Bluejay girls grab regional title with routs
The top-seeded Bluejay girls hoped to turn up the heat with the start of the basketball playoffs, but they may have been responsible for the weekend thaw with the way they dispatched Medford and Mosinee on back-to-back nights in the MHS Fieldhouse to secure a regional title.
“It was a great weekend of basketball and it was nice to bring home that regional championship,” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “These girls were very deserving. Hopefully, we can keep playing at that level.”
Fifth-seeded Medford (8-14, 6th GNC) had pulled a mild 34-32 upset over #4 Lakeland (12-11, tie 4th GNC) on Tuesday to reach Friday’s regional semi-final, and although they matched their winning point total, it wasn’t nearly enough to scale Mount Merrill in the 52-34 defeat.
Second-seed Mosinee entered Saturday’s game with much more impressive credentials – a 16-7 record, a GNC championship and a 62-41 win over #3 Rhinelander – but the Bluejays treated the visitors the same way they had the Red Raiders. Merrill out-scored Mosinee in every quarter, including a 16-8 third, and prevailed 53-32.
“Actually both games were kind of similar,” Yuska said. “We jumped out to a strong start in both games. Of course, we let them both back in there and made the first half a little interesting, especially Medford.
“In the second half we came out with great intensity on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively. That really helped us get some comfort.
“Our full-court press gave both teams a lot of problems. Both teams played zone and man defenses, and I thought we did a very good job of taking what was available to us.”
Merrill grabbed a 7-0 start on Mosinee, although the Indians recovered within 11-10 late in the first. A Renee Sladek free throw and Morgan Marnholtz steal leading to a Sladek-Mariah Turenne-Sladek lay-up made it 14-10 before it was done.
Mosinee hung within 19-16 with a press-break lay-up and 21-18 on a wild shot that dropped, but the Bluejays answered with put-backs from Lauren Hojan and Reegan Byer and a Sladek scoop for a 27-19 halftime lead.
The visitors cut it to 29-23 early in the third, but Merrill put up a 6-0 run on an Anna Finnell dish to Sladek, a Byer 360° move on a put-back, and Morgan Wilde’s pass to Sladek. Mosinee appeared to stem the tide with two free throws and a long jump shot with 1:40 left in the third, but the Jays embarked on another 7-0 burst in a quick 34 seconds. Sladek hit a foul shot, then Dawn Leland stole the ball and worked a lay-up with her and Marnholtz breaking down the defense.
“We did a nice job in transition of reading the defense and being able to convert two-on-one situations,” Yuska said. “We were attacking the defense and everybody got involved for a couple of plays.”
The run ended with a four-point play when Leland turned another steal into a coast-to-coast lay-up and her missed free throw was rebounded and made by Hojan for a 43-27 lead heading into the fourth.
Sladek picked up two offensive fouls in the quarter that put her on the bench for the first half of the fourth, but her teammates picked up the slack.
“We need to be able to do that,” Yuska said. “Everybody has to step up at different times. Obviously, we need our scorers to score, but we also need kids to do the little things that are often overlooked to defeat decent teams.”
Mosinee drained a three to start the fourth but didn’t score again until 1:29 remained in the game. Byer fed Leland for a basket early in the fourth, then threw a monkey wrench into the Mosinee initial attempt at the press by lobbing an inbounds pass ahead of Leland for a lay-up. A Hojan lay-up with 3:25 left made it 49-30. Senior Ashley Berton closed out her home court career and the game with a lay-up and two foul shots in the final minute.
“We took control of the Mosinee game,” Yuska said. “What was really impressive was how we took care of the basketball.
“I think that we had our lowest turnover totals for the season in these games. In the post-season you want to be taking care of the basketball.”
The Jays had just nine miscues against Mosinee and even one fewer against Medford.
The Bluejays were paced by: Sladek (16 p, 6 r, 3 a); Leland (16 p, 3 st); Byer (4 p, 4 r, 7 a); Hojan (6 p, 6 r); Berton (4 p); Finnell (4 p); and Marnholtz (3 st).
“Lauren did a nice job off the bench, with some offensive boards and put-backs,” Yuska said. “Morgan did a nice job in transition, making them give up the ball before they wanted. I guarantee those two point guards don’t want to see her again.”
Merrill–FG: 23-42 (55%); FT: 5-11 (45%). Mosinee–FG: 12; FT: 7-15 (46%).
The Jays led 6-0 early but the Raiders tied it up 10-10 by the end of the first frame. Merrill used a 14-10 second and 14-5 third to put Medford in a 40-25 hole, and closed it out with a 12-9 fourth.
“Medford is a much improved team from when we saw them the first game of the season,” Yuska said.
“The community support was fantastic for both games of the regional. We’re very lucky in Merrill to have such great crowd support in all sports.”
Merrill offerings came from: Sladek (19 p, 6 r); Leland (11 p, 3 a, 3 bl); Marnholtz (5 p, 3 r); Byer (4 p, 3 r); and Finnell (7 p).
Merrill–FG: 19-46 (41%); FT: 12-21 (57%). Medford–FG: 12; FT: 10-16 (63%).
The Bluejays improved to 16-7 overall. They will take on 19-4 New London in Thursday’s 7:00 p.m. sectional opener game at SPASH.
“New London is a very good team that won their (Bay) conference,” Yuska said. “They have twin guards that are talented and they have an inside presence. Really, at this stage of the playoffs, all the teams are gong to be good.
“It’s exciting. We want to keep playing, one game at a time. If we can play at the level we’re capable of, we’ll be a pretty good match-up for New London. We’re looking forward to getting back on the floor.”
The winner of the game will face the LaCrosse Central (19-5)/Rice Lake (11-13) victor in Saturday’s sectional final contest in Marshfield.