RHS soccer blanked by East in home opener
Rhinelander’s Hart Hokens defends Wausau East’s Gio Gomez during the first half of a non-conference boys’ soccer game at Mike Webster Stadium Thursday, Aug. 24. Contact between the two on the play resulted in a penalty kick goal for the Lumberjacks, who defeated the Hodags 2-0. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
A couple of first-half defensive breakdowns were too much for the Rhinelander High School boys’ soccer team to overcome as it fell to Wausau East 2-0 in a non-conference contest Thursday night at Mike Webster Stadium.
The Lumberjacks scored twice roughly 10 minutes apart midway through the first half and the Hodags, despite holding a slight edge in the shot column, were never able to answer.
“They got up on us early, but we fought back,” Hodag coach John Weigel said. “The second half was 0-0. The guys fought hard. Wausau East, they’re a tough, physical team. We made them earn it though I think tonight. I was a good test for our boys to see where they’re at. They saw what some good competition looked like tonight.”
After a couple of threatening looks in the first 15 minutes, East finally breached the Hodag defense in the 19th minute. George Vang made a well-timed run through the back line on a slotted pass by Kaedyn Kelly and converted a breakaway chance that put the Lumberjacks up 1-0.
East built the attack again near the half hour mark as Gio Gomez juked left and drew contact from Hodag defender Hart Hokens inside the penalty area. Gomez converted the resulting penalty kick to put East ahead 2-0 in the 29th minute.
“It was an unlucky PK. He kind of went for the ball and ended up getting his ankle a little bit. That happens in soccer,” Weigel said. “We had to make some adjustments, move Hart Hokens back a little bit and change some things up. It seemed to work because we held them 0-0 in the second half.”
Rhinelander had plenty of chances to cut into the margin, but never could. Matthew King had an exploratory shot from 40 yards that was saved by keeper Michael Murphy in the 39th minute. Murphy then smothered a Will Quinn free kick from roughly 55 yards just before halftime.
In the 48th minute Quinn drilled a hooking free kick over the Wausau East wall from 28 yards, but Murphy tipped it off the crossbar and high and then stopped King’s header on the ensuing corner kick. Murphy used the woodwork to his advantage again in the 71st minute on a Mason Shinners shot that he deflected off the post and away.
“We had opportunities but just didn’t get them to fall tonight,” Weigel said. “We had a couple of set pieces where we got some fouls deep in their attacking third that we didn’t connect on and some opportunities that just didn’t work out for us.”
Rhinelander held a slight 20-17 edge in shots in the match, though East held an 8-7 advantage in shots on goal. Barak Rappley came up with six saves in defeat, including a stellar stop in the 58th minute as Jose Fernandez was stopped from point-blank range in a scramble moments after East rang a shot of the upper-right elbow of the goal.
The result was a stark contrast from last season when the Hodags defeated the Lumberjacks 5-0 in the season opener.
Rhinelander (1-1-0, 0-0-0-0 Great Northern) hosts defending Great Northern Conference champion Medford tonight at Mike Webster Stadium to open conference play. Three of the last four meetings between sides have ended in penalty kick shootouts, including Rhinelander’s triumph following a 2-2 draw in last year’s WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinals.
The Raiders, who graduated all of their all-conference players from last year’s squad, opened with a 2-1 win at New London on Thursday.
“Medford, I don’t know if they’re more of our rival or Lakeland or who but they always come to play us,” Weigel said. “I don’t know where they get their kids from every year, but they always come with a tough team. Playing Wausau East I think set us up good for that, playing a real physical, good team. We should be ready to go for them.”
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at [email protected].