Fresh off a disappointing finish that marred an excellent rally in the final regular–season game, the Bluejay girls opened the playoffs with Medford at home on Tuesday.
The two contests held some similarities – super Bluejay run to grab a big late lead, furious comeback by the visitors – with one resounding difference. Merrill’s season is still alive because the girls were able to withstand that resurgence and pull out a 63-55 triumph.
“The third quarter we played the game we wanted to all year – we pushed the ball, we were aggressive, and we made a ton of shots,” MHS coach Ross Reincke said. “Our run-and-jump worked well. But down the stretch, boy, they got hot though. Medford is a little helter-skelter. They attack the basket. They shot so well in the fourth quarter, 70%. Everything they threw up went in.
“Obviously, we have things to work on, but this is a big one for the girls, confidence-wise. As Emily Page said in the locker room, ‘We’re 1-0.’”
Three Mariah Turenne free throws closed out the half at 32-22, and she kept it rolling with a three-pointer to open the second half. The Jays pushed the lead all the way to 43-22 when Hannah Marrier converted a steal into a lay-up with 3:26 left in the third quarter. The Red Raiders chopped the margin to 47-34 in just two minutes with a help from two rare four-point plays. One came on a foul shot after a made trey and the other after an offensive rebound of the and-one miss.
MHS still led 49-36 after the end of the third, and it was still 54-41 after another Turenne three with 4:17 to go. But Medford dropped three threes while the Jays were missing 4-of-6 free throws to cut it to 56-52 with 1:18 remaining. But Starr Krenzke was fouled with Merrill killing clock, made the first free throw and Maddix Bonnell came up huge with a rebound of the second miss. She not only made the put-back, but she was fouled and swished the and-one for a 60-52 lead with :50 left. A Krenzke steal and Turenne’s two free throws offset the fourth trey of the quarter for the Red Raiders, and Bonnell blocked the final three-point try to seal the 63-55 win.
Merrill had trailed 6-3 in the first quarter but responded with a 14-5 run to the end. Marrier and Bonnell threes put up the final six points. Bonnell hit another three and a short jumper in the middle of the second and Morgan Marnholtz canned a pull-up jump shot for a 27-15 margin with 3:02 to intermission.
Bluejay production was provided by Bonnell (16 p, 6 r, 3 a), Turenne (19 p, 2 r), Marnholtz (10 p, 5 a), Krenzke (5 p, 7 r, 3 st), Morgan Pettit (4 p, 8 r), Emily Page (2 p, 4 a), Marrier (5 p), Malayna Beyer (2 p) and Chelsey laMonica (2 r).
The Bluejays (6-16) will visit top-seeded Mosinee (15-7) for round 2 of the playoffs at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night.
MHS–FG: 22-55 (40%); 3 pt: 6-18 (33%). FT: 13-30 (43%).
One woman team
The Bluejay girls had one last chance to pick up a Valley win after a season of strong efforts, but things didn’t look good after a two-point second quarter of Thursday’s Senior Night game put them in an 18-12 hole.
But Merrill worked a slight 11-10 edge in the third, then cut loose with an 16-2 run over the middle 4-1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter to grab a 41-34 lead. Rapids closed with a 10-3 burst in the final 1:06 to send the game into overtime tied 44-44, and overcame an early 48-44 OT deficit to win a 55-50 contest.
“Even though we came out a little flat, the girls never gave up,” Reincke said. “They built that nice lead and really worked to close it out. I’m not going to sleep tonight. I’m going to think it over in my head 58 times.
“That team beat us by 18 the last time we played them. We’ve taken serious strides since the beginning of the year. If we play that way in the playoffs, I think we’ll be all right.”
Morgan Marnholtz kicked off that 16-point run with a pair of free throws, and she ended the quarter by connecting on 6-of-8 attempts. Mariah Turenne hit back-to-back three-pointers in less than a minute, the second with 2:37 left gave Merrill’s its first lead since 1:35 left in the first quarter. Marnholtz sandwiched four foul shots around a dish to Starr Krenzke for an easy lay-up to give MHS its 41-34 lead.
But Carissa Vruwink hit her only basket of the game, a three-pointer with 1:06 left to give the Raiders a shot. Rapids’ 6’ 1” Victoria Hansen did the rest, scoring seven of her game-high 34 points in the last 57 seconds, mostly after offensive rebounds. She narrowly beat the final buzzer when she dropped in the game-tying shot.
Turenne hit a free throw and followed it with another three-pointer with 2:33 to go to put Merrill up 48-44, and Marnholtz converted two more foul shots to give the Jays a 50-49 lead with 1:24 left. But Hansen put back another offensive rebound, and teammates Maycie Wiernik and Alyssa Huglen made four late free throws to seal the win.
Bluejay contributions came from Maddix Bonnell (12 p, 8 r), Turenne (17 p, 3 r), Marnholtz (9 p, 2 r, 4 a), Krenzke (4 p, 7 r), Emily Page (4 p, 2 r, 3 a), Malayna Beyer (2 p), Kennedy Soderberg (2 p) and Chelsey LaMonica (2 r). Hansen also grabbed 15 rebounds.
MHS–FG: 14-56 (25%); 3 pt: 5-21 (24%). FT: 17-27 (63%).