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Boys basketball: Merrillville rallies to beat Valparaiso in OT

Merrillville center BreHill celebrates with teammate after their overtime victory Class 4-A IHSAA Michigan City  boys sectional Saturday March

Merrillville center Breon Hill celebrates with a teammate after their overtime victory in the Class 4-A IHSAA Michigan City boys sectional Saturday March 2, 2013 in Michigan City, Ind. |Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 4, 2013 7:01AM



MICHIGAN CITY — There was a sense of urgency, but no panic.

Trailing by nine points early in the fourth quarter against wily Valparaiso, Merrillville did what it has the ability to do and ratcheted up its defense.

The Pirates proceeded to come all the way back in Saturday’s Class 4A Michigan City Sectional final, and pulled out a 63-56 overtime win against the Vikings.

“We say it all the time — stay with it, stay with it, stay with it,” Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. “At that point, two roads diverge, and it’s a question of which road you’re going to take. Our guys could’ve cashed it in. We weren’t clicking offensively, but we hung in there. That’s what you’re most proud of as a coach.”

Merrillville (20-3) won its second straight sectional title, and third in four seasons, and will play Munster in the semifinals of next Saturday’s Michigan City Regional. Valparaiso (18-5) and the Pirates had split during the regular season, and this game was worthy of the decider.

“I couldn’t be prouder of a group of kids,” Vikings coach Joe Otis said. “This was a championship match, and it was everything it was billed to be.”

Jake Raspopovich scored on a drive, his second of overtime, to give Merrillville a 58-56 lead with 1:25 left. B.J. Jenkins added a basket to make it 60-56 with 55 seconds left in OT, when Valparaiso committed four turnovers.

The Vikings had led 46-37 going into the fourth quarter, after John Mosser went off for 15 of his game-high 24 points in the third. But the Pirates unleashed a 14-2 run, including scoring nine straight points, to take a 51-48 lead with 5:08 left in the fourth. For the final seven points of the run, in a span of 23 seconds, Merrillville came up with three straight steals, resulting in a Jenkins 3-pointer, a Zoran Talley layup and another Jenkins basket.

“We know that our pressure on defense, teams really can’t take it,” Talley said.

“We have 11 seniors, and we didn’t want this to be our last game.”

Talley — who had 21 points for his third consecutive big sectional game, after scoring 22 and 23 — hit a 3-pointer to make it 54-50 with 4:49 left, before Valparaiso responded to score the last four points of regulation.

“We certainly made mistakes, but Merrillville makes you make mistakes,” Otis said.

“We lost some of that intensity to start the fourth quarter, and they made us pay for it. That’s Merrillville’s strength — they’re relentlessly competitive.”

Jenkins had 12 points for the Pirates, and Jamard Owens added 10. Zach Meyer had a career-high 16 for the Vikings, including 11 in the first quarter, having played on torn meniscus for several weeks.

Lux noted his team’s situation after winning this season’s Duneland Conference title and last season’s sectional.

“It’s a different mindset,” he said. “The guys handled it well, and they deserve this.”



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