Rhinelander High School junior Kenedy Van Zile scored a career-high of 40 points in the Hodags opening contest at Merrill on Friday night, but the team came up just shy of pulling off the win. The Bluejays would hold on to earn the 57-55 win at the Merrill High School Fieldhouse.
It was a slow start for Rhinelander's offense and took the team over three minutes to final get on the board after Van Zile scored on a drive to the rim. Merrill took advantage of some offensive rebounds, free throws, and inside buckets to build a 17-7 advantage.
But the Hodags answered with six straight points which was part of a 15-4 run with 7 1/2 minutes left in the half. Van Zile had a traditional three-point play and senior Brooke Mork connected on a triple to bring RHS within four.
Senior shooting guard Payton Van Zile also connected on a three-pointer nearing the end of the first half. And the Hodags would take a 22-21 lead at halftime.
The second half was close the final 18 minutes of action, with Merrill taking the largest lead of four points with 18 seconds left. RHS started the scoring in the first-half when Payton Van Zile found her younger sister inside on a out-of-bounds play. Sophomore Rebecca Lawrenc hit a triple to put the Hodags up 27-24. Sophomore Kahlie Arneson hit an elbow jumper and fellow sophomore Hannah Worachek scored on a reverse layup.
Kenedy scored back-to-back triples but Merrill senior Elizabeth Iribarren would take over for the Bluejays and connected on 10 straight points. Iribarren would score all 14 of her points in the second half. RHS also had foul trouble down the stretch with Mork and Kenedy Van Zile both playing with four in the final few minutes of action.
With 39 seconds left, Kenedy Van Zile scored on a drive to tie the game up 52-52. Merrill senior Allison Tabor was fouled and made the basket but miss her free throw, RHS got the rebound but turned the ball over on a travel. RHS quickly fouled senior Dalie Thomas who hit both bonus free throws and gave the Bluejays a 56-52 lead.
Van Zile answered with a triple at the top of the key with nine seconds remaining to pull RHS within one. THe Hodgas quickly fouled Thomas who made her first bonus free throw, but would miss her second attempt to put Merrill up 57-55 and gave RHS the chance to either tie or win the game. Van Zile drove down the left lane line and got a shot off with a Merrill defender in the lane, but missed as time expired and the Hodags would fall by two points.
The game-high went to Kenedy Van Zile, who would finish with 40 points while her teammates only combined to score 15 with no other play scoring more than four points. Merrill had a balance attack offensively with Thomas leading with 15, Iribarren finishing with 14, and Courtney Krueger finished with 11.
Despite the loss, Rhinelander added some extra depth to their lineup for the 2018-2019 season. Mork who missed the first week of practice, was back in the lineup after averaging 10.9 points per game. And RHS also now have junior transfer Cynthia Beavers from Three Lakes.
Rhinelander will face another tough Wisconsin Valley Conference opponent on Tuesday night when they travel to Marshfield. Tip-off is set for 7:15PM.