The Northland Pines Eagle boys basketball team traveled to Merrill to take on the Bluejays in a nonconference battle and came away with a 90-81 victory last Tuesday.

It was the first time a boys team from Northland Pines has beaten the Division 1 Bluejays.

Merrill pushed the tempo from the start and jumped to an early 10-4 lead within the first 3 minutes.

Nolan Lurvey hit a 3-pointer, sparking a 12-4 Eagles run to take a 16-14 lead at the 10-minute mark. Two Lurvey full-court passes led to easy buckets by Gabe Smith and Griffin Stiemke. A Ryan Muench 3-pointer and hard layup helped the Eagles take a 23-15 advantage with 7:30 to play.

Smith and Stiemke picked up their second fouls each with 6 minutes to play in the half, but reserves Milt Versman and Miles McCanles chipped in a quick layup and a 3-pointer, respectively, to keep the Eagles up at the 3:47 mark. Pines maintained an 11-point lead going into the break, up 41-30.

“We played a really good first half,” said Pines coach Terry Klemett. “The guys were attacking the rim, and we didn’t settle for quick shots from the outside. I was a little concerned when our ‘bigs’ got into foul trouble, but our bench was solid. Deven Millis is still getting his legs and he and Ryan Muench did a fantastic job on their best player.”

The second half saw Pines open up their lead to 56-41 with 12 minutes to play by attacking the rim and some fine outside shooting by Stiemke.

Merrill would chip into the Eagles’ lead with some hot shooting of their own and cut the lead to 67-59 with 8 minutes remaining.

“Our combination of size and basketball play-making really kept the game at bay. Usually, we get a few stops in a row, but Merrill shot as well as they could and credit them, they made some tough baskets,” said Klemett.

The Eagles maintained a 71-69 with 4 minutes to play on a couple inside baskets by Smith.

“We have been trying to get easy baskets by the rim in the half court and Gabe Smith did a fantastic job of posting up and finishing,” said Klemett.

The Eagles built an 80-74 with 2 minutes remaining as Muench was a smooth 6-for-6 from the free throw line and a Lurvey one-handed finish in traffic gave the Eagles the advantage to finish out the game and win 90-81.

“What a game this was,” said Klemett. “We rose to the occasion every time Merrill made a run. They were hot. They made 11 threes for the game and nine in the second half and that usually doesn’t bode well for the opposing team.

Stiemke led Pines with 23 points, followed by Smith with 22 points and five rebounds, Muench with 19 points and four steals, and Lurvey with 16 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

“It was nice to see Ryan Muench locked in again. He was amazing on both sides of the ball and when he plays like that, we are really good,” said Klemett. “If people don’t know about Gabe Smith, they better. The guy is turning into a monster on the court. He was amazing tonight and his post play and ball handling were fantastic.

The Bluejays shot a blistering 73% (11 of 15 from two) and 50% (9 of 18 from three) in the second half. The Eagles shot a total of 61% for the game with only seven turnovers and 18 offensive rebounds.

“This is a special group of guys. If you haven’t watched them play, you should, because they are fun to watch and sometimes, I find myself in awe of what they do as the game is going on and how well they play together. It’s a testament of their will to succeed and hard work day in and day out,” said Klemett.

Pines, 10-2 overall, will host Rhinelander in a Great Northern Conference game this Friday, Jan. 28, at 7:15 p.m. in the fieldhouse.