RHINELANDER - One goal down, plenty to go.
The Rhinelander High School boys basketball team hit their first major goal Tuesday night, downing Lakeland 61-43 to clinch at least a share of the Great Northern Conference crown.
After this, a deep WIAA playoff run is next on the wish list.
Tuesday's victory at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium was extra satisfying. It meant the Hodags improved to 2-0 this year over rival Lakeland and former coach Rich Fortier. It was Fortier's first time coaching as a visitor in the gym he used to call home.
RHS senior Brett Mathews poured in 13 points in the second half, finishing with 19 points on the night. Leading scorer Shane White was held to 10, but was helped by four Hodags in double figures.
"Coach Fortier is so good at finding who your top scorers are and making other guys beat you. We're so fortunate because we have so many guys that can do that," said RHS coach Derek Lemmens.
Mitch Reinthaler scored 11 points, and Brad Kenote looked his best since returning from a collarbone injury. He also had 11.
Dylan Lerdahl and Bryon Andrews led the Thunderbirds with eight points apiece.
Up just 15-14 after a quarter, the Hodags galloped to a 29-18 lead at the half.
"We came out hot. But it's a tendency we have, to come out hot, then I think we relax a little too much. They climbed back in, but we got a rhythm in the game, and it flowed a little better," Lemmens said.
Rhinelander's lead would never dip below 11 the rest of the way, stretching to 22 at one point in the fourth.
The Hodags mixed man-to-man, 2-3, and 1-3-1 zone looks on defense.
"I like that as an option. It gives us different things to establish our defensive rhythm and eliminate their offensive rhythm, keep them guessing as to what we're in," said Lemmens.
RHS visits Tomahawk on Thursday, and returns home to face Northland Pines on Friday. A win in either game would clinch an outright GNC title. The back-to-back games will also be good preparation for attacking their next goal, the playoffs.
"I have no problems with that. We need to get into that mindset. If we're fortunate enough to get a victory on Friday (in the playoffs), we've got to go again Saturday anyway," Lemmens said.
Rhinelander improved to 16-2 overall and 9-1 in the GNC. Lakeland fell to 14-7, 7-4.
Lakeland vs. Rhinelander
Tuesday, Feb. 12
Lakeland 14 4 10 15 Ė 43
Rhinelander 15 14 13 19 Ė 61
Lakeland (43): Dylan Lerdahl 8, Bryon Andrews 8, Matt Hartzheim 7, Thomas Bruckner 6, Jacob Gibson 6, Brad Holcombe 3, Matt Schlicter 3, Michael Fossen 2.
Rhinelander (61): Brett Mathews 19, Mitch Reinthaler 11, Brad Kenote 11, Shane White 10, Colton Volkmann 6, Austin Bowman 2, Ben Eversmann 2.
3-Pointers: L 3 (Hartzheim, Holcombe, Schlicter). R 6 (Mathews 2, Volkmann 2, Kenote, Reinthaler).