East drives nail in Bluejays? season
The season ended sooner than expected for the Merrill boys basketball team after Friday’s heart-breaking 45-44 loss to Wausau East.
The Lumberjacks overcame a six-point deficit in the final 54 seconds, aided by Merrill’s foul-shooting troubles.
The Jays hit just 8-of-20 for the game, while East knocked down 8-of-11.
“Quite honestly, other than the first quarter, I thought we out-played them the entire game,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “Other than we were just woeful at the free throw line, which cost us a chance to go on. What was surprising was we had one other night like that, but our team was a really solid free-throw shooting team. I would still bet on our kids to make free throws if we were playing again tonight.
“When you miss those free throws, you leave the door open, and when you do it multiple times it can come back to get you. We showed a lot of heart, courage and resiliency – all attributes you like to build in kids – but unfortunately the game didn’t turn out the way we wanted.”
Merrill had fallen behind 9-4 in the first quarter, and the teams played to a 12-12 tie in the second. The Bluejays’ 15-9 advantage in the third turned the tide to a 31-30 MHS edge, and the locals extended their lead in the fourth.
“Quite honestly, the game was ours to put away,” Soderberg said. “We have a goal that when we’re up with two minutes to go, we don’t lose.
“They started to foul and the strategy paid off because we missed free throws. With eight seconds left we missed, and they came down and we defended well. They made one more pass to the corner for literally a buzzer-beater. You’ve got to give that kid (Jaden Rutkowski) credit for hitting a contested three-pointer.”
Soderberg noted that numerous positive things occurred in the contest.
“Jake (Anderson) made several big plays for us,” he said. “Chaz (Mootz) got to the rim well, again. Brandon (Bartz) had another nice game at the point. Alex (Zettler) had some big stops that led to lay-ups. Tucker Diethelm did a nice job on their 6-11 kid (Dylan Hamlin), and played a well-rounded game.”
Offerings for Merrill came from: Bartz (11 p, 4 r, 3 a); Anderson (6 p, 4 r, 4 bl); Mootz (10 p, 3 r); Zettler (8 p, 3 st); Diethelm (4 p, 5 r); and Austin Reissmann (5 p).
MHS–FG: 16-36 (44%); FT: 8-20 (40%). WE–FG: 17-38 (45%); FT: 8-11 (73%).
The Bluejays finished 9-14 overall after a 3-9 Valley season. East was 12-11 and 4-8, and lost a 54-50 regional final to Rhinelander (19-5) on Saturday.
“With this group, I never had to worry about their effort level,” Soderberg said. “It was a very unselfish group. I think I can speak for everybody that we were disappointed in the way the season turned out, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t highlights and that these kids didn’t give everything they had. There’s not one night that they mailed it in, in a game or a practice.
“We needed to be more efficient from the three-point line. That surprised me, because I watched them knock down threes all day in practice.
“Next year we’ll have Chaz and Jake back, and Austin has some experience. Drew Hoff will likely be our point guard. Scotty Wallace is a very talented player. Those guys are very athletic. Trey Stevenson, Keenan Stellingworth and Adam Messerschmidt, also from next year’s senior class, are going to have to play a role that will be determined through their work this off-season.”