Bluejays dam up Rapids
The Merrill girls basketball team kicked off a conference season loaded with potential pitfalls with Friday’s 42-33 road triumph.
“It was really nice to get a win in our first conference game of the season,” MHS coach Melissa Yuska said. “There are a lot of competitive teams in the Valley, and we’ve got to keep up our intensity.
“We’ve really been working hard in practice and I think it pays off in games. We’re out-lasting other teams. We did that in Ashland and I think we did it again with Rapids. We’re able to keep up the intensity for a full game. We always tell the girls you’ve got to practice the way you want to play.”
Similar to what the Green Bay Packers’ offense has been seeing in 2012 in defenses tailored to stop the passing attack, the Bluejays faced a defense tilted to stop the inside threat of Renee Sladek.
“They came out in a 1-3-1 zone,” Yuska said. “They wanted to clog up the middle. Mariah (Turenne) and Dawn (Leland) really stepped up and hit outside shots at important times. It’s nice to have different girls you can go to.
“Renee was able to come on in the second half and get some looks inside and get to the free throw line. She made 75% of her foul shots.”
Sladek finished with a game-high 14 points, boosted by canning 6-of-8 free throws, and she added 10 rebounds, 3 assist and 3 blocks. Leland gave 11 points-with 3-of-4 treys-5 rebounds and 3 blocks, and Turenne dropped 10 points. Reegan Byer (3 p, 3 r, 4 a), Lindsay Krueger (5 p) and Lauren Hojan (3 r) gave significant additions.
“Reegan led us with 4 assists and it was nice to see several other girls with (at least) two assists,” Yuska said. “It shows we have such an unselfish team. They want to make the best pass to their teammates and that’s exciting to see.”
Merrill opened with a 14-10 edge and the teams play to an 8-8 second quarter. The Jays led 34-29 after three quarters after 8 points from Sladek and Merrill put it away with an 8-4 fourth.
“The game was neck-and-neck,” Yuska said. “We struggled containing their bigger girls. We were taller, but not as big and they had an advantage inside.
“We’d build leads of 8-10 points and then let them back in. They were able to out-muscle us, but we’d come back down and connect. We did things throughout the game when it was big and important.”
The Jays powered their attack through 29 rebounds and 11 steals.
They improved to 3-1 on the year.
Merrill-FG: 14-36 (39%); FT: 8-14 (57%). Rapids-FG: 13; FT: 7-14 (50%).