Merrill?s Valley streak reaches three games

The Bluejay boys hoops team took another step in their resurgent second trip through Valley competition with Friday’s 50-41 triumph over Wausau West.
The Jays had roughed up the Warriors 44-32 back on Dec. 14, but this win gave them three in a row against conference competition. The previous two versus Marshfield (now 6-4) and Rapids (now 3-5) had Merrill (4-5, 7-10 overall before Tuesday) breaking the mold of the first WVC rotation.
“We’ve won three in a row and we beat two teams that were ahead of us in the standings, so we feel pretty good about that,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “Every game is a new challenge.”
That pattern will be difficult to maintain with a road game at 9-1 SPASH on the docket for Friday, but the Bluejays are ready to give their best effort.
Last Friday’s West contest departed from the standard set from the squads’ first meeting. The teams battled close throughout, with Merrill holding a maximum one-point lead at any quarter break before pulling away at the end.
“It was a really well-played game by both teams,” Soderberg said. “West played much better than the first game. They got a couple of their guys back more healthy than that initial game.
“It was a tough battle. Down the stretch we were able to get some stops in the fourth quarter, and we were really efficient on offense.
“We had a really big three-point-play by David (Jesperson) at the end to make it a two-possession game. Then they had to foul us and we were able to put it away.”
Not that free throws were a given for MHS in this game.
“We almost made more free throws than they attempted,” Soderberg said. “Other than not shooting free throws very well, I thought our team played very well.”
A saving grace for the Jays on that front was West actually shot a lower percentage from the line, represented by 53% and 42% futility, respectively.
Jesperson paced the Jays with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and got them off to a strong start with 11 in the first quarter off of three three-pointers.
“David’s big start was huge,” Soderberg said. “Opposing teams forget how deflating that can be. Scoring 11 points put opposing teams on their heels.”
Soderberg also noted it wasn’t all on Jesperson.
“This was a good team win,” he said. “Seven other guys scored along with David hanging 24 on them.”
Still, West hung within 17-16 at the end of the first quarter and 26-25 at halftime. The Warriors actually knotted it up 34-34 by the end of the third quarter before Merrill put it away with a 16-7 margin in the fourth.
Additional Bluejay offerings were turned in by: Jake Anderson (9 p, 3 r); Theorin (5 p, 4 r); Bartz (4 p, 3 a); and Andrew Seaman (4 p).
Merrill-FG: 18-32 (56%); FT: 10-19 (53%). West-FG: 16-39 (41%); FT: 5-12 (42%).
Merrill will also travel to Lakeland on Saturday to make up last Tuesday’s scheduled game.

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