Crown Point's Miranda Elish and Merrillville's Darian Patton fight for a rebound during the first quarter on Friday, in Crown Point. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
Merrillville 59, Crown Point 52
MERRILLVILLE (11-0) 9 - 13 - 22 - 15 == 59 CROWN POINT (3-10) 17 - 8 - 14 - 13 == 52 MERRILLVILLE (59)
CROWN POINT (3-10) 17 - 8 - 14 - 13 == 52
MERRILLVILLE (59)Victoria Gaines 6-2-14, Dariyan Morris 7-1-16, AJ Downs 2-2-6, Amber Sturdivant 1-0-2, Dariyan Patton 0-1-1, Jaz Talley 2-0-4, Myranda Harris 5-3-15, Anjellica Peppers 0-0-0. TOTALS: 23 (9-17) 59.
CROWN POINT (52)
Hannah Albrecht 4-2-11, Katija Tarailo 5-6-16, Abby Kvachkoff 2-0-6, Ashley Cunningham 2-0-4, Katie Howarth 1-3-5, Taylor Equihua 2-2-6, Sarah Rivich 2-0-4, Miranda Elish 0-0-0, Rachel Honaker 0-0-0, Kara Breuckman 0-0-0. TOTALS: 18 (13-15) 52.
MERRILLVILLE (9-17, 52.9%) Gaines 2-3, Patton 1-2, Morris 1-5, Downs 2-3, Harris 3-4; CROWN POINT (13-15, 86.6%) Albrecht 2-2, Tarailo 6-7, Howarth 3-4, Equihua 2-2.
Updated: December 24, 2012 11:38AM
CROWN POINT — Most people in the big Crown Point gym Friday night expected the visiting Pirates to defeat the host Bulldogs. Merrillville’s girls team came in with a record of 10-0. The boys were 6-1.
The Lady Bulldogs were 3-9 and CP’s boys were 3-4. These Crown Point-Merrillville matchups are always a big deal but the home kids had reason to be a little concerned with what might happen in front of a holiday crowd of about 1,500.
Four hours after the night began, both Pirates teams had indeed won. But Crown Point suggested to the noisy neighborhood “friends of the programs” in attendance that the gap between the two schools’ basketball teams might not be as large as the records indicate.
The Pirate boys overcame a nine-point third quarter Crown Point lead to get out of town with a 72-65 victory after Merrillville’s undefeated, fifth ranked girls rallied from a 10-point second quarter to top CP 59-52.
If it’s all about winning, the night was total loss for Crown Point. But fortunately, during the regular season, it’s not.
The Lady Bulldogs (3-10) had to take this show against the state rated Duneland Athletic Conference leader as a positive.
CP’s squad, which got only limited play from seniors Taylor Equihua and Sarah Rivich, who were both ill, led 25-22 at the half and was even at 37-37 with 3:55 left in the third quarter.
They overcame Merrillville’s superior quickness and experience with a clogging interior defense that frustrated the Pirates.
CP, which has lost six times by 10 points or more, was as good as it was one week earlier in a 78-58 loss to Michigan City (9-1), a game they led 22-12 early.
On Friday, the Lady Bulldogs led the undefeated Pirates until the middle of the third quarter when Dariyan Morris led a 10-0 run that put the Pirates ahead for the first time.
CP scored seven in a row to close to within 55-52 with 1:15 left before AJ Downs hit two free throws to extend the Merrillville lead.
This was a 3-9 team against a 10-0 team. In SA eason where Crown Point knew they’d start out rebuilding after graduating five senior starters, it’s hard to figure why the Lady Bulldogs have played their est against the top squads.
“We just play free and easy,” said senior Equihua, who did not start because of illness during the week. “We’ve got nothing to lose. The underclassmen have really started to step up. We need to play this way all the time.”
Coach Anne Equihua was encouraged. “We just seem to be able to play our best against the better teams.
“We played a sagging man-to-man defense because we’re just not quick enough to guard them. We wanted to make them shoot from outside and we were able to follow the game plan.”
Merrillville coach Amy Govert had to see to the injury to guard Dariyan Patton afterwards but assistant coach Darcie Johnston said the unbeaten Pirates were jump started at halftime for what would be their 32nd consecutive (Merrillville was 21-2 last season) regular season win..
