Merrill’s David Jesperson, a senior, and freshman Trevor Anderson of Stevens Point Area Senior High made strong cases for Wisconsin Valley Conference player of the year Friday night.
Jesperson stated his case with a mesmerizing first-half performance and wound up pouring in a game-high 28 points that had the Bluejays on the brink of turning the Valley race into a free-for-all in the final week.
That is where Anderson comes into the picture. He raised his game to another level to spark a fourth-quarter charge with 13 of his 23 points to help propel SPASH to a 64-52 win over the Bluejays to earn a share of the conference championship.
The Panthers can clinch the outright title with a win at Wausau West on Thursday.
Both coaches were effusive in their praise for the standout on the other end of the court.
“Jesperson is a great player. He’s tough to stop when he gets dialed in and tonight he was dialed in,” Panthers coach Scott Anderson said. “They run their stuff until they get a shot for him and it seems like he makes them against us.”
Merrill coach Kurt Soderberg was left to wonder of there is a way to shut down Trevor Anderson.
“(Trevor) Anderson is a big-time player. We schemed for him and we thought it would work, but he just made better plays than us,” the Bluejays coach said. “I don’t know if anyone can guard that guy.”
The Trevor Anderson show started with an assist to Jon Barnes to close out the third quarter to put the Panthers up 41-40.
After containing his dribble penetration pretty well through three quarters, Anderson spent the first four minutes shredding the Merrill defense.
He scored on three straight drives to open the fourth quarter and threw in a 3-pointer for good measure to ignite a 19-2 spurt that turned a nail-biter into a 60-42 blowout.
“What it came down to was our inability to stop the bleeding (in the fourth quarter). “A couple times we had them on the ropes and we couldn’t knock them out.”
Jesperson, a versatile 6-foot-8 forward/ center, spent most of the opening half throwing hay-makers.
He scored 19 points over the first half on 6 of 9 shooting from the field, while hitting all seven of his free throws.
Paul Theorin also found a hot hand with eight straight points during one stretch of the second quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers as Merrill built a seven-point lead.
The Bluejays were able to maintain a lead throughout much of the third quarter, before SPASH turned up the heat and found a way to get its running game going.
“That was a big play (at the end of the third quarter). I thought we were building momentum already and I think that just topped it off. Then we rode that wave into the fourth quarter,” Scott Anderson said. “I thought Merrill played very well tonight, and I think it’s a positive for us to be in a battle and be battled-tested.”
Merrill (52): Paul Theorin 8, Nick Peterson 3, Brandon Bartz 2, David Jesperson 28, Jake Anderson 3, Andrew Seaman 4, Chaz Mootz 4.
SPASH (64): George Diekelman 5, Trevor Anderson 23, Sam Hauser 8, Eric Zelhofer 7, Ryan Sullivan 8, Sean VanHelden 4, Jon Barnes 7, Joey Hahn 2.
3-pointers: Merrill 5 (Theorin 2, Jesperson 3), SPASH 5 (Anderson, Hauser, Zelhofer 2, Barnes).
Records: SPASH 19-2, 10-1 Valley; Merrill 8-11, 4-6 Valley.