Lady Jays drop OT thriller
The Merrill High School girls’ basketball team showed a lot of heart and determination Friday night in a 55-52 OT loss to the visiting Eau Claire Memorial Old Abes in a non-conference game at the MHS fieldhouse.
Merrill jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes of play, sparked by a pair of Renee Sladek lay ups and a great put back by freshman Anna Finnell before the Abes battled back to knot the score 8-8 with 3:30 left in the first quarter of play when Tina McCann sank the first of two treys in period.
Despite the early lead, MHS coach Melissa Yuska said her team struggled in the first half.
“For a while there, it looked like we were the team that had just spent a couple hours on a bus instead of Eau Claire,” Yuska said.
After trading baskets with the Abes the rest of the way in the first, the Bluejays found themselves trailing 14-12 after one period of play.
Memorial controlled the second period by capitalizing on free throws and dominating in the paint the second eight minutes. Merrill found themselves down 29-21 as they headed into the locker room.
“We made some adjustments at the half and came out much more focused in the second half,” Yuska said.
It didn’t help that the normally deep Bluejay bench was riddled with illness and injury, with only nine of the 12 players on the roster suiting up for the game.
Sladek wasted no time striking for Merrill, hitting a trey from the top of the arc just 25 seconds into the third quarter, with Brianna LaMonica chipping in seven points in the quarter. The Bluejays closed the gap the Abes had built in the first half, outscoring their guests 16-12, including holding them scoreless in the final two minutes of the quarter to trail 41-37.
In the final quarter of play, the Bluejays turned up their defense and again outscored Memorial in the quarter 11-7 and pulling to within a basket with 1:15 gone in the game and tying the score at 43 45 seconds later.
After regaining a slim lead, the Abes went into a stall spending 1:40 working the ball around before sinking a jumper with 2:01 left to play in regulation to lead 48-45.
Lindsay Krueger drove to the hoop with 1:27 to play to cut the lead to 48-47. Merrill couldn’t take advantage of a Memorial turnover a few seconds later and had to resort to fouling to keep the Abes from running out the clock. When McKenna Gruber missed the front end of a 1 and 1 opportunity, the Bluejays came up with possession of the ball with just seven seconds left on the clock after a scramble for the loose ball that eventually went out of bounds in front of the Abe’s bench.
Yuska used a time out to draw up a play that would put the ball in Sladek’s hands to make the final shot. While her shot at the buzzer failed to find the hoop, she was fouled on the play and sank the first of two free throws to send the game into overtime.
What did in the Bluejays in the extra period was cold shooting from the charity stripe, hitting half of their four attempts while Memorial went 5 for 6. The Bluejays still had a chance to force a second OT period when they got the ball at half court with 1 second left on the clock but couldn’t get a shot off in time.
“I thought our kids played a better second half as we made a nice comeback and they never quit which was nice to see,” Yuska said. “If we had started off with more intensity it could have been a different game. I couldn’t be more proud to have a team that never quits.”
Sladek lead all scorers with 26 points to go with her 7 rebounds, 2 steals and two blocked shots. LaMonica’s seven points were next highest for the Jays, and she added 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Krueger had five points, 2 rebounds a steal and an assist. Finnell, Dawn Leland and Mariah Turenne each contributed 4 points and Lauren Hojan chipped in two.
The Lady Jays will travel to Janesville for a tournament Thursday and Friday. They play Edgewater at 6 p.m. with their opponent and start time on Friday depending on the outcome.