Bluejay boys turn the tide with pair of triumphs
The MHS boys basketball team found a way out of its 0-4 hole and liked it so much it decided to win again.
Merrill capped off last Tuesday’s girls/boys home doubleheader, burying Lakeland with a flurry of free throws in a 48-40 triumph.
Then they picked up their first Valley victory with Friday’s 44-32 triumph at Wausau West.
“I’m not surprised,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “I think this team is capable of playing this way. We kind of found our identity.
“Going into the season I felt like we could change our style quite a bit, but we found it was better if we went back to our early style with a lot of man-to-man basketball. We’ll still look for shots in transition when they’re there for us, but we will work for really good shots in the half-court. I kind of misread our team at the beginning of the year. The biggest thing is the group that went to state two years ago didn’t make a commitment to defense until January. This group did it at Marshfield (Nov. 30).”
Merrill actually trailed West 13-12 after a quarter, but the locals turned it around with a 10-1 second quarter. The Warriors cut it slightly to 33-26 in the third, but Merrill closed it out with an 11-6 fourth.
“The score at West was low, but that had more to do with us being patient,” Soderberg said. “We found a way to win and did it convincingly. I’m not going to complain about that.
“Holding them to one point in the second quarter really set the tone for the rest of the game. They made a short run in the second half, but behind a big three from Paul (Theorin) we were able to stem that tide.”
Ball security also is aiding the recent run.
“For the third game in a row we dropped our turnovers,” Soderberg said. “At West we only had nine turnovers, which is very good for a high school team. You combine that with great defense and you’re going to have a chance to win games.”
David Jesperson created his fourth consecutive double-double by scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also blocked 2 shots. Backing him up were: Theorin (12 p, 3 r); Brandon Bartz (3 r, 4 a); Nick Peterson (4 p); Nick Breaman (3 p); Michael Seaman (4 r); and Jake Anderson (3 r).
Merrill-FG: 15-40 (38%); FT: 11-12 (92%). Wausau West-FG: 10-48 (21%); FT: 7-10 (70%).
Walking the line
Merrill overcame a Lakeland second-quarter lead, evened it in the third and took control by canning 18-of-25 foul shots.
“That was really the first time we made a concious effort to go back to our standard style,” Soderberg said. “In the first half we didn’t do a very good job of closing off the gaps, but we made a halftime adjustment to close those gaps. The kids also rebounded very well.
“Once we got the lead we just started milking the clock. All of our points in the fourth quarter came at the line and that was by design. We wanted to control the ball. We wanted them to foul us or work it until we got a lay-up, and the kids did it.”
The Bluejays held an early 6-4 edge on treys by Jesperson and Theorin, and were up 12-11 at the quarter break. But the T-Birds gradually surged ahead, pushing it to 24-17 in the final minute of the half. The Jays used a 10-2 run early in the third to go up 29-28, and a basket apiece left it 31-30 by the end of the frame.
Merrill’s patience drew fouls starting early in the fourth with a margin of just 32-30. It was just 36-34 with the fourth half done, but the sure foul shots points combined with a stifling defense causing turnovers gradually eroded Lakeland’s chances.
Bartz converted 12-of-16 free throws. He (6 r) and Jesperson (11 r, 2 bl) both provided 16 points. Other contributions came from: Theorin (8 p, 3 a); Andrew Seaman (5 p, 4 r); Michael Seaman (3 p)..
Merrill-FG: 13-38 (34%); FT: 20-29 (69%). Rhinelander -FG: 15-42 (36%); FT: 8-11 (73%).
The Jays are 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the Valley.West is 2-5 and 0-3, while Lakeland is 2-0 and 4-2.