MC-Merrillville doesn’t disappoint
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or email@example.com December 13, 2012 11:10PM
Merrillville's Victoria Gaines goes to the basket with pressure from Michigan City's Jameka Collins and Keshyana Cooper in the third quarter Tuesday evening at Merrillville High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 15, 2013 11:34AM
It’s become must-see basketball at least twice a year — more than likely, three times since the two teams are easily the best in the same Class 4A sectional.
And that just isn’t the case most of the time with region girls hoops.
On Tuesday night, the Michigan City-Merrillville girls game lived up to the expectations with myriad lead changes, physical — sometimes a little chippy — play and drama in the final minutes, resulting in the host Pirates pulling off a 67-63 victory to remain undefeated.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because last year Merrillville did the same thing twice during the regular season, beating the Wolves to stay unbeaten on its way to producing Northwest Indiana’s first undefeated girls basketball regular season since 2003 (East Chicago). In fact, it’s the second straight season that both teams were without a loss heading into their first conference meeting.
Of course, Michigan City got the last laugh last season by handing Merrillville its only loss in the Portage Sectional semifinal and eventually hoisting its third sectional trophy in five years.
The two squads were both ranked in the 4A top 10 of the state coaches poll going into this week. That just doesn’t happen very often for NWI teams. But the dominance and rivalry isn’t just about the last two seasons.
In girls basketball, it’s not even close between these two teams and the rest of the region. They have combined to win four of the last five Sectional 2 titles and the last seven Duneland Conference titles. In four of those DAC campaigns, the one who didn’t finish first was right behind in second place.
It was a decent-sized, spirited crowd at Merrillville with other area coaches taking it in, as well as a college scout or two. Heck, even Pirates football coach Zac Wells couldn’t miss watching the two best teams in the region.
“Some good girls basketball,” he texted me during the contest.
The teams’ coaches feel the same way.
“It was an exciting basketball game and I was glad to be part of it,” MC coach Mike Megyese said.
And it wasn’t hard to notice the players put more emphasis on this particular game than others, from Michal Miller hitting a 3-pointer at the first quarter buzzer and slapping her chest in celebration to A.J. Downs pumping her fist after being fouled by MC’s Toni Murphy in the final minute and Merrillville down one. Downs hit both free throws to put the Pirates up for good.
Despite the perception that the teams don’t like each other — it’s a perception I’m guilty off, too — Merrillville coach Amy Govert says it’s not true.
“Our kids respect them as ball players,” she said. “It was intense — I didn’t have to say much to motivate the kids for this game.”
Well, that’s sort of saying there’s no disdain between the teams, though the physical play on Tuesday made it seem like they don’t like each other. I guess looks can be deceiving.
With the likelihood of numerous players from different high school teams being AAU teammates in the offseason, Merrillville and Michigan City players probably do get along off the court.
Another reason this rivalry has become appealing is the personalities of the coaches. Megyese and Govert are two of the most intense leaders in the area. Despite being extremely sick the last week or so, Govert was still her usual active self during the game, rarely sitting down and vocal with officials.
“The kids need to see me standing and see my energy,” Govert said after the contest.
Megyese’s intensity and energy is even higher most of the time, though he was actually subdued for much of Tuesday’s tilt.
“Going back to my South Bend St. Joseph’s days, it’s all about how we’re playing when tournament time rolls around,” he said before the game, downplaying the significance of the first regular-season meeting between the two powers.
And then came the postgame interviews when his bravado couldn’t help but come out.
“We beat ourselves down the stretch more than Merrillville beating us,” Megyese said. “They’re a good basketball team, but we deserved to win the game. In the second half, we outplayed them.”
As for their relationship with officials, a funny example surfaced after Tuesday’s game when both Megyese and Govert had a specific issue with one of the three people with whistles around their necks. Both coaches indicated one of the officials has a personal vendetta against them. The funny part is that it was a different official for each of them, so I guess it evened out, right?
Maybe the same group of officials will be assigned to the next time the top two girls teams in region meet — Jan. 25 at Michigan City. Be there or be square because it’s must-see basketball.