N.E.W. Lutheran against Hillsboro during their semifinal basketball game in the 100th annual WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament at the Kohl Center on March 19, 2015, in Madison.
MADISON – The N.E.W. Lutheran boys basketball team’s stay at the WIAA state tournament this season was shorter than it’s accustomed to.
The Blazers were edged 59-57 by Hillsboro on Thursday at the Kohl Center, falling short of reaching the Division 5 state championship game for a third straight season.
A contested 3-point attempt by junior Nathaniel Schaefer off a busted play wasn’t able to reach the rim in the closing seconds of what was another heartbreaking defeat for N.E.W. Lutheran, which was searching for its first WIAA title in its fifth state appearance in six years.
The Tigers (23-5) advance to play Milwaukee Young Coggs Prep in Saturday’s D5 championship game.
The Blazers (16-12) are left to ponder another missed opportunity.
“We just didn’t get into a flow,” N.E.W. Lutheran coach Mark Meerstein said.
“I don’t think we played exceptionally well. But at the end we had a chance to win.”
The Blazers had a chance to win despite having its best player – 6-foot-3 senior forward Noah Gosse – sit with three fouls for 11 minutes, 35 seconds in the middle of the game. Gosse was limited to single-digit points (nine) for only the second time this season.
N.E.W. Lutheran, however, managed to build its lead to eight points at one point in the third quarter after it went into halftime trailing 31-29.
But by the time Gosse returned at the start of the fourth quarter – with the Blazers clinging to a 47-44 lead – the Tigers had adjusted to the Blazers’ dribble-drive offense by inserting a bigger lineup.
The result was a 14-5 run to give Hillsboro a six-point lead with 2 minutes remaining in the game.
The Tigers’ trio of Max Stockell (6-foot-4), Hunter Stanek (6-foot-2) and Avery Rueckheim (6-foot-8) all scored in double figures and accounted for 40 points.
“I really thought (N.E.W. Lutheran) took it to us early on in that game,” Hillsboro coach Curt Hildreth said. “We just couldn’t keep them out of the lane for the first three quarters.
“We got a few easy baskets inside (later) and our guys really committed to making them prove they are a shooting team.”
But the shots weren’t falling down the stretch for the Blazers, who made just one field goal in the final 4 minutes, 57 seconds of the game. That was a putback in the paint by Gosse with 23 seconds left to close the gap to 58-57.
N.E.W. Lutheran shot 45.7 percent (21-for-46) from the field, but most of its early success came in the paint, where it scored 32 points.
The Blazers were 2-for-10 from 3-point range. One of the makes came in the closing seconds of the first half by Schaefer, who scored a team-high 14 points.
N.E.W. Lutheran had a chance to win or tie at the end thanks in large part to Hillsboro going 5-for-11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Hillsboro’s Tommy Crandall went 1-for-2 on a double-bonus trip, setting up N.E.W. Lutheran’s final possession with a chance to win with 18.6 seconds remaining.
However, the Blazers’ initial inbounds pass intended for Schaefer from midcourt following a timeout was deflected out of bounds. The next inbounds pass had to be made from the corner.
“We had a couple options off of that,” Meerstein said. “I didn’t really explain enough to Nathaniel. I really wanted him to catch it not on the post but catch it with the back to the basket and then spin on the guy because I thought there wouldn’t be any backside help. But he caught it and the kid made a nice play on him.”
A nice run by N.E.W. Lutheran came to an end as a result.
The Blazers were one of two teams at the 100th WIAA state tournament with double-digit losses this year.
N.E.W. Lutheran had five seniors on its team, but will return four of the seven players that played on Thursday.
“This is my third trip down here,” Schaefer said. “It sucks (losing) each time and it doesn’t feel any better. But next season we do have the tools to come back down here.”
N.E.W. Lutheran … 16 13 18 10 – 57
Hillsboro … 16 15 13 15 – 59
NEW: Gosse 9, Lloyd 12, Siudzinski 9, Schaefer 14, Natzke 9, Lana 4. 3-pt: Schaefer 1, Natzke 1. FT: 13-20. F: 17.
HIL: Stockell 17, Stanek 12, To. Crandall 4, Ty. Crandall 5, Helgerson 10, Rueckheim 11. 3-pt: Stockwell 1, To. Crandall 1, Ty. Crandall 1. FT: 10-18. F: 15.