N.E.W. Lutheran survives playoff opener
By Jordon Lawrenz
GREEN BAY – In what longtime N.E.W. Lutheran boys’ basketball coach Mark Meerstein called, “the ugliest game in the state of Wisconsin tonight,” the Blazers survived Sheboygan Christian 42-37 in their WIAA Division 5 opening-round playoff game on Feb. 28.
No. 13-seeded Sheboygan Christian didn’t score in the first 8 1/2 minutes, but No. 4-seeded N.E.W. Lutheran only managed to put up eight points in that span. The Blazers led by 16 points with under 10 minutes remaining before the Eagles pulled it within three with less than 1 second left on the clock.
Even though the Blazers shot 9-for-20 (45%) from the free throw line, Tristian Lynch’s 15 second-half points propelled N.E.W. Lutheran to the next round of playoffs.
Brett Flipse’s squad didn’t panic going down eight in the first eight-plus minutes. When Sheboygan Christian finally made its first shot with 9:07 remaining in the first half, it went on a 9-0 run to take the lead.
Coach Meerstein’s Blazers countered with a run of their own, scoring six straight to go ahead 14-9.
One of the big focal points of the first half was Lynch being a nonfactor. The Eagles were double-teaming the third leading scorer in Blazers history, which led to two early fouls against the 6-foot-6 senior. Lynch was scoreless in the first half, but three huge 3-pointers from Griffin Steffel kept N.E.W. Lutheran on top at the half, 19-13.
Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran (19-6) defeated Sheboygan Christian earlier in the season, 79-46. The Blazers led by 30 points at halftime during that encounter, a completely different situation than this meeting.
“We shot the ball very well the first time we played them.” Meerstein stated. “Coach Flipse is a very good coach and we said we’ve been coaching against each other for 29 years now. We knew they were better than the team that came up here the first time.”
Turnovers and missed shots took up the first five minutes of the second half, but Lynch finally scored a point with 15:55 remaining. His first field goal came with 12:20 left. Seven of Lynch’s game-high 15 points came from the free throw line, where he shot 7-for-10 on the night.
Once Lynch got going, the Blazers lived up to their name. A 13-2 run put them on top 33-17 with 9:30 remaining.
Flipse’s timeout motivated his kids and kept the Eagles in it. They responded with a 14-1 run. Caleb Hendrikse — who averages less than eight points per game — contributed with 11 huge second-half points.
Sheboygan Christian (4-18) found themselves trailing 36-31 with exactly two minutes remaining. Both teams traded baskets, but the Eagles cut the deficit to two with 30.2 seconds left on the clock.
Flipse used his final timeout, but it was the Blazers ball. In the bonus, Lynch knocked down two clutch free throws that contributed to the 42-37 win.
Meerstein knows the Blazers almost let this one slip away.
“We’re better than that,” he said. “That’s just one thing we have to do is put people away when we have a chance, and we just didn’t.”
It all worked out in the end for N.E.W. Lutheran, which avenged a 69-58 regional loss to the Eagles in the 2019-20 season.
N.E.W. Lutheran’s only other scorer in double digits was Steffel, who had 11 — nine of those came in the first half.
Now, the attention turns to the second round of playoffs on March 3.
“We have Wednesday and Thursday to get ready for potentially two games,” Meerstein said. “You’ve got to get ready for Friday, which is the most important one. But then there’s the one-day turnaround, so you have to put a little extra prep in there.”
No. 5-seeded Reedsville drowned No. 12-seeded Chesterton Academy, 88-29, on Tuesday.
“Reedsville is very good as well,” Meerstein said. “They’ve got a lot of stuff all around. We’ve been looking at them a bit already.”
N.E.W. Lutheran has now won eight of its last 10 games, and has no plans on slowing down.
“We need to get shots up, get a little rest and we’ll be ready for Friday,” Meerstein said.