What happens when two evenly matched teams play in an important first round playoff game? The answer is exactly what happened Tuesday night at Mike Webster Stadium. The Rhinelander Hodags and Lakeland Thunderbirds battled for 110 min. in the first round of the WIAA regional playoffs. It ended after nine players took penalty shots. Lakeland was the ultimate winner by a score of 5-4. Rhinelander struggled to score early in contests all season long. That wasn't the case on Tuesday as the Hodags erupted for three straight goals in the first 25 minutes of the first half. The Hodag's first goal came at the 11th minute mark of the first half, on a chip shot over the Lakeland defender by Nicholas St. Pierre. Less than a minute later, midfielder Hugh Weise launched a high shot just under the crossbar to extend the lead to 2-0. Rhinelander continued the scoring parade as freshmen Beau Howard picked up a pass from Braden Mork, and beat the Thunderbird defenseman with a low shot to the right corner. The score came at the 25th minute mark of the first half, the Hodags had extended their lead to 3-0. Unfortunately for Rhinelander that was all that they would score for the rest of regulation time. Lakeland began the climb back into the contest just 2 min. later with a goal by sophomore Teag Wegner at the 23rd minute mark. With just 57 seconds left in the first half, Lakeland struck again with their second goal off the foot of senior Brandon Boh. What was once a comfortable lead for Rhinelander was now just a one goal difference at 3-2. The first half ended as both teams went up and down the field at a furious pace with both teams putting together quality scoring chances. The second half of the contest began with the third Thunderbird goal at the 37th minute mark off the foot of senior Jason Hilgart. The momentum of the game had completely swung in favor of Lakeland. With the match now tied at 3-3, both teams traded scoring opportunities until the end of regulation. WIAA rules during the playoffs dictate a 10 min. overtime period that is not decided in sudden death. The Thunderbirds almost ended the contest early when Brandon Boh rifled a shot off the right post in the first minute of the first overtime. The match would enter a second 10 min. overtime period that ended scoreless. Penalty kicks would now decide the winner of this regional playoff game. It took the ninth penalty kick to declare Lakeland the winner at 5-4.The Hodags season would come to a heart wrenching end. "I am super proud of the program from day one to now, I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids to start my coaching career. I look forward to growing with them and seeing where we take the program next year", said Head Coach Nathan Bates.
Hodag varsity boys soccer coach Nathan Bates was beaming with pride after a soccer match between Rhinelander and Medford. Medford came into the contest with a perfect record in the GNC conference. Other than a late second half penalty kick, the Hodags played an even match against the Red Raiders.
With 14 min. and 40 seconds left in the second half, Medford was awarded a penalty kick on an unfortunate handball. The Red Raiders A.J. Adelman fired a low shot to the left side of Rhinelander goalkeeper Gavin Ostermann who was able to deflect the shot with his left hand, but was behind the goal line. That score broke the 0-0 tie and was the only goal of the game.
The match at Mike Webster Stadium on Thursday evening was designated as the "Pink Out Night". This event was originally scheduled to be held on Tuesday night against Merrill, but was changed due to the cancellation of that game due to adverse weather. The Hodags were dressed in pink jerseys and socks in support of Breast Cancer awareness month.
The Hodags regular season conference record finished at 3-3-4, scoring 11 conference goals and allowing 12. Hugh Wiese finished as the leading scorer with five conference goals. Gavin Osterman finished fourth in goalkeeping with a .831 save percentage, and a 1.29 goals against average. To be noted, those statistics may be deceiving as to how well Gavin played down the stretch as opponents only scored two goals in Rhinelander's last four games, including two consecutive shutouts.
Rhinelander will now focus on the playoffs as they will host Lakeland on Tuesday, October 22, 7 PM at Mike Webster Stadium. This will be the third match of the season between the Hodags and the Thunderbirds. Rhinelander won the first match at home 2-1, and tied the second game at 1-1 Minoqua.
"Both teams are very familiar with each other, and I expect this matchup will be very similar to the first two. I expect a close game with the key for us being able to slow down Lakeland's senior Brandon Boh," said coach Nathan Bates.
When asked about the growth of his young varsity team, coach Bates couldn't emphasize enough how far this group has come from the start of the season. The coaching staff's biggest concern was developing their young defensemen.
"We've really come together as a team the second half of the season, the whole team's effort really shows as the guys have worked their butts off down the stretch," said coach Bates.
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