The Rhinelander High School girls' basketball team had a first round bye for the WIAA playoffs, but had to battle there way to back-to-back wins to earn the Division 2 Regional title at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium. First, the Hodags battled out a 66-55 win over Wausau East on Friday and followed that up 60-51 win over New London to become regional champions and will now head to sectionals in Antigo on Thursday.
Last season Rhinelander ended their season, falling to the Bulldogs by 31 points but this season, RHS got their redemption. It was a rough start for the Hodags as New London raced out to a 12-0 lead to start the night. Rhinelander turned the ball over on their first two possessions and committed 11 in the first 18 minutes of action.
The Hodags also went over five minutes without a field goal to start the game but came back with six unanswered points. Junior Ella Schiek finally put RHS on the board and was fouled and made the shot under the basket. Schiek missed the free throw but senior Kenedy Van Zile got the offense board for another quick two points.
New London would push ahead 23-10 after a 6-0 run but Rhinelander would begin to chip away at the lead. The Hodags top three scorers this season would spark their offense midway through the first half, going on 17-5 run to close the half. Senior Cynthia Beavers had a jumper and triple on back-to-back possessions followed a pair of transition baskets form junior Rebecca Lawrence. Van Zile also scored in the final two minutes and had a drive and kick to Lawrence for an inside basket and RHS went into halftime only down one at 27-28.
Rhinelander continued their momentum in the second-half and would take their first lead of the night after Beavers went 1-2 from the free throw line and Van Zile scored in transition. RHS took advantage of New London’s foul trouble down the stretch where they committed 18 fouls in the final 18 minutes and two of their top players fouled out as well.
The Bulldogs only lead in second half came early in the half whenJunior Mikayla Henderson connected on a pair of free throws and sophomore Paeton Kringel hit a three-point to give New London a 33-32 lead. But Beavers added a pair of free throws to put Rhinelander back in the lead that they would maintain until the end.
Not only was New London in foul trouble, but Beavers also picked up her fourth foul with over 10 minutes left. But Rhinelander was able to hold the Bulldogs from scoring for the next six minutes and added several free throws down the stretch to secure the nine point win. Rhinelander's last field goal of the night was midway through the half on basket from Lawrence. The Hodags final 15 points of the night came from the free-throw line.
Beavers led the Hodags on the night with 22 points and added 13 rebounds as well. Van Zile finished with 16 points and Lawrence recorded 15 points. RHS went 20-31 from the free throw line.
New London was led by Henderson who finished with 15 points. Lizzie Steingraber and Kringel each had nine points. The Bulldogs were 7-12 from the line, with all five misses coming in the second half.
Rhinelander advanced to the sectional semifinals that will take place on Thursday in Antigo. The Hodag will face the top-seed Hortonville, who is also ranked as the top Division 2 in the state. Tip-off is set for 7:00PM.