Girls basketball: Merrillville’s Victoria Gaines learns valuable lessons
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent February 17, 2013 11:08PM
The Merrillville girls head to the locker room after being defeated by Warsaw, 41-40 at Valparaiso High School on Saturday, February 16, 2013. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 20, 2013 6:19AM
VALPARAISO — Victoria Gaines could barely contain herself as tears flowed from her eyes and streamed down her cheeks.
Merrillville’s ultra-talented sophomore was trying to make sense out of the sudden end to the Pirates’ season, following a heartbreaking 42-41 loss to Warsaw in the championship game of the Class 4A Valparaiso Regional Saturday night.
“I’m so disappointed,” said Gaines, whose voice was barely above a whisper. “I think we could have gone far. All of Merrillville is proud of us — our coaches, the school, our fans, just the whole community. A lot of people didn’t really believe in us this year, but we proved all of them wrong. We went further than anyone, but ourselves and coaches expected us to. Just knowing we could have gone even farther, hurts even more.
“Maybe next year we can do better. Losing our four seniors (Dariyan Morris, Darian Patton, Amber Sturdivant and Anjelica Peppers) is going to be hard, so we’ll have to prove everyone wrong again. I think we can be better next year — we’ll just have to bring even more intensity onto the court with us.”
Gaines, one of the top players in the state, vowed to be even better next season as a junior.
“I just have to work hard in the weight room and get stronger, get better with my dribbling and my defense,” she said. “I just have to perfect everything to have a better game overall. I think that goes for everybody. We just learned a big lesson tonight and that should help us next year.”
When asked what that lesson was, Gaines was matter-of-fact.
“I learned tonight that every point and every possession really counts,” she said. “I learned that we can’t just be lazy on defense, or just stand there on offense.”
What’s amazing about what Gaines said was that it came following a day that saw her score 42 points — 21 in the Pirates’ 74-56 win over Lake Central in the first game of the regional — and 21 more in the title game against Warsaw.
Gaines, who really didn’t look like herself in terms of being at 100 percent this season after coming off a devastating knee injury suffered in last year’s Portage Sectional, appeared to return to her pre-injury form Saturday.
“She played aggressive and she hadn’t done that all year,”
Merrillville coach Amy Govert said. “If she can continue to play like she did today and we can add on to that, the next two years could be something special.”
During her career as the Pirates’ head coach, Govert’s teams have endured an inordinate amount — well over a dozen — of devastating and career-threatening knee injuries.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid who came back and they were 100 percent and play like they did before the injury,” she said. “It takes time. They need to gain confidence in themselves again. It’s a difficult thing for them to do.”
With Gaines returning for two more years, Govert has a centerpiece to build her teams around.
Despite the extremely tough loss to Warsaw, Govert’s kids never stopped battling — not even when they were down five points with two minutes left.
“They kept fighting,” Govert said. “They never quit and that’s all I could ever ask out of them. I’m extremely proud of them. I’m extremely protective of them. I always will be — and they know that.
“They’re all good kids and they really like each other. They’re all very close. I really think you have to have that type of chemistry on a team to really be successful — and we do. All of these kids are like my daughters. I love them all and they know that. We truly are a family.”
Pirates’ last gasp: Merrillville’s best chance to sneak out of Saturday night’s regional championship with the win came with 14 seconds remaining. Trailing 42-41, a timeout gave Govert a chance to set up one last play.
“We were trying to isolate Coco,” Govert said, referring to Gaines.
Morris had the ball on the right elbow and when Gaines cut across from left to right, she drew the attention of nearly the entire Warsaw defense. Morris found an opening to slip past her initial defender, but was greeted by a strong defense in the lane. Her shot banked high off the glass and then off the rim, into the waiting arms of Nikki Grose with just two seconds left to end the threat.
— Correspondent Dave Melton contributed