RHINELANDER - Shane White won the matchup of star big men, and the Rhinelander High School boys basketball team overcame a halftime deficit to open their WIAA Division 2 postseason with a 46-35 home win over Merrill on Friday.
White poured in 20 points in his matchup with 6-8 Bluejays forward David Jesperson. Jesperson had finished the regular season leading the Wisconsin Valley Conference in scoring and rebounding, but put in just 14 points Friday night.
"(White has) done a great job of playing a role this year, even though he has that star caliber, he keeps it within the team. He wanted to show people, when it comes to a player, I can be just the same as these other guys," Hodags coach Derek Lemmens said after the game.
Jesperson was held to just four points in the second half. As a team, RHS held Merrill to only 14 points after the break.
"We did a better job of containing. When we get over-aggressive and create holes for them, that's when they can get in there. They don't have a ton of skill players, I didn't feel. What we had to do was keep in front and try to limit Jesperson," Lemmens said.
Colton Volkmann scored 12 for the Hodags on four timely three-pointers.
"We said in the coaches' office, Colton Volkmann comes alive in the playoffs. We were looking for it, and every time he hit was right when we just needed one to get some separation," said Lemmens.
Rhinelander got off to a hot start, jumping to a nine-point lead after one quarter. It was an opening period to be expected from the top-seeded Hodags against #4 Merrill.
"We came out the way we wanted to. We did the things we had up on the board – we took the game plan and we got it done," Lemmens said.
But the Bluejays surprised RHS to rally back for a halftime lead at 21-20, with Jesperson finding his second-quarter stroke.
"We got away from what we had drawn up and what we wanted to do. We just let our emotions get the best of us," Lemmens said.
Rhinelander employed a 2-3 zone defense in the half-court for nearly the entire game. It was at peak effectiveness after halftime, holding Merrill to just six in the third and eight in the fourth.
The Hodags step right back onto the court at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium for Saturday's Regional Final. They will face #3 Medford, who won 58-56 at second-seeded Lakeland Friday night. Medford handed RHS one of their only two losses on the year, a 56-32 thumping on Jan. 25.
"Medford has to do more traveling, so if anything, we have the advantage," Lemmens said of Saturday's game.
Reports from Minocqua indicated Medford star guard John Keefe injured his leg on the final play of Friday's game. His status for the Regional Final is undetermined.
The Hodags and Raiders will tip at 5:30pm Saturday. Join Ben Meyer and Jeremy Mayo for the play-by-play action on HodagSports.com starting at 5:00 pm.
Merrill vs. Rhinelander
Friday, Feb. 22
Merrill 6 15 6 8 – 35
Rhinelander 15 5 10 16 – 46
Merrill (35): David Jesperson 14, Jake Anderson 8, Paul Theorin 6, Andrew Seaman 2, Alex Zettler 2, Chaz Mootz 2, Nick Peterson 1.
Rhinelander (46): Shane White 20, Colton Volkmann 12, Brad Kenote 5, Brett Mathews 4, Mitch Reinthaler 4, Austin Bowman 1.