Girls basketball: Merrillville holds off Michigan City to win 4A sectional title
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org February 9, 2013 11:26PM
Merrillville's Darian Patton celebrates after making a free throw which sealed the win over Michigan City during the Portage girls basketball sectional finals game held at Portage High School on Saturday February 9, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:58AM
PORTAGE — Merrillville had a four-point lead with less than 10 seconds left. Not necessarily safe when facing Michigan City and its explosiveness.
The Wolves’ Toni Murphy drove to the hoop for what looked to be an easy layup, but Merrillville’s Darian Patton stole the ball and was fouled.
Finally, as if a weight had been lifted from her team’s collective backs, Patton threw her hands in the air, yelled out in jubilation and smiled.
Several other players smiled, as did head coach Amy Govert after the Pirates held on to defeat Michigan City 65-60 to win the Class 4A Portage Sectional championship.
It seems like it’s been longer — maybe because the rivalry between the Wolves and Pirates has become the most competitive in the region — but it’s Merrillville’s first sectional crown since 2010.
“We’ve worked hard all year for this,” Govert said. “Not a lot of people gave us a chance at the beginning of the year. Not a lot of teams get a second chance, but we were able to overcome and get this done.”
It seemed like the Pirates (23-1) were headed for another heartbreaker against Michigan City, which has ended huge Merrillville winning streaks the last two years. The Wolves (19-5) had a 47-44 lead early in the fourth quarter, and the Pirates weren’t performing well in a few key aspects of the game — namely, free-throw shooting and taking care of the ball.
Through three quarters Merrillville had 18 turnovers and had missed 11 free throws. It missed 3 of 4 more freebies early in the fourth.
Then it all seemed to turn around. Dariyan Morris hit a 3-pointer to tie the game. AJ Downs scored a layup to give the Pirates the lead. Victoria Gaines hit a pair of free throws that started a chain reaction of purple-clad players draining clutch free throws in the final six minutes.
“We tell the kids to forget the play before,” Govert said when asked about the poor execution from the foul line in the first three quarters. “They came through in the end.”
Merrillville had plenty of heroes in the victory — Morris led the way with 15 points; Gaines had 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists; Jaz Talley had 11 points; Downs had 12 points, including 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in the final minutes. But Govert singled out the gutsy play of an unsung senior.
“(Amber) Sturdivant played a great game tonight,” Govert said. “She fought hard inside.”
Sturdivant had 10 points and 11 rebounds, many of which were pure hustle plays.
“We worked so hard to get here,” Sturdivant said. “I’m proud of my teammates. This time we finally claimed what should have been ours. I’m the happiest girl in the world!”
Despite foul trouble in the first half, Keshyana Cooper led Michigan City with 15 points and 16 rebounds — 14 of those boards coming in the second half.