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Jays take close season opener

Jays take close season opener Jays take close season opener


A 14-5 surge put Merrill ahead for good in the first half and a 13-5 run at the end of the game silenced a Medford rally and assured the Blue Jays came out victorious 45-36 in the Nov. 24 girls basketball season opener at Raider Hall.

Though the game featured the low shooting percentages and high turnover rates one might expect for a first game, it was also tightly contested and was anyone’s game until Merrill got key baskets from Nicole Zoellner and Claire Drew down the stretch to seal the deal.

“The girls tried really hard,” Greg Klapatauskas said after his head coaching debut for Medford. “I can’t fault them for that. I told them after the game that I’ll take some blame for the fact that it was a brand-new offense, there was only so much we could put in in seven days and that we aren’t ready to adjust to people adjusting to us. We tried hard but came up short this time. We just need to get better.”

The Raiders were patient and worked for good looks in their version of the swing offense, especially early, but several of those good shots as well as seven first-half free throws didn’t fall as Medford dug a nine-point hole yet still managed to fight their way back to just a 22-19 halftime deficit.

Drew and Courtney Krueger hit 3-pointers in Merrill’s 14-5 run that put the Jays up 20-11. Martha Miller scored off a Laurissa Klapatauskas assist, Marissa Fronk hit one of two free throws to cut Merrill’s lead to 20-14. After Krueger made two of three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt, Klapatauskas made a free throw and missed the second with 37.5 seconds left, but Rynn Ruesch rebounded the miss and put it in and Bryn Fronk sank two free throws after getting fouled as time expired.

The Raiders were on the verge of grabbing the lead a few times in the second half, but never quite got there.

Marissa Fronk’s 3-pointer made it a 24-22 game in the opening moments and a Ruesch basket made it 26-24. Krueger hit a 3-pointer to push Merrill’s lead back to 31-25 at the 10:12 mark, but Klapatauskas made one of two free throws 10 seconds later and Miller finished on a nice stepthrough move to cut the deficit to three. A Katie Brehm free throw made it 31-29 with 8:53 left and Autumn Krause’s free throws with 7:54 to go got the Raiders within 32-31.

From there, Merrill went on a mini 7-0 run, highlighted by a threepoint play by Monica Lane off a scramble for a loose ball with 5:14 left. Marissa Fronk countered with her second triple of the night and Krause made one of two free throws with 4:30 to go to pull the Raiders within 39-35. The Raiders got a stop and good 3-point look for Bryn Fronk that rattled in and out. Zoellner scored off Krueger’s penetration with 2:00 to go and Drew iced it with a clutch 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:31 left that pushed Merrill’s lead back to eight.

Statistically, the key differences were Merrill’s 14-1 edge in secondchance points, the Blue Jays’ ability to score following Medford turnovers and their slightly better shooting percentage. Otherwise the numbers were nearly dead even.

Medford shot 28.9% from the field (11 of 48), while Merrill made 34.2% of its shots (13 of 48). The Jays were four of 12 from 3-point range, while Medford was two of 14. The Raiders made 12 of 24 free throws, while Merrill was 15 of 26.

Merrill had a 29-28 rebounding advantage. Medford turned the ball over 23 times, while Merrill had 22 miscues. Merrill had 18 points in the paint compared to Medford’s 16.

Coach Klapatauskas said the difficulties of establishing a new offense were evident after just over a week of practice.

“We didn’t have the counters for it yet,” he said. “When they overplay something, we have to know, ‘OK if my girl is doing this, I need to do this.’ The counters to our offense, the overplays, we have to be able to adjust to. That will come with time. Seven days is not enough. It’s tough.”

There was a good battle within the game as the team’s top guards, Marissa Fronk and Krueger, were matched up against each other for most of the night in the teams’ man-to-man defenses. Fronk led Medford with 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Miller and Ruesch scored six points each. Ruesch added five rebounds. Klapatauskas had five points, a team-high three assists and two rebounds. Krause and Bryn Fronk scored four points each. Fronk had three rebounds and Krause had two boards and two assists. Brehm scored a point and had three rebounds.

Krueger led all scorers with 15 points, while Drew had 10.

“We’ll have to find some ways to create more shots for Marissa,” Greg Klapatauskas said. “(Krueger) did a nice job on her. Marissa was able to start figuring it out. Instead of going down low, she popped back out. It was open. She hit a couple of 3s. The rest of us need to start cutting hard and then hit that. It’ll come.

“We’ve worked on finishing every day,” he added. “We thought we were going to finally get over that achilles heel of not being able to finish and we went right back to not being able to finish.”

Medford is set to visit Antigo on Friday and Northland Pines on Tuesday to start Great Northern Conference play. The Raiders have been hit with some COVID-19 issues, complicating things for this week, but those varsity games were still on at mid-week. The Dec. 10 game with Tomahawk that was scheduled to be played at Medford Area Middle School has already been postponed as the Hatchets aren’t playing until Dec. 15.