MADISON - In the biggest game of his career, Nathan Toenjes was not coming through on the simple play, like finishing at the basket.
More than a couple times the 6-foot-7 junior was missing open shots at the basket from as close as you can get without being in it.
Fortunately for Toenjes it was just the first half. If he could gather himself, he might get a chance to make up for some surprising play, and, what do you know, Toenjes got his moment.
With the score tied at 59-all and less than 10 seconds to play, Toenjes waited in the lane as Travis Voigt made his move. The slick left-handed point guard drew the defense in the lane and dished a pass to Toenjes who finished and was fouled with 3.5 seconds to play.
Toenjes went on to make the free throw as N.E.W. Lutheran advanced to its second state championship game in four years with a thrilling 62-59 win over Drummond at the Kohl Center.
"I just saw Travis driving down the lane," Toenjes said. "Bunch of times this year we've had that. We've been doing it all year."
The Blazers (28-0) advance to play in Saturday's state championship game at 11:05 a.m. against Randolph, which eliminated N.E.W. in a state semifinal in 2011 and the state title game in 2010.
Before N.E.W. could think about the state title game, however, it had to deal with Drummond (24-3), which the Blazers defeated, 45-41, during the holiday tournament at the Kress Center in late December.
The Lumberjacks' Ben Best was living up to his name most of the game, being a thorn in the Blazers' side, as he scored 19 points, had 15 rebounds, six assists and four turnovers.
"They didn't shoot that well the first time we played them," Meerstein said. "Obviously, Ben Best was a big player for them."
Best tied the game at 59-all when he made 1 of 2 free throws, but that one miss opened the door for N.E.W. to play for the last shot or settle for overtime. This was the perfect spot for Voigt, a confident point guard.
"At that point, I wanted the ball in my hand," said Voigt, who had 12 points and eight assists. "I wanted to take my guy one-on-one and take the shot or make the pass. Luckily, Nate was there to finish."
It didn't appear N.E.W. would need late-game heroics to pull this one out. N.E.W. led 23-15 and seemed in command, but Drummond ended the second quarter on a 15-6 run to lead at halftime, 30-29, as Toenjes was 1 for 6 from the field.
"It wasn't really working out too well in the first half," Toenjes said. "Keep shooting and sooner or later they'll start falling in and I'll get back to the way it usually goes."
The second half was back and forth for a while, but N.E.W. managed to open a 55-48 lead. Then, Drummond scored 11 of the next 15 points to set up the final moment.
Previously, N.E.W. played just one game decided by less than five points – against Drummond. Not accustomed to late finishes, the Blazers were never fazed.
"Biggest thing is we stayed in there," Meerstein said. "We missed a lot of early points that could've pushed us above 10 and into the teens."
Meerstein said the game-winning play is something his teams have always run.
"We may not have been in a lot of close games, but we've run a lot of sets either at the end of a quarter or end of a half," Meerstein said. "That's a play we do. We've been doing that for 22 years. Ask any coach who's gone against us, they've probably seen that play.
"When you have guys like Travis who can handle the ball and guys like Nathan that can finish, it's tough to beat."
Drummond found that out Thursday.
- 3-pointers: N.E.W. had five players score in double figures – Nathan Claflin 14, Dakota Zinser 13, Voigt 12, Toenjes 11 and Tyler Schaut 10. … N.E.W. had 16 assists and 11 turnovers. … The game was tied five times and the lead changed seven times.
- Game ball: Voigt, whose scoring and playmaking keyed the Blazers.
- Numbers game: 1 Win N.E.W. is away from the state championship.
For a complete box click on this link: http://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Results/Basketball_Boys/2013/d5game1.htm
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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