By Dave Boehler
Beacon sports editor
Jan. 14, 2019
Sheboygan South athletic director Chris Hein joked Saturday he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
That must mean only one thing: it’s a North-South rivalry game.
“It’s crazy how it just doesn’t disappoint,” Golden Raider Brent Widder said. “I mean, every year the intensity and just how much rides on this game and how much we’re familiar with each other, it just doesn’t disappoint.
“I mean, I love this game so much. On this stage, it’s amazing.”
And as a bonus, it was a doubleheader.
The North and South girls basketball teams kicked things off before the school’s boys teams took the court. The Golden Raiders won both games by a total of 60 points.
I admit this was the first time I witnessed this neighborly battle, but The Beacon just started covering Sheboygan sports this week and I had been a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before that.
“Yeah, it’s big time,” said Redwings’ second-year girls coach, Sandy Botham, who I covered when she ran the UW-Milwaukee women’s basketball program. “I didn’t know a ton, but they have a pep rally during the week. It’s a big deal, and why wouldn’t it be, right?”
It’s so big, current players have been attending games for years now.
North senior Tori Rietbrock thinks she was in third grade the first time she took in the rivalry.
“From when I was little, I’ve always wanted to play,” she said. “It’s awesome. It’s really cool. We all come together, and even though it’s a rivalry, we’re all from Sheboygan.
“There’s so many people, so the atmosphere is so much louder than normal games that we go to.”
South junior Josh Govek recalls being 4 or 5 years old and going to his first game with his father.
“There was definitely like a wantingness to go on the court and be a part of that,” he said. “Once you grow up, you want it more and more. Now I’m in position to play in it. … It was definitely an eye-opening experience.”
Like Govek, North senior Julia Scharinger has been on varsity since freshman season. She still remembers how loud and crowded her first game was that year, and admitted it was a bit overwhelming and intimidating.
“In a way, just because it was so different from everything I’ve ever experienced,” she said.
North’s Meredith Opie was playing in her fifth installment of the series as a member of her varsity team on Saturday, and it never gets old.
“I think it being my senior year, it felt a little bit different for me this time,” Opie said. “Just walking out into the gym and seeing all the people, that’s what stood out to me.”
Each school’s student section was basically filled from the top of the bleachers to the bottom row by the time the girls game reached halftime.
North defeated South, 66-23, to hand the Redwings their 23rd straight loss in the series.
The Golden Raiders snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 4-7 in the Fox River Classic Conference and 7-8 overall, as Scharinger finished with 20 points and Opie totaled 13 points and eight rebounds.
South was led by Maddie Ognacevic’s nine points but fell to 0-13 on the season and has not defeated North since Jan. 19, 2008.
“I think they’ve got an athletic culture right now that we’re trying to get,” Botham said. “We haven’t had a lot of success. Our participation numbers are down, so we’re trying to change that culture to get more kids involved. So I’m really working hard at our youth level. I had a Facebook post that our third-grade team beat North, our sixth-grade team beat North, so we’re trying to instill it in those young kids that this is the game on the calendar for the community.”
North used a 13-0 run early in the first half to pull away, as Scharinger had seven of the points during that time.
She capped the run with a three-pointer for a 25-3 lead with 6 minutes 11 seconds left in the half, which led her team’s student section to chant “It’s her birthday.”
“I think I had a hot-shooting hand and I think we had a lot of people that came out really strong and were ready to play,” Scharinger said.
The boys won, 73-56, to improve to 7-1 in the conference and 9-3 overall. Widder finished with 26 points and Max Schmidtke added 17.
South, which got 29 points and three steals from Govek, lost its seventh consecutive game to North to fall to 2-5 in the league and 3-7 overall.
The Golden Raiders held a 15-point lead early in the second half but a basket by Austin Boeldt cut the margin to 46-41 with 10:17 left.
That’s when Widder took over by drilling three straight three-pointers in a span of 1:45 to give North a 55-42 lead with 8:16 to go.
“I grabbed him after the game and gave him a hug, and I told him that’s what senior leadership is all about,” Golden Raiders’ coach Eric Worth said. “That’s what he brings to the table all the time. … Every one of those, he catches clean, looks straight at the rim and there’s no hesitation. He’s getting it up there and he’s going to get it done. That’s confidence in him, but that’s because of his daily work and what he puts in. And that was huge for us. South was hot. We kind of had out back against the wall there down five, and he said, ‘hey, I’ll take you guys home.’
“That’s a senior.”
And one who has just one game left in the rivalry – at North on Feb. 9.
“I try not to think about that,” Widder said.