DCE disappointment fuels East early romp

Another winnable Valley game escaped the grasp of the Merrill boys basketball team at D.C. Everest last Tuesday with a last-second putback, so they made sure in their next trip to the court.
The Jays jumped out to an early 17-3 advantage at Wausau East on Friday, then played three close quarters to secure the 62-51 victory.
“I felt the kids played their best quarter of the season in that first quarter,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “I wouldn’t say we waned after that, but we weren’t as mentally sharp. It was one of those games where I felt at any point we could have blown it out to 20-25 points, but we really didn’t defend that well the rest of the game…just well enough to keep them at a distance.
“Any win you will take, especially this year. Every game has been a battle. There were no glaring problems; we just weren’t real sharp for a stretch of the game.”
The win pushed Merrill to 2-4 in the WVC and 6-8 overall.
“Our focus continues to be to get the team to play to a level we believe it can play,” Soderberg said. “As time runs short we need to make that happen. We have to get our act together soon.”
East whittled a 17-6 first-quarter deficit to 29-21 by halftime, before Merrill nudged it back up to 42-33 through three quarters. The Jays closed out the fourth with a 20-18 margin.
Paul Jesperson led all scorers with 22 points and added 6 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists. Other production came from: Sam Arneson (12 p, 7 r, 3 a); David Jesperson (7 p, 5 r, 3 a); Matt Woller (6 p, 4 r); Kyle Andreska (6 p); and Sam Koebe (5 p).
Merrill-FG: 21-37 (57%); FT: 16-21 (76%). WE-FG: 19-41 (46%); FT: 10-12 (83%).
Rally shy
Merrill fell into a 13-4 hole to start Tuesday’s 48-46 road loss, but brought it back to 13-10 by the end of the frame. After the squads played to an 8-8 tie in the second, the Evergreens edged ahead 33-28 by the end of the third and extended it in the fourth.
“We were able to execute a late-game plan with full-court pressure, and we were able to get to the free-throw line,” Soderberg said. “Fortunately for us they missed a couple of free throws and with sixteen seconds left, Paul made two to tie.
“We played really good defense on the next possession and a guy shot a three. Kyle did a good job of boxing out, but the ball caromed just high enough to get over Kyle’s reach.”
Everest’s Paul Aleckson grabbed that long rebound and canned a short shot for the final score with four seconds remaining. Paul Jesperson tried a 3/4-court desperation shot out of triple coverage but it missed.
“Everest has a team with no superstars, but they play really well as a team,” Soderberg said. “They get a lot out of their talent. They’ve got (Luke) Heller inside and quite a few role players that make shots outside. We were in a battle the whole game.”
Everest is 4-2 in the Valley and 10-3 overall.
Paul Jesperson paced the team with 29 points (shooting 20-of-22 from the line) and 6 rebounds, and was buoyed by Woller (8 p), Jared Wardall (4 p, 3 r), Mitch Czech (3 r), Paul Theorin (3 r) and Arneson (3 p).
Merrill-FG: 12-30 (40%); FT: 21-26 (81%). DCE-FG: 13-30 (43%); FT: 17-26 (65%).

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