Lutheran faces Rio with state berth on the line

Delvin Barnstable goes for a layup in Lutheran’s overtime win against Hustisford on Thursday. – Photo by Erika Reimer

Don’t be fooled.

Sure, one of Rio’s losses was by 24 points to Hustisford – the team Sheboygan Lutheran eliminated in overtime Thursday – but the Vikings were 0-2 against undefeated and No. 1-ranked Randolph when they upset the Rockets the same night.

As a result, Rio and Lutheran will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Division 5 sectional final at West Bend East.

“Every team you play now is extremely talented,” Crusaders’ coach Nick Verhagen said.

The coach spent Friday watching film on Rio, which is 22-4, has an eight-game winning streak, is seeded second and ranked 10th.

“I know everything I need to know about Rio, now,” joked Verhagen.

The Vikings, however, have not been to state since their tournament debut in 1923.

Rio, located 14 miles southeast of Portage, features Brandon Rowe, who averages 20.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Nathan Rippl scores 19.8 ppg and grabs 7.4 rpg.

“They’re just a super-talented group, they’re super smart and are senior-heavy,” Verhagen said. “They’ve got the player of the year (Rowe) in their conference (Trailways West) as their guard and leader. And probably one of the top two runners-up for player of the year (Rippl).”

Top-seeded and second-ranked Lutheran is 24-2, has won its last five games by scoring at least 76 points and is trying to get to state for the third time and first since 2014. The Crusaders won the 2012 state title.

“We have to control what we can control,” Verhagen said. “We have to do what we’re really good at. We have to contain the tempo, dictate the way we want to play the ballgame and force them to do things that we want them to do.”

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