The Lakeland girls’ basketball team had a daunting challenge hosting the undefeated in conference Rhinelander Hodags.
The Hodags prevailed for a 66-55 win.
Starting in place of the injured Camille Quade, Joeli Koehler made an impact both offensively and defensively right away. She scored the game’s first points on an offensive rebound score. Then later on defense she recorded a huge block. Koehler had four blocks in the game.
“We were down a starter at the start of the game and it kind of threw a wrench into where certain people were playing so that was the first hurdle,” coach Melissa Ouimette said. “But I thought Joeli stepped in and did a phenomenal job.”
Julianna Ouimette scored four points early on a drive in the lane and two made free throws. After that she went on a bit of a scoring drought as the Hodags double-teamed her throughout most of the night. They did the same with Abby Parris who finished with just one point.
“That was some intense pressure there so that’s a challenge when we play Rhinelander,” coach Ouimette said. “You never know where double teams are going to come from and I guess today they started from the second the game started to the second the game ended and it started with two on Julianna and two on Abby.”
Regardless, the Thunderbirds led 7-2 five minutes in. The Hodags called a timeout.
In just a minute and a half, the Hodags tied the game at 9-9 as Hodags’ star Kenedy Van Zile scored her first points at the 11:37 mark. The Thunderbirds took their first timeout.
With Julianna Ouimette and Parris finding it hard to score, the Thunderbirds needed another option. Amaya White provided that option, scoring eight straight Lakeland points.
First White scored on a Parris assist. Then she hit a mid-range jumper followed by a shot right under the hoop, assisted by Vivian Trapp. White’s final basket of the stretch came on a shot in the paint, right off the backboard. White finished with 17 points on 8/19 shooting.
“Amaya White did a nice job,” coach Ouimette said. “Amaya and Joeli found their shots.”
Every time it seemed Lakeland would take off, back came the Hodags, specifically with Van Zile. White and Van Zile traded off baskets.
Julianna Ouimette got back in the action with a score on a steal. Koehler followed that up with a mid-range jumper.
The Thunderbirds and Hodags were trading baskets, but Lakeland did lead 19-18 with 6:42 left.
Koehler and White continued to step up in the first half. Koehler scored four straight points, one all alone and another on an offensive rebound.
“This was (Joeli’s) breakout game,” coach Ouimette said. “When there’s an opportunity to go out there and show what you got, you got to seize those moments and she seized it. She had a very good game. She stepped up and she played the game of her life.”
And then a Van Zile floater tied it up at 23-23.
Using the backboard again, White scored a little floater in the paint.
The Hodags ended the half on a 6-0 run to take a 30-27 lead at the half.
As the second half started, the ball found its way to Koehler who scored in the paint once again. Van Zile responded with her first 3-pointer of the game. Van Zile finished the game with 19 points.
The Thunderbirds had yet to score a 3-pointer in the game. That all changed when White knocked down the first for Lakeland.
The Thunderbirds took their second timeout as the Hodags led 40-36 with 14:13.
After the White 3-pointer, the Thunderbirds went on a bit of a drought. The Hodags went on a game-defining 9-1 run to extend their lead to 12. Lakeland could not catch up after that.
“We’re going to start to put in some double staggered screens and things like that,” coach Ouimette said. “We’re going to start working on Julianna with some post moves. We’re going to get those girls open.”
But Lakeland did make a couple of runs to try and get back in the game. Julianna Ouimette scored a quick four points. Julianna Ouimette finished with 14 points. But the Hodags answered with a 4-0 run themselves.
Then, Koehler found her rhythm again with two points on a pass from White and a spot-up 3-pointer. The Hodags maintained a 56-46 lead with 4:53 left in the game.
The Thunderbirds called their fourth timeout with 4:17 left down 58-48. It was now or never.
The Hodags ran the clock down with long possessions and made their free throws when they went to the line.
Lakeland finally cut the lead to under 10 points when Koehler made a long jumper. Koehler scored a career-high 23 points on 10/18 shooting.
Rhinelander made enough free throws and ran the clock down. Cynthia Beavers led the team with 28 points.
“Beavers is waiting down low under the basket for that girl to attack in the middle for that little dish down low,” coach Ouimette said. “We’ll start looking at some of the things Rhinelander does to us and see if we can do it back at them.”
Up next, the Thunderbirds travel to Pines tonight starting at 7:15 p.m. Coverage of that game will be in the Feb. 18 edition of The Times
Then they host non-conference Wittenberg-Birnamwood Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]