturday.

However, in the big picture N.E.W. knows silver isn't bad.

"It's tough, it's not why we're here," Meerstein said. "The other day somebody put it in perspective. We came back with silver last year and it was sitting on the counter and somebody came in and said we've been trying to get to state forever.

"We haven't been there and you guys have. It's special, but it's obviously not the goal."

N.E.W. loses some key players to graduation, including Zinser, Toenjes, Kristian Zimmerman and Samuel Brock. The season ended sour once again for the Blazers but Zinser said the experience of being on this team was great.

"I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," Zinser said. "This whole team is a big family. We love each other like brothers and it's just not on the court stuff, we hang out every weekend. The experience has been amazing."

Notes: N.E.W. scored 40 points in its 2010 state final loss to Randolph., meaning in three title games it has never scored more than 42 points. ... Noah Gosse had 12 rebounds for N.E.W., while Toenjes added 10. ... N.E.W. outrebounded Thorp, 34-24, and outscored Thorp, 14-4, in second-chance points. ... Thorp had 13 assists, while the Blazers had four.

Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay