By Jeremy Ratliff
Despite experiencing their share of woes recently, the Merrill varsity boys basketball squad seems to have found a bit of a late-season shuffle in their step this past week; downing both Wisconsin Rapids and New London in the wake of back-to-back lengthy road trips.
Tuesday night the guys made their third consecutive road trip, this time bound for Waupaca for a go-round with the Comets.
The Jays asseerted themselves early with a comfortable 34-28 lead at the half. That lead would get even more cozy in the second as the guys outscored the Comets 39-29 to seal the 73-57 victory, their third straight.
Junior guard Zach Mootz led the Bluejay scoring effort with 22 points on the night. Senior Ben Tabor followed with 18, while sophomore guard Quinn Steckbauer put up 9, respectively.
“Ben Tabor showed great senior leadership and played with some urgency,” comments head coach Jake Schalow.
“I thought we were flat in all aspects of the game in the first half, and Ben helped to pull us out of that in the 2nd half.”
MRL: 34 39-73
WPA: 28 29-57
Bulldozing the Bulldogs
Saturday, the guys hit the road southbound to square off with the Bulldogs and returned with a decisive 61-46 victory in-hand.
The guys lit it up from the get-go once again, with an impressive 32-point first half, dusting the Bully’s by 13 points.
The dawgs would make it a bit more respectable in the second, but the Jays would still secure the upper hand 29-27 for the win.
Steckbauer (4/8 FG, 2/4 3 pt, 4/4 FT, 3r, 2a) and Mootz (5/12 FG, 1/3 3pt, 3/5 FT, 9r, 4a, 2 st) paced the Jays with 14 points each, followed by Tabor with 11 points (5/6 FG, 1/1 3pt, 5r, a).
“We played well enough to win,” Schalow adds. “However I thought we played a little too sloppy. Committing 18 turnovers will not win many games, so we are fortunate to survive and get out with a road win. I am proud of how our players battled adversity, and it showed our heart by playing with energy even while playing on back-to-back nights – let alone two long road trips as well.”
MRL: 32 29-61
NEL: 19 27-46
Rally over the Raiders
In the wake of a roller coaster ride of a conference slate this season, the guys opened it up to spare no expense on the Wisconsin Rapids Raiders Friday night at Lincoln High School.
Despite a rough start in which the home-court red and white mounted a considerable 28-19 lead in the first half, Merrill responded with an impressive show of firepower in the second; blasting the Raiders 41-24 in the second for the go-ahead win.
Jared Ollhoff enjoyed another outstanding performance with 15 points to spearhead the victory effort (6/10 FG, 3/4 3pt, 9r, 2a).Mootz hammered out another 14 points (4/11 FG, 1/3 3pt, 5/8 FT, 13r, 6a) while Chase Bonnell fired in 10 pts (2/3 FG, 1/1 3pt, 5/6 FT, 3r).
“I was happy with how our team responded after our lackluster first half,” Schalow said. “Our coaching staff put a challenge out to the players to play up to the level that they are capable of doing. To our players’ credit, they answered the challenge and played very well in the second half.”
The guys will finish off a grueling four-game road stand this week at Waupaca and Ashland before capping their regular season at home next week, facing Rapids once again and Mosinee in their regular season finale.
Tuesday’s Waupaca bout is set for a 7:15 start at Waupaca High School.
MER: 19 41-60
WRL: 28 24-52