The Merrill boys knew they had a challenge when they hit the road for Rice Lake with Henry Ellenson –ESPN’s fourth-rated prep player in the country – on Saturday.
The Jays were able to limit Ellenson to a little over half his normal production of 30 points, but they came up short 51-41 in Rice Lake.
The Jays moved to 9-6 overall and were tied for second in the Valley with D.C. Everest at 4-2 before Tuesday’s home game with the Evergreens. The state’s top-ranked SPASH was 11-0 and 6-0.
The boys had trouble getting started, falling behind Rice Lake 13-4 in the first and giving up an 18-7 edge in the third. They took both even-numbered quarters 15-10.
“It was a great experience,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “Our kids put a great face on Merrill basketball. They didn’t flinch.
“The place was packed. The Ellenson kid’s as good as advertised. We did a good job of keeping them under their averages.
“We gave it a chance in the fourth quarter. The number of turnovers we had hurt us. They played good defensively, but we had passes that shouldn’t have been made.”
The big picture entered into the equation.
“One reason we scheduled this is if we make the sectional finals, we likely would face them,” Soderberg said. “
Promoting the Jays were Chaz Mootz (18 p, 5 r, 2 a, 2 st), Jake Anderson (8 p, 9 r), Keenan Stellingworth (4 p, 3 r), Drew Hoff (4 p, 2 a), Austin Reissmann (4 p), Scott Wallace (3 p) and Riley Sutton (2 st).
MHS–FG: 15-39 (39%). FT: 8-12 (67%). RL–FG: 21-47 (45%). FT: 4-8 (50%).
Everything coming up Evergreen
The Jays also had an important game at home on Tuesday, a showdown of the two 4-2 teams in the Valley in D.C. Everest. Merrill jumped out to a 13-8 lead in the first, but the Evergreens switched it to a 27-24 deficit by halftime, converting an inbounds pass in the final second for two points.
Everest inched it to 35-31 in the third. Merrill played strong full-court defense and came up with a few big steals only to miss capitalizing with points. A 10-0 run early in the fourth put Merrill in a big hole. The Jays would cut it to 49-40 with 2:01 left on a pair of Anderson free throws, but the Bluejays would get no closer.
Merrill was led by Mootz (14 p), Anderson (10 p), Stellingworth (9), Reissmann (3), Wallace (2) and Sutton (2).
MHS–FG: 17-32 (53%). FT: 19-25 (76%). Lake–FG: 22-50 (44%). FT: 5-6 (83%).