Last Tuesday’s season opener for the Bluejay girls basketball team came right down to the wire, but visiting Medford prevailed 41-40 on a pair of last-second free throws from top-scorer Katie Messman.
“It’s a tough loss, a disappointing loss, because it’s one we definitely had a chance to win,” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “But you learn from those losses.
“They’re definitely a team that we feel we should have beaten but we made too many mistakes in the game that caught up to us at the end. We’ve made a lot of changes offensively and defensively. The best part is the girls are eager to learn. It’s going to take time to find their confidence level. We already look better (on Monday). We had five practices in before that game.
“We ha some turnovers, but not a horrendous amount for a first game. We need to get to where we value each possession. They had eight unforced turnovers and we scored four points on two of them. That should have been 16 points. Those are the things we have to take advantage of.”
Despite the early action, Merrill battled back within a missed shot of victory.
“We had a couple of shot attempts that just didn’t fall in the last 15 seconds, then they went down and we fouled (Messman),” Yuska said. “After she made two free throws to put them ahead we had another attempt that didn’t score and we fouled. They missed the front end of the bonus and we called time out with a couple of seconds left and drew up a play. But the shot was a little long.”
Messman tallied 14 points for the contest, sinking all six of her free throw attempts. Merrill’s Renee Sladek topped her with 18 points, adding 6 rebounds and 5 blocks.
The Jays held a 6-2 lead after a slow first quarter, but Medford exploded for 20 in the second quarter with help from four threes and led 22-19 at the half.
“We let them go off for seven threes,” Yuska said. “They actually scored more threes than twos. We didn’t defend threes very well.”
In contrast, Merrill made 17-of-45 two-pointers, but missed all eight of its treys.
The Red Raiders extended it to 37-29 in the third before Merrill roared back with an 11-4 fourth.
“We came right back,” Yuska said. “It was actually really nice. We never quit.
“As a coach I much prefer when we have the game won easily, but this was good for the fans. It was an exciting game to watch.”
Brianna LaMonica offered 9 points and 5 rebounds, Lindsay Krueger had 6 and 6, and Reegan Byer gave 3 and 6. Dawn Leland offered 3 assists and 3 blocks.
“It was really balanced outside of scoring,” Yuska said. “It was good to see us going hard after boards.”
Merrill-FG: 17-53 (32%); FT: 6-7 (86%). Medford-FG: 13; FT: 8-13 (62%).