Hutton: Merrillville too much for overachieving Valparaiso
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org March 2, 2013 11:10PM
Valpariaso center John Mosser reacts during the closing seconds of their 63-56 loss to Merrillville in the Class 4-A IHSAA Michigan City boys sectional Saturday March 2, 2013 in Michigan City, Ind. |Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 4, 2013 7:03AM
MICHIGAN CITY — This was the day that Merrillville was almost John Mosser-i-zed.
Three-pointers, little leaners, mid range jumpers — they were floating through the Michigan City gymnasium from the finger tips of Mosser’s hands like they were controlled by a magic wand.
Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.
Eight of 10 Valparaiso points during a run through the third quarter —15 before the quarter was over — and 24 in total.
It was pure, unadulterated joy for the spindly 6-7 center from Valparaiso for five minutes of intense action. He was on his way to making a special memory — a memory that was cruelly, and cold-heartedly sullied by the super quick hands of the Pirates.
Mosser and the Vikings will remember this game alright, for his brief, magical outburst and the deflating outcome, the way the Pirates literally swiped the victory away, like they were the school bullies, taking away Valparaiso’s lunch money.
They don’t call them the Pirates because like to play nice.
What can they say in Merrillville now? Just like football.
Merrillville coach T.J. Lux, still young and spry, with a headful of brown hair that doesn’t have any grey it, made all the right moves down the stretch. He doesn’t have the 30-plus years of head coaching experience that Joe Otis does, but Lux has a few moves he can pull out when his team is backed against the wall.
The Vikings ripped through the Pirates’ press like a tattered and ripped t-shirt in the third quarter, taking a 46-37 lead at one point. At least half of their points in the quarter came on layups. Easy, uncontested layups. A quick pass to a Valparaiso guy streaking in the middle of the court, followed by another pass to a guy streaking down the baseline and then a third pass to a guy on the other baseline for a layup. The Vikings fans were going crazy. Everything was cool.
The Vikings were ready for it — or at least they thought they were.
Then Lux called a timeout and did what good coaches do. He pulled his team out of the press. He let the Pirates walk it down the floor. He made them calm down, catch their breath and then, just when Valparaiso wasn’t expecting it, he turned the heater up again, with a few slight adjustments. It was enough to slightly throw the Vikings, who had worked hard on getting the right lanes down and making the correct passes against the press, off.
A few possessions later, the Pirates were back into full court pressure mode. They got into gear with a 12-2 fourth-quarter run that gave them a 51-48 lead.
Valparaiso turned it into an overtime game, but the Pirates pressure bar was trending way too high for the frayed and tattered Vikings’ nerves. They were caught in the spider web.
There were huge plays all around from the Merrillville seniors. Two big steals in overtime from Jake Raspopovich. Twenty-one points from Zoran Talley.
A super clutch 3-pointer from B.J. Jenkins in their fourth quarter run.
And the absolute death blow for the Vikings was in the overtime, when they got down by a bucket and then four points.
They couldn’t get a shot off for three straight possessions. There were turnovers and steals and just moments where they were broken down the Merrillville defense. Which is what the Pirates did. They turned the early tidal wave of Viking momentum into a stinging defeat.
It wasn’t an end-of-the world loss for Valparaiso, which was a team that never really seemed to fit the part even of sectional runner-up. Look at the Vikings’ roster. One guy —Mosser — starts for the Pirates. That’s about it. They shouldn’t have been here but it’s a testament to the players and coaches that they were. They had lasted this long because they were smart and tough and they knew how to play defense and they listened to their coaches and they didn’t care who scored. The Pirates, winners of two straight sectionals now, ended the season for the overachieving bunch in a heartbreaking way. That’s how it goes sometimes.
Mosser can have his third quarter, the Pirates got the trophy — again — and Lux, with his five-year-old son Jack in his large hands, got to lift him up on the ladder and steady him, while he cut down a piece of the net while the Vikings fans filed out into the cold night air.