The Bluejay soccer team did everything in its power to claw its way up in the standings in the final week of Valley play last week, but couldn’t quite get over the hump. They showed their quality play once again while losing a pair of one-goal games to two of the top teams in the league.
The Jays finished in sixth place at 3-9, a game ahead of Wausau East and a game behind Wausau West.
Runner-up SPASH (9-3) , which finished a half-game out of the title position, rallied for a 4-3 victory at the MARC on Tuesday.
Merrill closed out the regular season under the lights at Wis. Rapids (6-6) on Thursday, and the Raiders broke a 1-1 tie with the winning goal with just 10 minutes left.
Noah Gust put Rapids on the board first, in the 19th minute, but Brian Root knotted it up with an unassisted score in the 30th minute.
Gust put the game away with his unassisted tally in the 79th minute.
“It was a pretty intense week,” MHS coach Luis Mendoza said. “It was definitely a closer game. I thought the team did a good job of keeping them away from our goal.
“The guys played like they wanted. Obviously it was our last (regular) season game, and they wanted to get another win before the playoffs, but Rapids played better.”
Rapids let 25 shots fly, while Merrill hit 9, but the Jays put 7 on goal, while WR had 8. Merrill’s Trevor Asmundsen and Jordan Thomas each came up with 6 saves.
Merrill had a golden opportunity with a lead over second-place SPASH 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 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. Two minutes later, Clayton Morey netted the go-ahead score and it would hold up to the end.
Brian Root had scored Merrill’s first goal in the 5th minute and Annis put home a Austin Burgener assist in the 14th minute to give the Jays an early 2-0 lead.
The Panthers tied it up with goals in the 16th and 35th minutes.
“The first half, the guys did an amazing job of getting the ball up the field,” MHS coach Luis Mendoza said. “In the second half, we stopped doing everything that was working and started to give the ball away more.”
Merrill was out-shot 29-13 overall and 17-10 on goal. Asmundsen came up with 13 saves, several of them on excellent plays, and Ryan Weber stopped 6. Matt Altmann saved the only shot on goal he saw.
The Jays play at Ashwaubenon to open the WIAA playoffs at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday.
“Ashwaubenon played (common opponents) Rapids, West and Phillips, and got beat by Rapids and West,” Mendoza said. “They are a pretty good team, but our team is very excited. The coaches believe we can win. Now it’s up to the players to believe and play as a team. If they do, they can come out with a win.”