Badgers’ run ends


Sports Writer

MENASHA, Wis. – The model for future Niagara High School boys basketball teams left the state tournament Saturday.

The Badgers battled Green Bay NEW Lutheran in the first half but the unbeaten Blazers took charge in the second half to prevail 63-40 and capture a WIAA Division 5 boys basketball sectional championship Saturday.

“I thought we came out and played very well,” said Coach Jim Hoogland, his Badgers trailing 18-15 after the first quarter. “We made a good run at them.”

The explosive Blazers (27-0), leading 32-25 at halftime, opened the third quarter with seven straight points. They decided the trip to Madison with 20 unanswered points over a seven-minute stretch in the second half.

“We just needed to play better and take care of the ball,” said NEW Coach Mark Meerstein when asked if he made major halftime adjustments. “I thought our defense was OK but we let them get through and left guys open.”

The Badgers, showing no fear of the state’s second-ranked team, outraced the Blazers for several first-half lay-ups.

“We missed a lot of lay-ups in the first half and that led to a lot of fast breaks,” Meerstein said. “They beat us down the floor, I think, four straight trips.

“We haven’t seen a lot of teams do that this year. It was a combination of us not rotating back and us missing lay-ups to get our defense set. But credit Niagara. They pushed and did a nice job. They got to the rack.”‘

The Badgers also missed their share of up-close shots in the first half.

“A team that good, you can’t miss shots,” Hoogland said.

NEW settled down, changed to a 1-3-1 defense and ran off 12 straight points for a 30-15 cushion midway through the second quarter. Niagara answered with a 10-2 surge for the seven-point halftime margin.

“When they went to that zone we had their attention,” Hoogland said. “They don’t run that unless they have to. They’re a man-to-man team.”

In the third quarter, 6-foot-3 junior Dakota Zinser fired in eight of the Blazers’ 10 points for a 42-27 margin. Zinser also sparked NEW in the regional final with Hilbert.

“They crashed the boards real well in the first half,” Meerstein said. “We did a better job of keeping them off the glass in the second.”

NEW outrebounded Niagara 43-32, with the Blazers snatching 21 offensive boards while the Badgers had one in the second half.

NEW continued its assault for the rest of the quarter, 9-3.

“We had a scoring drought and they cranked up their defensive intensity,” Hoogland said.

Jordan Zawada and Zach Walker each scored eight points to lead the Badgers (19-8). Joey Swanson chipped in seven; Colin Anderson, six; TJ Liebergen, five, and Zach Zychowski, four.

Six-foot-seven junior Nathan Toenjes paced the Blazers with 16 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Senior guard Travis Voigt (5-foot-8) tallied 13.

“They are great offensively,” said Hoogland, who wondered if the Blazers play defense well enough to win the state title. “They are the best team we’ve played offensively. They have size and they have guards.”

In Thursday’s Division 5 state semifinals at the Kohl Center, Green Bay NEW Lutheran meets Drummond (24-2), a 52-39 winner over previously unbeaten Clayton in the sectional, and top-ranked Randolph (25-2) challenges Elmwood (23-4).

Niagara’s goal was to become the fifth team in school history to reach Madison.

“I told them before the game, ‘You belong here. You worked your way here. You deserve to be here,'” Hoogland said. “Our seniors should be so proud of themselves. Not only what they did this year but this is something we haven’t done in 30 years at Niagara.”

Niagara last played in a sectional final in 1982.

“This 2013 team also set the template for how this game should be played,” Hoogland said. “In my future years coaching, if somebody is confused how to play, I’ll pop in a DVD and say, ‘here’s how to play the game.”

Niagara graduates senior starters TJ Liebergen, Colin Anderson, Zach Zychowski and Jordan Zawada.

“They play together and that’s a credit to our seniors,” Hoogland said. “Without them this doesn’t happen.

“I’m torn up so bad inside. I feel like I lost my best friend. I enjoy these seniors so much.”

Green Bay NEW 18 14 19 12 – 63

Niagara 15 10 5 10 – 40

GREEN BAY NEW LUTHERAN: Claflin 6, Voigt 13, Brock 5, Zinser 12, Toenjes 16, Godoski 6, Zimmerman 5. FT: 9-11. F: 14.

NIAGARA: Walker 8, Swanson 7, Liebergen 5, Anderson 6, Zychowski 4, Parent 2, Zawada 8. FT: 8-16. F: 15.

3-point FG: Zawada 2, Voigt 3, Brock, Zinser 2. FG shooting: Niagara 15-53, NEW 24-66. Rebounding: Niagara 32 (Zawada 9), NEW 43.