Bluejay boys drop heartbreaker to Abes
The Merrill High School boys’ basketball team put in a great effort but came up a little short in the opener of a rare boys/girls hoops night Friday against Eau Claire Memorial 45-44 at the MHS Fieldhouse.
Merrill spotted their guests a nine point lead before Andrew Seaman broke the Bluejay scoring drought with 3:45 left in the first quarter. Merrill coach Kurt Soderberg said despite this early lead, his team didn’t panic.
“We gave up too much too early around the basket,” Soderberg said. “We got down 9-0, and when we get in that situation, we can’t flinch. I thought our boys did a great job of not flinching.”
In the end, the Jays battled back to trail by just 3 points at the end of the first period of play 13-10.
The two teams seemed much more evenly matched in the second quarter, with the Bluejays tying the game 20-20 at 2:30 left in the first half on a David Jesperson layup. The Abes retaliated with a pair of treys to pull away slightly in the last minute of the half before Nick Mootz hit a driving layup to cut the lead to 26-22 going into the locker room at the half.
With a renewed focus after the break, the Jays came out shooting better than they did in the first half. In the first 2:45 of the third quarter, Michael Seaman chipped in five points and Brandon Bartz hit a layup to give Merrill their first lead of the game 29-28. The two teams then spent the rest of the quarter locked in a dual, with each team scoring 13 points and the Abes held a 39-35 lead at the third stop.
In the final quarter, Merrill gamely battled to stay within striking distance of Memorial, even tying the game 39-39 with just over 6 minutes left to play and lead 42-41 with 3:40 left.
With that slim lead, Soderberg opted to go with the spread delay to force the Abes into fouling, eventually sending Merrill to the charity stripe with 41 seconds left to play. Jesperson hit both tries on a 1 and 1 opportunity to give Merrill a 44-41 lead. Eau Claire’s Daminiqus Ford hit both of a bonus trip to the line with 14 seconds left to play and Malek Lemke drilled a jumper with 3 seconds left to give them a 45-44 lead. After a time out to come up with a play, Jesperson tried to find a shot but was double covered and dished off a pass to Nick Peterson, whose shot missed due to what appeared to be an uncalled foul on an Abe player that put the ball off target just enough for the miss.
Soderberg said he was pleased with the effort his team put in, especially down the stretch.
“Our kids put themselves in a position to win a game that was a dogfight,” Soderberg said. “You can only learn something from a game like we had tonight.”
He said that the only thing the Bluejays could have done to improve their chances at the end would have been avoiding a late turnover when they were in the spread delay and sending Ford to the line four times in the closing minutes.
“You have to give him a lot of credit for hitting two free throws after missing two right before that,” he said.
Jesperson led the Bluejays in scoring with 11 points, while Paul Theorin added 87. Both Seamans and Nick Mootz each had 5, Bartz and Jake Anderson contributed 4 points and Chaz Mootz came off the bench to add 2 points.
The Bluejay boys will play Menomonie Thursday in an 11 a.m. contest at Wausau West.