RHINELANDER - Conference championship? Check. Regional championship? Check. After Saturday night's win, the Rhinelander High School boys basketball team is now just two victories from State.
The Hodags avenged a January blowout loss to Medford, downing the Raiders 44-34 in a WIAA Division 2 Regional Final in Rhinelander.
Shane White led RHS in scoring for the second straight night, netting 12 points to accompany ten rebounds.
"That last one stung. Bad," White said of the 56-32 loss at Raider Hall nearly a month ago. "Losing by 24 to anybody, much less a conference rival, that definitely stings. Coming into tonight, we hadn't forgotten that. In the locker room, the atmosphere was a little different. Everyone seemed a little more ticked off, so we had a chip on our shoulder to start things off."
Colton Volkmann drained three three-pointers, making his total seven triples in the two Regional games.
Medford was without senior John Keefe, who led the team in scoring, assists, and steals in the regular season. He suffered an MCL injury in the Raiders' Friday win over Lakeland.
"They didn't have their best player, their ballhandler, so we knew we had to attack the weak one. (Reserve point guard Colton Langiewicz) was uncomfortable, and you could tell, so we just had to go after him," Hodags guard Brad Kenote said after the game.
Offensively, Medford barely ventured inside the three-point line. In fact, they only made one two-point field goal the entire game. But a barrage of eight long balls kept them in the game, despite the slow pace the Raiders tried to impose.
"Without Keefe, we figured they were going to do exactly what we saw, just slow it down and move the ball and shoot some threes. We wanted to try to exploit their guard play," RHS coach Derek Lemmens said.
Overall, Medford shot just 33 percent from the field. At times in the second quarter, they elected to hold the ball and shorten the game against a conservative Rhinelander defense.
"We know our 2-3 zone worked. They had a two-minute possession at one point just because they weren't even sure how to deal with it," White said.
The Hodags got off to a hot start for the second straight night. In Friday's Regional Semifinal win over Merrill, they led 15-6 after one quarter. At the end of the first period Saturday, they were already up eight at 11-3.
"It was important that we got a lead early, and then we just let them play that slow-down tempo," Lemmens said. "We knew that they were going to try to slow it down. That's why we came out with the run-and-jump. We wanted to speed it up."
Austin Salzgeber tried to keep Medford in the game in the second. He finished with three of his four three-pointers in the first half, but the RHS lead stayed at eight at the break. Salzgeber's 12 led the Raiders.
In the second half, Medford crawled as close as 38-32, but well-timed shots by Volkmann helped seal the result.
A 15-17 performance from the free throw line for the Hodags also aided in putting the Raiders away.
"We're due for some of that with the way we've been shooting lately. That was a good stat to see, because we need those, at this time of the year, those are things that win basketball games," Lemmens said.
For Kenote and the other nine RHS seniors playing their final home game, it was a fitting end.
"It's been a big turnaround from the old gym, when we used to come in and watch our brothers doing the same thing. But they had a couple bad years, (and now we're) keeping up the Rhinelander tradition. It's unbelievable," he said.
Rhinelander advances to a Sectional Semifinal hosted at Wausau West Thursday night. However, their opponent remains undetermined. Regional Semifinal games in Hortonville and Antigo scheduled for Friday were postponed to Saturday due to weather. Both teams got wins over Waupaca and New London, respectively, and will meet Monday evening in their Regional Final. The winner will take on the Hodags in Wausau. The changing schedule means the Rhinelander coaches will be able to watch the game in person in Hortonville Monday, and the team will benefit from two more days of rest than their eventual opponent.
"It is definitely an advantage that Mother Nature dealt us. But we've still got to go out and get the job done. I feel like us being able to watch both of those teams play live is a great advantage," Lemmens said.
Tickets for the Sectional Semifinal will go on sale at 8 a.m. Monday morning at RHS.
"We had great support last year (at Sectionals), and I expect the same thing this year," White said.
Tip time for the game will be 7 p.m. Thursday night. HodagSports.com will bring you live play-by-play coverage starting at 6:30 p.m.
Medford vs. Rhinelander
Saturday, Feb. 23
Medford 3 9 9 13 – 34
Rhinelander 11 9 12 12 – 44
Medford (34): Austin Salzgeber 12, Darren Leonhard 11, Colton Langiewicz 6, Taylor Dunlap 4, Skyler Anderson 1.
Rhinelander (44): Shane White 12, Colton Volkmann 11, Brad Kenote 8, Mitch Reinthaler 7, Brett Mathews 6.
Three-pointers: M 8 (Salzgeber 4, Leonhard 2, Langiewicz 2), R 3 (Volkmann 3).