Bluejay boys turn up the heat

With the WIAA playoffs right around the corner, momentum is the valuable commodity the Bluejay boys crave.
Initial mission accomplished.
The Jays rebounded from last Tuesday’s rough loss to Rhinelander with back-to-back Valley wins. The defeated Wausau West 38-33 on Friday, then prolonged a recent SPASH swoon with Monday’s 37-31 triumph.
“To lose to a team by 20-something points and beat them the next time, that’s always special, I don’t care who it is,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “I feel like now we have some momentum going into the tournament.”
The Jays had dropped a 58-35 contest at Stevens Point on Friday the 13th in January.
There was no doubt in Soderberg’s mind about why his team won.
“The key for us is our kids played unbelievably good defense,” he said. “Probably the highlight is we were up 18-13 at the half and only gave up three points in the third quarter.
“For the second game in a row, we didn’t give the ball up. It was a great team effort.”
The Jays trailed 8-6 after the first quarter but an 11-5 run in the second turned that around. Merrill held a 24-16 margin after the third, and gave up a 15-13 edge in the fourth.
David Jesperson led with 24 points, three rebounds and 2 blocks. Other offerings came from: Adam Smith (8 p, 4 r); Jared Wardall (5 p); and Ben Anderson (4 r).
“David and Adam were excellent leaders,” Soderberg said. “Jared was huge. He had very specific responsibilities and he executed them.”
Merrill-FG: 8-20 (40%); FT: 20-26 (77%). SPASH-FG: 11-47 (23%); FT: 2-5 (40%).
Jump start
The Jays opened up Friday’s game with a 12-2 exclamation point, bumped it to 18-7 by halftime and added another basket to 20-7 before the Warriors responded. West used a 10-6 third to get within 24-17, but a 16-14 edge in the fourth wasn’t nearly enough.
“It was a typical Merrill-West game-very physical with lots of hand-checking,” Soderberg said. “Our kids did a real good job of being aggressive and alert. They played with a real passion.”
The Bluejays were paced by: Smith (15 p, 3 r); Jesperson (11 p, 6 r); Wardall (4 p, 5 r); Anderson (3 p) and Nick Mootz (3 p).
Merrill-FG: 9-27 (33%); FT: 18-20 (90%). West-FG: 13-42 (31%); FT: 6-9 (67%).
Merrill struggled with control in last Tuesdays road game with Rhinelander.
“We did play very good defense and Rhinelander did, too,” Soderberg said. “We were stuck on 23-19 for quite a bit. At the end of the day, we turned the ball over 22 times. You just can’t do that.
“The kids are working hard. I’ve never felt it’s an effort problem, it’s an execution problem.”
Merrill trailed 14-9 after the first quarter, and hung within 19-13 at intermission. A scoreless MHS third didn’t help, although the Hodags only managed 5. Merrill won a 12-11 fourth.
Bouying the Bluejays were: Jesperson (7 p, 8 r); Mootz (5 p, 3 st) Smith (3 p, 4 r); Anderson (6 p); Wardall (5 r); and Brandon Bartz (3 st).
Merrill-FG: 8-37 (22%); FT: 7-13 (54%). Rhinelander-FG: 11-37 (30%); FT: 11-19 (58%).
The Jays improved to 4-6 in the Valley and 7-13 overall, while SPASH dropped to 6-4 and 10-9. Rhinelander was 14-4 overall and 9-1 in the GNC.

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