The Lakeland girls’ basketball team returned to the court in 2020 for a matchup with rival Rhinelander on Friday, Jan. 3.
“We were looking forward to that game, looking forward for quite a while,” coach Melissa Ouimette said. “We love good games, tough competition and skilled players.”
In a thrilling contest, the Hodags beat the Thunderbirds 72-69.
It was a fast and furious start to the game. First, Abby Parris and Julianna Ouimette both hit shots as the Thunderbirds settled into the game.
It wasn’t long before Hodags’ star Kenedy Van Zile started to get hot. She made back-to-back 3-pointers as the Hodags took an 8-4 lead. Parris quickly answered with one of her four 3-pointers on the night.
“Abby is an excellent three point shooter and that’s hitting some in the corner,” coach Ouimette said.
Van Zile had started an avalanche of 3-pointers. The Hodags started out 5-5 on 3-pointers in the game.
But the Thunderbirds came back with a fight of their own. They responded with a bunch of 2-pointers. First, Parris hit another shot. Then Julianna Ouimette made back-to-back baskets, one on a steal.
The Hodags continued to knock down 3-pointers. They started out 6-6 from beyond the arc, forcing the Thunderbirds to call a timeout. The Hodags led 22-13.
“When things like that bring them down, we keep playing our game and getting turnovers,” coach Ouimette said.
After the timeout, Quade hit a bucket for two points. Then Parris capitalized and made another 3-pointer. The Thunderbirds were finding a way to stay in the game, despite the Hodags’ shooting power.
The Hodags’ hot start slowed down once they finally missed a 3-pointer. On an inbounds play, Parris struck again for three more points. The Hodags still led 24-22.
“It was working in the course of five trips up and down and we’re hitting twos and then eventually we’d get a steal or a nice rebound and get a little closer,” coach Ouimette said.
Amaya White then made a couple of big baskets. The first was an and-one opportunity where she scored and got fouled, making her free throw. The assist went to Parris. Then Trapp assisted White on a 3-pointer. White was a perfect 3/3 from behind the arc.
“Amaya hit some key threes for us which was great,” coach Ouimette said.
Both teams traded baskets for a stretch of time. The Hodags led 34-32.
Towards the end of the half, the Thunderbirds were breaking the Hodag press, including a basket from Trapp and another 3-pointer from Parris.
Julianna Ouimette scored a couple of more points as the Thunderbirds led 43-39 at the break. She finished with 19 points on 7/19 shooting.
“She likes to push the ball down the court and look for those transition baskets and if they press us we’re looking for us to score,” coach Ouimette said.
The Thunderbirds wasted no time in the second half, hitting two 3-pointers immediately — one by Quade and the other by White. Quade finished with 10 points and White finished with 14 points.
Both teams continued to make plays in the second half. One player who kept her team in the game was Van Zile. She saved the ball multiple times on one play, then assisted on a 3-pointer.
Another big play came after a White 3-pointer. Van Zile quickly answered with a basket herself, leading to a Thunderbird timeout. Van Zile ended up with 23 points on 9/22 shooting.
Back and forth it went again. The Thunderbirds got some more points from Parris. She was able to cause some turnovers and score on the fast break. Parris finished as Lakeland’s leading scorer, shooting 9/13 from the field with 22 points.
“Good intensity, leadership and it’s nice to see someone who works hard excel — that was great,” coach Ouimette said.
Another huge play came courtesy of Van Zile yet again. She was able to get an offensive rebound and then hit a 3-pointer. The Thunderbirds led 61-60 with 5:33 left to play.
Picking it up late in the second half, both teams played back and forth with one another. One team would take the lead and then the other would do the same.
That all changed when Cynthia Beavers hit a 3-pointer to give Rhinelander a 68-64 lead with 3:02 left to go in the game. That four point lead was the largest lead the Hodags had in the second half. Beavers hit 4/5 on her 3-pointers for 19 points.
“That’s how that game went. We’d be up and we’d be down,” coach Ouimette said.
Julianna Ouimette responded in a big way. Driving to the rim, she scored a basket and got fouled, making her free throw. It went back to a one-point game.
After getting a stop, the Thunderbirds set up a play to Camille Quade. She got a pass from Julianna Ouimette and scored the layup, getting fouled in the process. She missed the free throw, but Vivian Trapp secured the offensive rebound. The Thunderbirds took a timeout. They were now up 69-68.
“We called out a set play and we were able hit Camille on a lob. Back and forth, fast paced, fun game to play in,” coach Ouimette said.
Shortly after the timeout, Amaya White got fouled. The Thunderbirds were in the bonus, putting her at the line. She missed her free throw and Rhinelander corralled the rebound.
The Hodags took advantage of the miss in a big way. Rebecca Lawrence hit a tough shot underneath the basket and scored, drawing the foul. Lawrence missed her free throw, but the Hodags got the offensive rebound. They scored and led 72-69 with 42.5 seconds to go in the second half.
Lawrence led both teams in scoring with 24 points on 10/15 shooting.
After turnovers by both teams, the Hodags ended up getting fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity in the bonus. They missed their free throw and Lakeland secured the rebound.
With 3.8 seconds to go, the Hodags called a timeout to set up their defense. The Thunderbirds had little time to try and score quickly. The inbound went to Julianna Ouimette whose 3-point attempt was blocked at the buzzer.
The Hodags held on to the 72-69 win and improved to 4-0 in conference. The Thunderbirds took their first loss in conference play and went to 3-1.
“Lot of good things come away from this game, but we got a good team and look forward to the rematch,” coach Ouimette said. “It’s always good to see someone on the home court.”
The Thunderbirds next game comes Friday, Jan. 10 at home against Northland Pines. The tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]