By Jeremy Ratliff
There is little argument to the idea of the Merrill Boys varsity basketball squad experiencing their share of conference woes this season.
At times the road through the Wisconsin Valley was downright grueling.
But one universal sign of a solid team and dedicated athletes and coaches is the ability to rebound, especially in the world of basketball.
The guys have certainly proved that lately – with a four-game, late-season winning streak, and a streak of wins of five points or more in three of those games. The Jays looked to keep the triumph train rolling Tuesday night in hosting Wisconsin Rapids-Lincoln in their final WVC bout of the season.
The Jays have made a habit lately of asserting dominance right away and they managed to do just that on Tuesday night, taking a 29-26 lead headed into intermission.
They would continue to pour on the nasty sauce in the second, piling up a 65-51 lead with just under five minutes to go in the contest.
But as the old adage goes, “Nothing is ever a given in the Valley.”
Rapids underlined those words with a spirited comeback effort to draw within 2 with 1:10 left and hold that margin into the waning seconds of the game.
Then with just 15.6 seconds left and tied at 71, junior Jared Ollhoff drew the foul and sank both of his free throws to set the Jays up 73-71.
Rapids would manage to move the ball close to the net and as the final seconds ticked down would send the ball airborne from just inside the arc, only to bounce off the rim as the final buzzer sounded; sealing the heartstopping Bluejay win.
“I am very happy for our seniors that we were able to take care of business on Senior Night and send them out with a win,” comments a proud head coach Jake Schalow. “I thought Jon (Gruetzmacher) was huge in the first half of eliminating good looks around the rim for Rapids, and finishing well for us. Jared Ollhoff was outstanding tonight finishing perfect from the field while still contributing 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. We were able to build on some things based on how we have played the last few games, and it was nice to finish out the conference season strong.”
As Schalow mentioned, Ollhoff would round out his game winning effort with 20 points (6/6 FG, 1/1 3pt, 7/9 FT, 4r, 3a) followed by stellar sophomore Quinn Steckbauer with another 12 points (1/5 FG, 10/12 FT, r, 4a). Gruetzmacher haunted Raider offenders all evening and put up 11 points to round out his resume (5/6 FG, 1/2 FT, 7r, 2a).