The Merrill boys soccer team not only picked up its third Valley win of the season last week, it came within a few goals of taking down two of the upper echelon teams in the conference.
Merrill pulled two games ahead of last-place Wausau East with a 4-3 home triumph over Wausau West last Tuesday, although East ( 2-9) cut the edge to one with a Tuesday win over West (4-8).
But the Jays fell victim to at-the-time second-place Marshfield by a 3-1 tally on Thursday and West stayed a game ahead of Merrill.
Then Merrill had a golden opportunity with a lead over second-place SPASH (8-3) at home on Tuesday, but the Panthers pulled out the 4-3 win with a second-half spurt.
A Devon Annis score with just 4:19 left in the first half, after an assist from Aidan Ball, gave Merrill a 3-2 lead. But SPASH knotted it up halfway through the second half on a tough direct free kick play where MHS goalie Trevor Asmundsen appeared to have the ball in his grasp only to have his arm hit and the ball knocked free. Jarrett Jones punched it into the goal mouth. A minute later, Clayton Morey netted the go-ahead score and it would hold up to the end.
Brian Root had scored Merrill’s first goal and Annis put home a Austin Burgener assist to tie the game aszt 2-2.
Dashing the Warriors
Neither the Jays or Warriors ever grabbed more than a one-goal lead in Tuesday’s contest.
West shocked Merrill with a goal at the end of the first minute, but Root knotted it with an unassisted score in the 20th.
Both defenses stiffened until a wild two-minute span 20 minutes into the second half. Root netted an unassisted goal, but a little more than a minute later, Barni Shiferaw tied it at 2-2. Less than a minute later, Riley Sutton brought the lead back to the Jays.
Ben Johnson tied it again at 3-3 in the 73rd minute, but Root hit his hattrick in the 83rd minute and Merrill held on for the 4-3 triumph.
“We did amazing,” MHS coach Luis Mendoza said. “It was a pretty intense game. At the end, they came out with the win to beat their old coach (Chris Behrens) and it was their senior night.
“Our defense pretty much shut down everything that was sent up. We got beat 8-nothing the first time we played. The guys wanted to prove to (Behrens) that they could win (Valley) games.”
Root’s three goals were a special treat for Senior night.
“He was definitely happy,” Mendoza said. “It was something he needed and we needed it as a team, too.”
West out-shot Merrill 19-14, but MHS was more accurate, with a 12-9 shots-on-goal edge. Asmundsen came up with 6 saves, while West’s Thomas Hogan had 8.
Marshfield (7-3-1) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first nine minutes of Thursday’s contest, but Devon Annis cut the margin in half before the half by netting a Tyler Grieser assist in the 40th minute.
Luke McCann scored his second goal of the game in the 62nd minute for the only tally of the second half. Both were unassisted.
“We played well, but we made some mistakes,” Mendoza said. “It’s part of the game to make mistakes – we’re not perfect – and they took advantage of that. They’re a pretty good team.”
The Tigers held a 12-7 advantage in shots and a 10-6 margin in shots on goal. Merrill’s Asmundsen saved 7, while Mathias Holm stopped 5.