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After a first half that featured 10 lead changes, senior Brandon Merfeld and the Aquinas High School boys basketball team had enough of the back-and-forth battle.

Brandon Merfeld

Merfeld

Merfeld scored 17 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, and facilitated the Blugolds’ pick-and-roll offense throughout as Aquinas topped Lancaster 61-50 Tuesday in a WIAA Division 4 regional quarterfinal in front of approximately 500 fans at the Reinhart Athletic Complex.

The eighth-seeded Blugolds (9-14) will travel to face top-seeded Darlington (19-2) in a regional semifinal Friday.

Aquinas led 25-23 after the ping-pong battle of a first half, but with the ball in Merfeld’s hands and a constant barrage of ball screens from the likes of Gavin Wetzel, Bryce Lee and Jacob Savoldelli, the Blugolds were finally able to get their offense in gear after the break.

Brad Reinhart

Reinhart

“We were able to identify some spots that we looked at from the first half and said, ‘OK, here’s a couple of areas that we can have success, so let’s try to get ourselves into that situation as often as we can in the second half,’” Aquinas coach Brad Reinhart said of the halftime adjustments. “Those were the times that we looked pretty good. We rebounded a little bit better in the second half to give ourselves a chance, and we made some free throws down the stretch to be able to put it away.”

A 3-pointer by Savoldelli gave the Blugolds their largest lead to that point, 47-40, with 6:17 to play, then Lee and Wetzel finished layups set up by Merfeld to push the Aquinas lead to double digits.

Savoldelli added 13 points, while Wetzel scored 10. Dawson Bowen led the Flying Arrows (6-16) with 14 points.

“We recognized how they were going to defend that ball screen, and one of two things were going to happen. We were either going to have an open baseline drive, or we would be able to slow-play it down the lane enough to get Brandon a shot or a lane to drop it off to the kid that set the screen,” Reinhart said. “We were able to put ourselves in that situation enough times to make a quality offense happen.”

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Merfeld scored eight of the Blugolds’ final 10 points to hold off a scrappy Lancaster team.

“We were kind of able to get a lot of open looks off the pick-and-rolls, and we were able to take advantage of me coming off it taking a shot, the big guy rolling, or throwing it back to the corner,” said Merfeld, who was 11-for-26 from the field. “We were just trying to find whatever was working at the time.”

Aquinas will have its hands full against Darlington, ranked 7th in the latest AP poll, but the Blugolds are no strangers to postseason upsets. The Blugolds topped third-seeded Wisconsin Heights as a No. 6 seed last season, and knocked off both a No. 2 and No. 1 seed as a No. 3 seed in 2016.

“We’re going to get right after it to get ready for Darlington,” Reinhart said. “They’re a good team, obviously, being a No. 1 seed, and they play some great teams in their conference. They’ll be ready, but we’ll get a game plan in place, and go in there and give them heck.”


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Chris Callaway can be reached at Christopher.Callaway@lee.net

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