Bluejays surge to top T-Birds, but Tigers prevail
The Merrill boys got off the Schneid with a excellent rally in last Tuesday’s home opener with Lakeland.
But another slow start couldn’t be overcome in Friday’s 57-50 loss at Marshfield, one of the Valley favorites.
Merrill finally took its first lead of the Lakeland game at 33-32 with 12 seconds left in the third quarter when Paul Jesperson fed a wide-open Matt Thistle for a lay-up. The T-Birds would go on a 6-2 mini-run to kick off the fourth and led 38-35 with 4:36 left.
But the Jays would close out a 47-38 triumph with a 12-0 maxi-run over the final 3:46 of the game.
“While Lakeland played very well, after the first quarter we took control of the tempo,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “To Lakeland’s credit, it took a long time to take over, but late in the game our kids made plays. You always have to look to the character of the kids, because they really did a nice job.
“There was just an unbelievable effort by Matt Woller. He was a catalyst for the whole team.”
A David Jesperson three-pointer tied it up at 38-38, then a Woller put-back gave the second MHS lead. Two David Jesperson free throws, and a full-court pass from Paul Jesperson to a streaking Woller-who drained a high-speed lay-up-made it 44-38 with :52 remaining.
“He threw to an All-State (football) receiver, so I guess it’s okay,” Soderberg said. “It was not a great choice, but since it turned out, we could laugh about it.”
Three late free throws sealed it.
Paul Jesperson finished with a game-high 15 points, and broke the all-time MHS boys’ scoring record-previously held at 1,124 by Jordan Stine-in the second quarter. He added 5 rebounds. Woller gave 14 points and 4 boards, and David Jesperson offered 10 and 4. Kyle Andreska scored 4, including two late free throws to ice it.
The T-Birds had taken a 15-4 lead in the first quarter, but Merrill forged its way back with a 10-6 edge in the second and a 19-11 difference in the third, before finishing with a 14-6 fourth.
“We took a time out with two minutes left in the first quarter, and one of the players made the statement, ‘We’ve just got to get down to work,’ ” Soderberg said. “That was the key.”
Merrill-FG: 18-36 (50%); FT: 10-13 (77%). Lakeland-FG: 12-29 (41%); FT: 9-10 (90%).
Friday’s loss dropped MHS to 1-3 overall, including two season-opening losses to excellent competition in a invite-only event in Washington, Ill., in November.
Marshfield used 13-6 and 17-13 margins in the opening quarters to boost a 30-19 halftime lead.
“We need to figure out why we’re starting slowly, particularly on the offensive end,” Soderberg said. “We’ve got to have a sense of urgency right from the first tip.
“It’s eerie how the start of the season has mirrored last year’s. Without question we’ve played far better teams, but we need to get on a roll very soon. I have no doubt we can. Our inability to execute at the free throw line was a death-blow on Friday. Three times out of four we’ve been right there, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
Merrill hit just 10-of-20 foul shots compared to 20-of-23 for the Tigers.
Marshfield edged ahead to 43-30 by the end of the third, and Merrill’s 18-14 edge in the fourth wasn’t enough.
Paul Jesperson scored a game-high 22 points to go with 4 boards and 3 steals. Woller (8 p, 5 r), David Jesperson (8 p, 3 r), Sam Arneson (7 p), Andreska (3 p) and Thistle (3 r) contributed. Marshfield was paced by 20 from Elliot Ashbeck and 17 from Cale Zuicker-who will play at Youngstown State.
Merrill-FG: 17-38 (45%); FT: 10-20 (50%). Marshfield-FG: 16-35 (46%); FT: 20-23 (87%).