Rhinelander’s Kenedy Van Zile drives past Merrill’s Erin Murray for a layup during the first half of a girls’ basketball game at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Thursday, Nov. 21. Van Zile scored a game-high 30 points as the Hodags defeated the Bluejays, 64-54. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Rebecca Lawrence guards Merrill’s Courtney Krueger in the backcourt during the first half of a girls’ basketball game at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Thursday, Nov. 21.
11/23/2019 7:30:00 AM Lady Hodags race past Merrill in opener
Rhinelander's big three did much of the heavy lifting Tuesday night and the Hodags got enough contributions elsewhere to get a win in their season opener.
Kenedy Van Zile scored a game-high 30 points and Rebecca Lawrence added 16 as Rhinelander knocked off Merrill 64-54 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.
Senior Cynthia Beavers scored eight for RHS despite second-half foul trouble. She and the Hodags two other returning starters, Van Zile and Lawrence, combined to match Merrill's scoring output in a game the Hodags (1-0, 0-0 GNC) led much of the way.
"It's nice to get this win. I really didn't know what to expect. I thought this was kind of a toss-up," coach Ryan Clark said. "It was a good team win. We had a lot of different people step up."
Rhinelander used an 18-1 run in the latter stages of the first half to seize control against the Bluejays (0-2, 0-0 Wis. Valley). Rhinelander increased that lead to 23 points late in the second half and sealed it on Van Zile's 30th point of the night, a layup in transition that put Rhinelander ahead 64-47 with 2:20 remaining.
Van Zile, who averaged 24.6 points per game last season for the Hodags, scored 40 in the opener last season at Merrill - a 57-55 loss for Rhinelander.
Merrill tried slowing Van Zile down with a box-and-1 defense early in the first half, but Rhinelander was eventually able to pull away by doing what it does best, speeding up the game and forcing the opposition into mistakes.
"Merrill, I think they got us a little bit stagnant when they went box-and-1 on Kenedy a little bit," Clark said. "We didn't flash very well and just kind of held the ball outside the 3-point line. In the second half, we got some rebounds and started kicking it up the court quicker, pitching it ahead. If you run a lot, get up and down a lot, usually in that second half a team will break a little bit if they're not used to it."
Merrill held an 8-7 lead early in the first half, but went cold from there, settling into a field goal drought that lasted 8 minutes, 32 seconds. Rhinelander heated up in that span. Van Zile made a 3 to spark the run, followed by a 3-point play by Beavers. Lawrence added a basket in the post and then splashed a 3 from the left wing to give Rhinelander an 18-8 lead and force Merrill to called a timeout with 6 minutes remaining in the half. After a Merrill free throw, Van Zile and Lawrence made driving layups and then Van Zile hit a 3 from the right wing to push the Hodags' lead to 25-9.
Rhinelander took a 33-19 lead into halftime. Merrill got as close at 10, down 43-33 with 11:59 remaining, before the Hodags put the game away with a 17-4 run.
Junior point guard Courtney Krueger led Merrill with 17 points and nine rebounds. Forward Claire Drew added 12 points as the Bluejays shot 40% from the field (18 of 45).
Van Zile flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven rebounds and eight steals. Megan Brown added seven boards off the bench as she and starter Ella Schiek drew the man-to-man assignment against Krueger.
"I know Kenedy and Rebecca scored and all that stuff, but Megan Brown's a great defender on the ball and I can't say enough about her effort on Courtney Krueger for Merrill. That's really her first, true varsity game and she really played her well," Clark said.
Rhinelander held on despite two of their big three - Beavers and Lawrence - spending a good portion of the game in foul trouble. Lawrence picked up her third foul with 1:58 remaining in the first half and a fourth at the 8:07 mark of the second. Beavers picked up her third and fourth fouls less than two minutes into the second half and then sat for several minutes.
"They got to stay out of foul trouble," Clark said. "Thankfully girls stepped up, but we're a better team with Cynthia on the court, same with Rebecca. The only time they should be off the court is to get a break. They shouldn't be off the court, we can't afford to have them sitting against really good teams because of foul trouble."
Rhinelander did not get a point from anyone other than their three returning starters until 13:10 remaining when senior Sophia McGinnis knocked down a jump shot from just beyond the foul line but, with Lawrence and Beavers in foul trouble, others began to knock down shots. Brown hit a triple that put Rhinelander ahead 52-33 with 9:40 left. Sophomore Annika Johnson hit a 3 and sophomore post Brynn Brzycki converted a 2-on-1 breakaway to cap off Rhinelander's decisive 17-4 second-half run and give the Hodags their largest lead of the game.
Rhinelander shot 43% overall on 23 of 54 from the field and was 9 of 21 from 3-point range.
Merrill committed 23 turnovers in the contest, 18 of which were the result of Rhinelander steals. Johnson had five steals off the bench in the first half while Beavers had four steals.
"Cynthia in the back (of the press) had that nice read early on where she picked one off. I though she and Annika did a good job of rotating and anticipating in the back, guarding two girls at once and then jumping on that next read," Clark said.
Rhinelander is off until Thanksgiving weekend when it battles Menomonie and Wausau Newman in a tournament at UW-Stevens Point.
"Menomonie was really strong last year, but they graduated three or four girls. They're a little bit of an unknown, but I'll get film on them," Clark said. "Then Newman is No. 2 in state for Division 5. We played them this summer and they're a very good basketball team. It will be a good challenge for us to see where we stand."
The games next Friday and Saturday will begin at 5:15 p.m.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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