By Jared Schmeltzer
On Saturday night the Merrill boys basketball team took on the Lakeland T-Birds in the regional final, following their semi-final win the night before against Hortonville. Merrill came out aggressive and was able to get a 67-60 win over the T-Birds to be crowned as regional champs on their home court.
Lakeland came out of the gates hot and led the Jays most of the first half, but Merrill would rally and take a 29-26 advantage into halftime. Chase Bonnell was a spark plug for the Bluejays’ offense as he scored a team high nine points in the first half. Zach Mootz would come in with seven at the half, Quinn Steckbauer scored five, and Jared Olhoff rounded out the first half scoring with four.
In the second half of play the Bluejays never gave up their lead and would go on to take the 67-60 win. Mootz stepped up his game in the second half putting up 12 more points, six of which came from the free throw line. Jared Olhoff was a big factor in the Merrill win as he had a great second half scoring nine points. Steckbauer added six more to his point total and Chase Bonnell scored five more to bring his point total to 14.
“We played our best basketball of the season on Friday and Saturday,” comments head coach Jake Schalow. “I was really proud of our efforts, especially on the defensive end to get stops and limit the actions that both Hortonville and Lakeland wanted to get.”
Mootz led the Jays in scoring for the game with 19 points. Mootz also had five rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block in the game. Bonnell would end the game with 14 points, five rebounds and six assists. Olhoff ended his night with 13 points, four rebounds, an assist and two steals. Steckbauer had 11 points on what was a tough shooting night for him. Steckbauer missed six of his nine free throws which have been close to automatic for him for most of the year, but he was able to make up for that with his hustle in other parts of the game as he also had four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
With the win over Lakeland, Merrill moves on to the sectional semi-finals where the Bluejays will see a familiar face in WVC foe Marshfield. Merrill lost to the Tigers in both of their conference meetings this season, but will have another shot at them as they face off on Thursday night at Wausau East High School with tip off at 7 p.m.
Merrill tops Hortonville
On Friday night the Merrill boys went up against Hortonville in the regional semi-final. It was a tightly contested game until the Jays were able to pull away at the end to get the 68-57 victory.
It was a back and forth affair in the first half of play as neither team was able to hold on to a lead. Merrill would eventually take a two point lead into halftime as they led Hortonville 36-34. Zach Mootz had a very nice first half as he led the Bluejays in scoring with 11 points. Jared Olhoff wasn’t far behind with nine in the half. Michael Casper finished the first half of play with six points and Quinn Steckbauer would end with four.
In the second half of action the Jays’ defense stepped up in a big way as they held Hortonville to 23 points to the Bluejays’ 32, on their was to the 68-57 victory. Steckbauer had an outstanding second half of play on the offensive end as he was able to tally 12 more points. Mootz followed up his solid first half with another solid half as he added nine points to his total. Casper cracked double digit scoring as well as he had four more points in the half to bring his total to 10.
“We have been offensively sound for the entire year,” Coach Schalow said. “It has been the defensive end that has let us down in some stretches, but we were very solid on Friday and Saturday. It is nice to be playing your best basketball in March.”
Mootz led the Jays on the offensive end with 20 points. Mootz wasn’t done there as he also had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Steckbauer was automatic from the free throw line as he hit all 10 of his attempts on his way to a 16 point game. Steckbauer would also have two rebounds and an assist. Olhoff finished the game with 11 points to go along with his six rebounds and two assists. Casper had 10 points in the game, hitting one three ball and all three free throw attempts. Casper would also have a rebound and two assists.