Merrill girls turn up the thermostat
The Bluejay girls climbed into a tie for fourth place in the Valley-a half-game out of third-with a pair of big victories last week.
The girls improved to 5-5 in the league, and 7-11 overall, by knocking off the two squads directly ahead of them in the standings at the time.
Merrill edged Point, now 6-5 (and 11-10 overall) by a 41-39 tally last Tuesday, then pulled even with D.C. Everest (8-11 overall) with Friday’s 39-34 road triumph.
“We’re playing really well and this is the time you want to be doing that,” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “We came from behind in both games, and that has to do with the confidence they’ve been building. We’re playing as a team and everybody contributed again. That’s been really nice to see the last three games.
“Now, they’ve just got to keep pushing themselves.”
The Panthers grabbed an 11-9 lead, slipped behind 20-19 at the half, but pulled ahead 31-27 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Jays used a 14-8 fourth, that included 8-of-10 free throw accuracy, to sock away the win.
Ellen Donner converted a three-point play on a drive to the hoop with 25 seconds left, then Andi English stopped Point’s drive and Renee Sladek stole the ball. Sladek made the first free throw to put the Jays up by 4 with 8 seconds left. SPASH scored to cut it to two, but the Jays didn’t even have to inbound as time ran out.
“It was a fun ending,” Yuska said. “The girls played hard and we’re really deserving of the win.”
Sladek (9 p, 8 r, 3 st, 2 bl), Jourdyn Mootz (9 p, 5 r), English (7 p, 4 a), Aly Brandvold (7 p), Emma Sowieja (4 p, 3 r) and Donner (3 p, 3 r) made large contributions.
Merrill-FG: 14-30 (47%); FT: 12-17 (71%). SP-FG: 17; FT: 3-4 (75%).
The line was an even bigger ally in Friday’s win over Everest. Merrill canned 18-of-22 free throws for all but two of their fourth-quarter points in the decisive 20-14 fourth.
“We really did a great job at the free throw line,” Yuska said. “That 75% was our best of the season.
“We were a little out of our rhythm offensively, but defensively we did a nice job. We held their guard (Megan Kroll), who had hurt us big-time last time we played them, to seven points. A lot of different people contributed in a lot of ways. Our scoring was balanced again, as well.”
Kroll had scored 20 in 43-30 loss on Jan. 18.
Merrill led 6-3 after the first, but trailed 14-12 and 20-19 after the next two frames before the fourth-quarter explosion.
Sladek (8 p, 8 r, 6 st, 2 bl), Donner (13 p), Mootz (9 p, 4 st), English (4 p, 6 r), Brandvold (3 p, 6 st) and Ruth Leland (3 r) contributed.
Merrill-FG: 7-34 (21%); FT: 24-31 (77%). DCE-FG: 8; FT: 13-20 (65%).