Bluejay boys fashion perfect Christmas present
The Bluejay boys grabbed a couple of wins close to home over the Christmas break, downing Menomonie and Chippewa Falls on consecutive mornings at Wausau West.
The Jays topped Menomonie 53-25 on Thursday, then handled Chippewa Falls 66-47 on Friday.
“Winning is always fun and to be able to come home each day, rather than going back to a hotel makes it easier,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “Those were two good games for us and now we’ve won four of our last five. We have a very important tough battle with Stevens Point on Friday at home, so it’s good to have a little momentum going.
“We also had 11 o’clock games both days and we handled that well.”
Merrill improved to ???? on the season with the victories.
The Menomonie win was especially satisfying.
“I was concerned about them,” Soderberg said. “They looked pretty good on tape. They’ve got a dangerous team, but our kids played an outstanding defensive game. We held them to two points in the third quarter and six in the fourth.
“This group may be the best defensive group I’ve had since I’ve been here. We don’t have a lot of size other than David (Jesperson) and Jake Anderson have nice length. Some of our guys are six foot, six-one and just play bigger than they are. They really understand the concepts.”
Merrill has also improved its winning chances since it changed its shot selection.
We’re not shooting as many threes as we were and that’s helped,” Soderberg said. “We’re just not making the three the way I thought we would.
“But we’re working the ball inside, and we’ve gotten to the foul line a lot more in the last five games than we had earlier. We’re shooting 75% from the free throw line for the season and that includes earlier when we didn’t shoot them as well. If we have a lead in the last four minutes of the game, we’re going to close it out because we’re making our free throws and we’re taking care of the ball.”
The Jays put Menomonie in a 14-8 hole, then pushed it to 26-17 by halftime. A 12-2 third put it close to double double-digits, and a 15-6 fourth capped it off.
Jesperson paced the squad with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks. Paul Theorin (14 p, 4 r, 3 a), Brandon Bartz (8 p, 3 r, 3 st) and Anderson (6 p, 4 r) contributed.
Merrill-FG: 18-38 (47%); FT: 11-13 (85%). Menomonie-FG: 9-41 (22%); FT: 5-8 (63%).
The Falls’ victory rang a bit more off-key, since the pesky Cardinals entered the contest with a ?-? record.
“They haven’t won but they’ve been in several games,” Soderberg said. “We won ugly. It certainly wasn’t as easy as the (final) score looked. It was that kind of game where we got up by 10-12 by the second quarter, and we allowed them to make a run back.”
Diverse contributions helped get Merrill over the hump.
“We’re getting good scoring by multiple guys,” Soderberg said. “Paul (Theorin) chipped in 12 and we’ve got multiple guys scoring 6-8-10 points. That helps a lot.”
A 22-12 fourth quarter put away what had been a challenging contest. MHS opened with a 13-9 edge and made it 28-20 by intermission. The Jays held a 16-15 edge in the third.
Jesperson tallied his 6th double-double in the past 7 games with 22 points, 12 boards, 3 assist, 3 steals and 3 blocks. Other offerings came from: Theorin (12 p, 4 a); Bartz (7 p, 6 r); Nick Peterson (6 p, 4 r); Anderson (8 p); Nick Mootz (6 p); and Chaz Mootz (4 p).
Merrill-FG: 23-48 (48%); FT: 18-26 (69%). Chippewa Falls-FG: 17-50 (34%); FT: 6-10 (60%).
Although Soderberg called the event a “good tourney,” Merrill may look for a different venue next year.
“It made a lot of sense for us when we were in D1, so we could get a look at some of the Menomonie Valley teams before regional,” he said. “But now that we’re D2, we’ll have to look elsewhere.”