The Merrill boys hosted Lakeland on Tuesday night, knowing they had already defeated the T-Birds on the road by four points on January 20.
The Bluejays turned a 12-11 first-quarter lead into a 25-17 margin by halftime, then never looked back on the way to a 53-44 triumph.
“Early on we played well offensively, but gave up too many easy baskets inside,
MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “I thought we left five transition baskets on the floor – so we left 10 points on the floor.
“We played much better in the second half. We had a couple of lapses, but our offensive efficiency was better. We were at one point per possession, which is on goal. We played well enough to win.”
The Bluejays ripped off eight point in 55 seconds – on back-to-back threes from Austin Reissmann and a Keenan Stellingworth baseline drive — at the beginning of the third quarter to grab a 33-19 lead, but watched Lakeland work its way back within 36-30 late in the quarter before a pair of late Chaz Mootz free throws. It didn’t faze the Merrill boys.
“We’ve been in some tight games,” Soderberg said. “At some point you’ve got to put it in the kids’ hands. They’ve got to take care of the ball, make smart passes, play good defense.”
The T-Birds hung around within 6-8 points for much of the fourth but the Jays boosted it to 51-41 with a minute to go on a Drew Hoff fast-break lay-up. Lakeland gave it one last shot with a steal from Mootz, down 51-44 with 20 seconds left, but Mootz immediately stole it back and drove for the lay-up for the final points of the game.
Merrill was led by scoring from Mootz (15), Reissmann (13), Drew Hoff (7), Stellingworth (6), Jake Anderson (4) and Jon Gruetzmacher (4). Lakeland was paced by Levi Herrick (14).