On paper, Monday night's Great Northern Conference girls' basketball contest between first-place Rhinelander and last-place Tomahawk looked to be a mismatch. It was, right from the start.
The Hodags blitzed the Hatchets, leading 50-6 at halftime before turning the game over to their bench for much of the second half in a 65-14 win at Hatchet Fieldhouse.
Kenedy Van Zile scored a game-high 25 points for Rhinelander while Cynthia Beavers chipped in 19. In just more than a half's worth of work, both players exceeded Tomahawk's GNC team scoring conference scoring average of 17.7 points per game.
The win moved Rhinelander to 6-0 in conference play and dropped Tomahawk to 0-6.
"I thought we played just how I was hoping we would," Rhinelander coach Ryan Clark said. "I thought we came out and played really well. I think we had only a few turnovers - maybe five or six (with our starters). I thought we just played a good, clean game. I thought Kenedy and Cynthia just took control for us and then Annika (Johnson) pitching in and Megan Brown. Good team effort."
The Hodags scored 24 in a row at one point to take a 37-3 lead with 5:21 remaining in the first half. Beavers and Van Zile scored three quick baskets for Rhinelander in the second half to put the lead to 57-7 with 14:39 to play. Clark called a timeout at that point to get his starters out of the game. Tomahawk scored seven straight against the Rhinelander bench, but the Hodags scored the final eight points and held Tomahawk off the board over the final 10-plus minutes of the game, most of which was played under a running clock.
Beavers and Van Zile put on a show early in the game as Rhinelander's pressure forced a spate of Tomahawk turnovers which led to easy looks in transition. Even after the Hodags called off their full-court pressure, Van Zile, Beavers and company were able to get steals and score out of their half-court defense.
Both Van Zile and Beavers finished just shy of a double-double. Van Zile recorded nine steals while Beavers had nine rebounds in the contest.
Sophomore Annika Johnson chipped in a career-high 10 points for Rhinelander, including six straight in the second half to help stem the tide after Tomahawk made its best push of the game.
"She's always going to be a good contributor for us as far as defensively and facilitating and playing smart, but it's nice to see her getting a little more confident scoring the basketball," Clark said.
Sophomore Gracie Barnett had all six of Tomahawk's points in the first half and finished as the Hatchets' leading scorer. Tomahawk finished the night only 16% (4 of 25) from the field and committed 37 turnovers.
With the game well in hand and with a couple of starters -Rebecca Lawrence (knee) and Ella Schiek (hand) - out of the lineup due to injury, Rhinelander went deep into its bench in the second half. The team played a number of girls who had also seen time in the junior varsity game earlier in the evening. Brynn Brzycki, a sophomore forward, had two points and collected nine rebounds.
The Hodags received some good news Monday in regard to Lawrence, who left Friday's win at Antigo after getting rolled on by an Antigo player while going for a rebound in the second half. Clark said the school's training staff believes Lawrence did not sustain any major structural damage to her knee and would not rule out the possibility of the team's second-leading scorer (15.3 ppg) returning to action Friday night at home against Marshfield.
"I think we maybe dodged a bullet on that one," Clark said before Monday's game. "We'll hold her out tonight, rehab her the rest of the week and hopefully she can go on Friday. I think she will. She'll be in a little bit of brace to help stabilize it, but (trainer Eric Prom) seemed pretty optimistic. She continues to heal and she's moving pretty well. Thank goodness because, just like that, things can change in a hurry. Hopefully it's a good news situation where she only misses one game."
The Tigers come into Friday night's game 6-5 overall and 5-1 in the Wisconsin Valley Conference following a close 59-57 win over previously unbeaten Wausau West Monday night. Though Marshfield resides in Division 1, Clark said beating the Tigers Friday night could be a significant bullet point on the Hodags' postseason resume.
"Right now, if playoffs were now, we'd be the 2-seed," he said. "We want to host (the regional final game as a) 2-seed. We want to get to the regional final and win that at Rhinelander in front of our crowd. Marshfield's a very good basketball team. It's great to have this break from the conference and play a nice, strong Valley team at home."
Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m. at the Jim Miazga Community Gym.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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