Merrill hoopmen take everyone to the limit
The Bluejay boys basketball team pulled out an important 43-34 home triumph over Antigo last Tuesday, but the next two road contests slipped out of its collective grasp.
Merrill dropped a 64-52 game at SPASH (state HM) on Friday after holding the lead into the third quarter, then allowed Lakeland to surge late in Saturday’s 44-41 loss with negative seeding implications.
Merrill counted on clutch play in closing out the Antigo game.
“That was a really good high school game,” MHS coach Kurt Soderberg said. “It was entertaining and really good play.
“Beating Antigo is always fun; it doesn’t matter what (sport) it’s in. It’s such a great rivalry. That’s a well-respected program for the product they put on the floor.”
Merrill led 34-30 with 5:36 left in the game on a Jake Anderson putback and bonus free throw, it was still just 37-34 with 2:27 remaining, but a Paul Theorin alley-oop to Anderson, followed by Nick Peterson’s third and fourth free throw of the frame made it 41-34. Theorin then stole a rebound and swished both foul shots with 20 seconds left to cap it.
“Antigo came out and was more physical and aggressive than we were, but our kids adjusted after catching their breath at halftime,” Soderberg said. “We were able to get them in some foul trouble and did a good job executing down the stretch, including making free throws.”
The teams had played to a 12-12 tie in the first quarter before the Red Robins pushed ahead 20-16 at the half. MHS cut it to 30-29 through three quarters and out-scored Antigo 14-4 in the fourth.
The Jays were paced by: David Jesperson (9 p, 9 r); Anderson (13 p, 4 r); Theorin (8 p, 6 r, 3 a); Brandon Bartz (4 p, 3 st); Peterson (6 p); and Andrew Seaman (3 p).
Merrill-FG: 16-29 (55%); FT: 10-13 (77%). Antigo-FG: 14-42 (33%); FT: 1-2 (50%).
Pushing the Point
Road game. Top opponent.
The Bluejays could have rolled over, but instead pushed the Panthers for much of the game.
The built a 15-10 margin in the first quarter and stayed ahead 32-28 at intermission. The Panthers finally pushed through at 41-40 at the end of the third before cruising home with a 23-12 fourth.
“We played really outstanding basketball, particularly in the first half,” Soderberg said. “It was an excellent first half and a pretty good third quarter. But we had too many turnovers and missed a couple of half-court lay-ups in the fourth quarter. They got on a roll and we quickly got down 7-8-9 points.”
MHS offerings came from: Jesperson (28 p, 7 r); Theorin (8 p, 3 a); Seaman (4 p): Chaz Mootz (4 p); Peterson 3 p); and Anderson (3 p).
Merrill-FG: 18-36 (50%); FT: 11-12 (92%). SPASH-FG: 23-38 (61%); FT: 13-14 (93%).
Merrill rocketed out of the blocks in the Lakeland game, too, grabbing early 8-2 and 14-6 leads. Lakeland whittled it to 14-9 by the end of the first, and the teams were knotted at 20-20 at halftime.
The Jays pushed back ahead 29-27 through three quarters, but a 17-12 T-Bird outburst capped it off.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it got away from us,” Soderberg said. “We had a bout of turnovers late, and missed some free throws. We had a couple of empty possessions at the end. It’s not that we mailed it in. We just weren’t as sharp as other nights.”
Bluejay provisions came from: Jesperson (8 p, 10 r); Anderson (6 p, 4 r); Theorin (6 p); Mootz (5 p); Peterson (4 p); and Bartz (4 p).
Merrill-FG: 12-29 (41%); FT: 12-17 (71%). Lakeland-FG: 14-42 (33%); FT: 12-16 (75%).
Jesperson is just 21 points from becoming the fifth Bluejay to score a career 1,000 points. His brother Paul, now at Virginia, was the previous high-scorer on the list.
Merrill (8-12 overall, 4-6 WVC) picked up the fourth regional seed, meaning #5 Mosinee (9-11, 4-6 GNC) will come to town for Tuesday’s playoff opener. SPASH is 19-2 and 10-1, Lakeland (14-6, 7-3 GNC) picked up the #2 seed in Merrill’s regional, and Antigo is 14-5 and 7-3 (GNC).
“I think if we had won (Saturday), we would have had enough to get the two seed,” Soderberg said. “But we’re hosting a first-round game and that’s what we wanted. If we win, we go to Rhinelander on Friday (Feb. 22). Our goal is to win that regional.”