“They got an earful,” she reported. “Mostly about how you can’t just walk into somebody else’s gym and expect to win.
“We changed our press after halftime. Our girls have heart. We know they do. They just have to play with it every night”
Johnston didn’t think the Pirates took Crown Point (3-10) lightly.
“I don’t think our girls know what Crown Point’s record is,” she said. “I really dont. There’s so many factors to this. The early (6 p.m.) game. The last day of school before the holiday break. What motivates them to play is still up in the air.”
Crown Point’s Katija Tarailo scored 10 of her 16 in the second half, running well with the faster Pirates in the open floor.
Freshman guard Hannah Albrecht was the target of Merrillville defensive pressure but she finished with 11 points.
The Pirates’ 6-foot-1 sophomore scoring leader Victoria Gaines started slowly but finished with 14 points (10 in the second half), five steals and two blocked shots.
CP’s boys came even closer to an upset of the favored Pirates.
The Bulldogs got the ball inside to 6-foot-5 center Nick Jeffirs for 14 first half points and 6-2 senior guard Zach Plesac came of the bench to score 11 in the second quarter in an up tempo game.
But the fast pace is what Merrillville also prefers, and guards BJ Jenkins and Jake Raspopovich were able to turn the tide in a 25-15 third quarter.
The Pirates (7-1), who have lost only 75-74 to undefeated Andrean on Dec. 8, scored nine in a row to take a 66-60 lead with 1:31 to play.
Senior all-purpose forward Jelani Pruitt scored 14 of his 22 in the second half and it was his three-point shot that gave the Pirates a 61-60 lead with just under three minutes to play.
The Bulldogs have a half dozen 6-foot-5 players while Merrillville has 11 seniors on the roster, even though it only used eight of them Friday. This was very much a battle of contrasting teams. CP’s length against Merrillville’s speedy ball handling.
“This is a tough match-up for us,” said Pirate coach TJ Lux, “They can disrupt some of the things that we like to do. If we’re not executing well offensively and defensively, the result is that they are up double figures.
“This is the best I’ve seen Crown Point play. They were patient. They moved the basketball very well and knocked down shots.”
Crown Point’s hard charging senior duo of Plesac and scoring leader Tommy Bardeson helped push the ball up the floor against the speedy Pirates.
Plesac, a 6-foot-2 football wide receiver, caught three long distance lob passes for leaping lay-ups to the delight of the home crowd.
Bardeson was the target of the Pirate defense but he passed out six assists, three in each half.
“We want to push the ball up the floor,” said CP coach Clint Swan. “That’s our game, too. We imposed our will on them in the first half and they imposed their will on us after halftime.
“That’s a tremendous team. They are very good.”
The two most telling statistics of the second game of the girls/boys double-header were that Jeffirs scored 14 of his 20 points in the first half and that CP shot no free throws after halftime.
“We quit playing to our strengths in the second half,” said Swan, “which is going inside and attacking the baskets. If we could have just gotten to the line in the second half, it would have been different. We need to attack.
“We felt like in the first few games we were too cautious. We needed to attack. We did that a little better tonight.
“Jeffirs had 14 at the half and we needed him to get 14 in the second half, too. He just wasn’t getting the shots. It wasn’t because they were being selfish. We just started playing too fast. That meant our big guys were rushing, too.
“The key for us is to run our offense against them. Keep the floor spread. We feel like we’ve got guys who are very versatile who can shoot and attack the basket.”
“You’re not going to have 25 perfect games,” Lux said. “It was good for us to go against a team that was playing well.
“They (CP) are desperate for wins and they played like it. Its a rivalry game. Its said something about us that after we came back and took the lead, Crown Point took it back and we stuck with what we do. It was good togetherness.”
CP led 6-0 and 21-8 in the first quarter before Pruitt, an athletic 6-foot-4 forward, scored six and grabbed five rebounds in the second quarter to closed the gap to 28-26 on a three-point shot by BJ Jenkins with 2:30 to go in the half.
CP sophomore forward Noah Burkholder came off the bench with five points, three rebounds and an assist in the second quarter as both teams thrived on the crowd-pleasing pace.
CP led 46-37 with 4:11 left in the third quarter but the Pirates finally turned the tide with a 17-5 run led by Pruitt Jenkins and football star Jake Raspopovich.