Bluejay girls notch back-to-back victories

The MHS girls are hitting their stride at the perfect time, and proved it by capturing both home games last week.
They forged a 58-31 runaway over Rhinelander on Tuesday, then outlasted Wausau West 60-51 in Friday’s special Cancer Awareness Night.
The Jays especially appreciated Friday’s triumph.
“It was a big conference win for us,” Merrill coach Melissa Yuska said. “The first time we played them, we had the game won and handed it to them late.
“Renee (Sladek) and Reegan (Byer) got in foul trouble in the first half. A lot of times that can take girls out of a game mentally, but I’ve got to give credit to the girls. They didn’t let it rattle them. Marissa (Bartz) took over for Renee in the post and had a great first half.
“Renee took over in the second half with 21 of her 22 points, and didn’t miss a field goal attempt. Jourdyn (Mootz) also had 16 points, 13 in the second half.
“Liz (Smith) and Reegan do a heck of a job for us defensively. Dawn (Leland) and Brianna (LaMonica) stepped into the rotation and I was very impressed with their defensive play on top.”
Merrill led 21-20 at halftime even with the bench reliance, after a 7-7 first quarter. Both teams turned in 19-point third quarters, but the Jays put it away with a 20-12 fourth.
“They got within five with two minutes left, but Jourdyn came down and hit a huge three,” Yuska said. “Liz hit a big jump shot just before that. Then they had to foul us and we made our free throws.”
The Jays canned 25-of-40 foul shots for the game, including 11-of-17 in the fourth.
The Jays counted on: Mootz (16 p, 10 r, 3 st), Sladek (18 p, 7 r, 3 bl), Smith (6 p, 4 st), Leland (6 p, 4 st) Bartz (6 p, 2 bl), Byer (6 p), and LaMonica (3 as).
Merrill-FG: 17-33 (52%); FT: 25-40 (63%). Wausau W.-FG: 15; FT: 19-27 (70%).
Chilling the Hodags
The Jays dumped the Hodags by forcing 20 steals while committing just 9 turnovers, despite Rhinelander attempts at pressure.
“This was a huge team effort for us,” Yuska said. “We were aggressive defensively and walked away with a big win that will help us in the (playoff) seeding process.
“They pressed us to try to get us out of our game, but the girls handled it really well. Everybody was able to score that played.”
Merrill raced to a 17-7 margin in the opening quarter, and still held a 27-18 lead at intermission. Then the Jays ran away with it behind 14-7 and 17-6 frames.
They knocked down 9-of-11 free throws in the fourth.
Pushing Merrill were: Sladek (22 p, 9 r, 3 as), Leland (3 p, 4 r, 4 as, 3 st), Mootz (9 p, 4 st), LaMonica (8 p, 3 st); Aubrey Wardall (8 p, 3 r); Smith (4 p, 3 as, 3 st) and Byer (3 r, 3 st).
Merrill-FG: 20-49 (41%); FT: 15-19 (79%). Rhinelander-FG: 11; FT: 6-9 (67%).
The Bluejays improved to 3-5 in the Valley and 10-8 overall, while West dropped to 3-7 and 9-9 and Rhinelander is at 6-9 and 5-3 in the GNC.

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