Just over two hours away by car, the bane of the Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran boys’ basketball exists, wearing blue and white and residing in the small village of Randolph.
For the third consecutive time at the Kohl Center, the Blazers’ championship dreams came to a frustrating end at the hands of the Rockets, this time a 46-42 loss in Saturday’s WIAA Division 5 state championship game.
It was Randolph’s 10th championship, the most by any program in state history, but the win also cemented the Rockets as the Blazers’ nemesis.
The Rockets have also defeated N.E.W. Lutheran in the state finals in 2010 and in the state semifinals in 2011.
“You have to give credit to Randolph,” N.E.W. Lutheran guard Travis Voigt said. “But (the loss) still stings.”
In a game that featured six lead changes, the Blazers worked hard to overcome the biggest of them all to start the game.
N.E.W. Lutheran (28-1) rebounded from an early 9-0 deficit by rattling off 14 consecutive points to lead 22-20 at the half. A pair of three-pointers from Voigt and another from Sam Brock led the charge.
Randolph (27-2) reassumed control in the second half thanks to a 7-0 run in the third quarter and a N.E.W. Lutheran team that struggled to find the basket.
“Their team is very, very good,” Randolph coach Bob Haffele said. “I thought defensively, our kids really gutted it out.
“We got off to a really good start, and I knew they were going to come back. (N.E.W. Lutheran) can shoot the basketball and they have good size. I’m not sure if I want to play them again anytime soon, but we got this one.”
Even when Voigt was able to pull the Blazer ahead 42-41 following a pair of three-pointers late in the fourth, the Rockets responded with a key layup from Kyle Roberts and a pair of free throws from Jay Peters.
Roberts also had two key rebounds and a blocked shot that thwarted any N.E.W. Lutheran comeback attempt late in the game.
“I think it came down to the last two minutes,” N.E.W. Lutheran coach Mark Meerstein said. “And we missed some shots that we usually don’t miss. But the game itself was played well by both teams, and I thought there were some turnovers on both sides that don’t usually happen.
“We got down early and fought back, and I thought it was anybody’s game to win in the end. Give credit to (Randolph). They did a great job.”
Meerstein said the team wanted to finish as an elite squad by going undefeated.
“No matter what, when you conclude a season, it’s hard,” he said. “You start in November and we were fortunate to play on March 9. You go through some things from the hotels and experiences before the game and all that stuff. There’s a lot of emotion that comes into it. And every team experiences that emotion. And all that emotion comes out because everything is gone. Everything you work so hard for is over.
“Most guys would want to come back Monday morning and keep going.”
Voigt said that the loss will definitely linger with him.
“Just going to let this one settle in for a little bit,” Voigt said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet. In a couple of days, it will. It’s been tough, but (the title game) is where you want to end up at the end of the year.”
Voigt led the Blazers with 14 points with Dakota Zinser adding 12. Roberts (13), Jay Peters (12) and Aaron Retzlaff (11) all scored in double figures for Randolph.