Daunting deficit? Hardly a deal-breaker for Merrill girls
The Bluejays girls had been off to a solid start for their season and used a super beginning to rout Lakeland last Tuesday.
But the opening of Friday’s home contest with Wausau West left a lot to be desired. By the third quarter it reached a peak with the Jays trailing 43-29, putting their 4-1 record in jeopardy.
Not so fast.
The girls dug deep and turned their game up several notches, finally prevailing 59-54 to move to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Valley. West dipped to 2-1 in the WVC and 5-2 overall.
MHS coach Melissa Yuska credits the Bluejays’ highly competitive practices for their game-time endurance.
“The girls had a lot of fun and they showed a lot of heart,” she said. “We kept pushing, which was fantastic to see. We’ve been talking about how hard they’ve been working in practice and how it’s showing off in games. They had the energy to make that comeback. It was hard but they pushed right through it.
“A lot of teams that get down by 14 would drop down a bit and think the game’s done. Obviously, we didn’t. We played with a lot of heart and intensity and beat a good team.”
West grabbed an early 20-16 lead and it stabilized at 29-25 at the half. The Warriors jumped to their largest lead with a 14-4 start to the second half before Merrill whittled it to 45-35 by the end of the third.
The Jays exploded for the win with 24-9 control of the fourth.
Renee Sladek broke free for 27 points, 7 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks. Backing her up were: Dawn Leland (12 p, 4 a, 3 st); Reegan Byer (5 p); Mariah Turenne (5 p); Anna Finnell (5 r); Brianna LaMonica (4 p); and Lauren Hojan (2 bl).
Merrill-FG: 19-43 (44%); FT: 18-24 (75%). West-FG: 20; FT: 12-18 (67%).
Toppling the T-Birds
The Jays put Lakeland in a huge 24-5 hole in the first quarter. The teams played to a 17-17 tie in the middle periods, before Merrill closed up the 53-30 triumph with a 12-8 fourth.
“We just came out on fire,” Yuska said. “It was nice to put them away early. We’re definitely excited where we sit right now and we still haven’t played a complete game. It’s exciting to think what we are capable of doing when we get there.
“Lakeland started to make it into a game, getting within 14-16 points in the third quarter. We found ourselves on our heels. We called time out and said, ‘Let’s kick it into gear,’ and they did. It was a great team effort.
“It was a game where we were able to have everybody play. As a coach you always want to see that. Unfortunately at the varsity level in the closer games you can’t get everybody in. But everybody has been playing a role, whether in practices or games. Everybody is contributing.”
The Bluejay bounty came from: Sladek (27 p, 7 r, 4 st, 2 bl); LaMonica (7 p, 3 st); Lindsay Krueger (4 p, 3 r); Turenne (4 p, 3 r); Leland (3 r, 3 st); Kendra Andreska (4 p); Byer (3 st); and Finnell (2 bl).
Merrill-FG: 19-42 (45%); FT: 11-16 (69%). Lakeland-FG: 10; FT: 9-16 (56%).
The Bluejay girls alumni game will be played after Friday’s boys/girls double-header with Eau Claire Memorial. The girls end starts at 7:45 p.m. with the alumni game to follow immediately afterward. Call Yuska at 715-536-4594, ext. 18248 for more info.