Boys hoops: Medford boys ready to begin regional work
(7) Antigo at (2) Medford, Friday, March 3, 7 p.m. at Raider Hall
WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal
After enjoying a first-round bye in the WIAA Division 2 boys basketball tournament, it’s time for the Medford Raiders to get to work.
It will take a lot of good work to get through regional weekend. The good news is the Raiders won’t have to leave the comforts of Raider Hall this weekend if they take care of business.
The tournament trail for the second-seeded Raiders (18-4) starts Friday when they host the seventh-seeded Antigo Red Robins (15-7) at 7 p.m. in what will be the third matchup of the season between the Great Northern Conference rivals. The first two games were decided by three-point (a 68-65 Medford win) and one-point (a 63-62 Antigo win) margins and on last-second shots.
Those scores are indicative of the way the field on this side of the sectional bracket looks. The remaining eight teams –– five of which are Great Northern Conference teams –– basically spent the 2016-17 season knocking each other off.
In the one vs. nine game Friday, Wausau East (14-7) hosts Mosinee (14-8), who beat the top-seeded Lumberjacks 68-66 in the season opener Nov. 22. The winner of that game will play either (5) Merrill (13-8) or (4) Rhinelander (13-8) in Saturday’s regional final. Rhinelander beat Merrill 55-47 in overtime in non-conference play Jan. 13. Merrill, though, split with East and beat Medford (54-45). Both East and Merrill finished 6-6 as the only Division 2 teams in the Wisconsin Valley Conference.
The Antigo/Medford winner will play either (6) Hortonville (8-14) or (3) Lakeland (14-8) in Saturday’s regional final with the higher seed hosting. If it’s in Medford, tip time for the final will be at 7 p.m.
Medford swept the T-Birds during the regular season, as did Rhinelander, but Lakeland beat Merrill (69-59), nearly beat East (a 62-59 road loss), won two very close games with Mosinee and split with Antigo. Hortonville is the half-sectional’s wild card. The Polar Bears obviously drew respect in the seeding process with their play in the 10-team Fox Valley Association, which includes all of the Division 1 monsters of the Fox Cities and defending Division 2 champion Kaukauna. They’ve won four of their last six games and their losses in this stretch were 58-56 and 61-60 to 18-4 Kimberly. Hortonville features 6-5 sharpshooter Ryan Krueger, a South Dakota State recruit who averages over 22 points per game.
As for Friday’s game with Antigo, Medford will have to prepared for anything highly-respected Antigo head coach Jesse Shaw might pull out of his bag of tricks. Generally, the Robins have relied defensively on their unique zone and offensively on a pair of tough senior guards. Matt Arndt averaged 21.1 points per GNC game this year and Drew Schwarz scored 17.6 per game in league. Arndt especially hurt the Raiders this year with 27- and 29-point performances.
Medford counters with GNC Player of the Year Osy Ekwueme, who struggled in Medford’s Jan. 12 win over Antigo with foul trouble and scored just two points. But he was fantastic in the Feb. 14 loss at Antigo, scoring 28 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
All-GNC second-team guard Garrett Strebig (15.8 ppg) ended the season strong, scoring 34 points against Lakeland and 23 at Northland Pines in Medford’s last two league games. If he and second-teamer Cameron Wenzel (15 ppg) are knocking down outside shots, the Raiders can beat anyone on this side of the bracket. The Raiders have also gotten consistent all-around contributions from senior Jake Sullivan (9.3 ppg), who had hit double figures in eight of his last 10 games and was tabbed the GNC’s top defensive player this season.
(8) Rib Lake at (1) McDonell Central, Friday, March 3, 7 p.m. at McDonell Central High School
WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal
Rib Lake is still alive in Division 5 and travels to Chippewa Falls tonight for a date with the reigning state champions, top-seeded McDonell Central. The Macks have knocked the Redmen from the playoffs each of the past two seasons - both sectional semifinals - and enter tonight's regional semifinal on a 12-game winning streak.