Bluejays slip back with Valley losses
Just when the Merrill boys had kicked their season into overdrive, a pair of extremely tough-to-take defeats to teams directly in their WVC path momentarily stalled their progress.
The Jays had rattled off five wins in six games and put themselves in a position to finish as high as second behind Rapids, undefeated in Valley play and 20-1 overall.
But MHS dropped a 59-55 contest at SPASH (7-5, 14-7) last Tuesday, then fell 47-34 against D.C. Everest (7-4, 16-5) in Friday’s home contest.
The Jays (4-7, 10-11) had trailed Point 10-7 and 28-22 after the first two quarters, then edged back within 42-38 after the third and tied it up at 51-51. With 10 seconds remaining, Paul Jesperson brought the up court against a double team, alertly dribbling past a Sam Arneson mid-court screen. It worked perfectly except Arneson was called for a moving screen, putting SPASH on the line for four free throws after two additional for a bench technical.
“It was a very, very disappointing ending,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “We didn’t play particularly well, but we put ourselves in a position to win.
“We would have had a 4-on-3 with the ball in Paul’s hands, in the double bonus. Watching the tape, it’s even more disappointing because Sam was set for a two-count.”
A legal screen requires set position for one second. The double bonus means a team shoots two free throws on any foul.
Jesperson finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. Other contributions came from: Arneson (11 p, 3 r), Matt Woller (4 p, 4 r), David Jesperson (4 p) and Kyle Andreska (3 r).
“Paul was really phenomenal,” Soderberg said. “Sam was a real warrior. He had the flu and was literally sleeping on the bench in the locker room before the game. We played him two minutes here and two minutes there. Just his toughness was a good example to set for other kids in our program.”
Merrill-FG: 20-34 (59%); FT: 10-15 (67%). SP-FG: 16-37 (43%); FT: 18-29 (62%).
The Bluejays were embroiled in another barn-burner with Everest, leading 10-9 after a quarter, trailing 23-19 at intermission and edging ahead 28-26 through the third. But after Paul Jesperson picked up his fifth foul in the fourth, Merrill didn’t have an Everest answer.
“There was a mystery foul called on Paul,” Soderberg said. “The kid tripped on his own two feet. We still had a chance, but once we failed on a possession, we had to foul and they made their free throws.
“We get too dependent on Paul to score. Sam Koebe and Kyle both hit huge threes, but we had opportunities in the lane that we’re not finishing. These two games were a microcosm of our year. When we get some momentum, we lose traction. We’ve got to find some traction soon.”
Soderberg was still upset about the officiating.
“As rare as it is to see Paul foul out, it’s also rare to see a team only collect five fouls in a half,” he said. “It’s not like they were sitting in a zone. This isn’t about my personal ego. These kids worked so hard to battle back to take the lead and it’s taken away or made a lot tougher. All any of us coaches want is for it to be equitable.”
D.C.E. used a 21-6 advantage in the fourth for the win, and connected on 20-of-27 foul shots to Merrill’s 6-of-11.
Offerings came from: Paul Jesperson (16 p, 5 r, 3 a), Woller (6 p, 5 r, 3 st), Arneson (4 p, 4 r), Andreska (3 p) and Koebe (3 p).
Merrill-FG: 13-31 (42%); FT: 6-11 (55%). DCE-FG: 12-24 (50%); FT: 20-27 (74%).