VALPARAISO | The week got off to a tough start for Valparaiso senior John Mosser.
He ran into a teammate during the first drill of Monday's practice. Mosser suffered a gash above his left eye that required three stitches.
But Mosser finished off the week in style, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds on Senior Night to lead the Times No. 3 Vikings to a 60-51 victory over No. 2 Merrillville in a Duneland Athletic Conference showdown of the top two teams in the league.
Valpo (16-3, 11-2 DAC) has won four in a row and has avenged each of its conference losses, finishing the season unbeaten in Viking Gym. It was the first DAC loss for the Pirates (15-3, 12-1) who have already clinched at least a share of the DAC title.
"That was a sweet victory," Mosser said. "Going undefeated at home is really exciting. A victory over Merrillville couldn't happen at a better time. Things are just rolling so good for us right now."
Merrillville starters B.J. Jenkins and point guard Jake Raspopovich each picked up two early fouls midway through the first quarter and sat out the rest of the half.
But the bench came through for coach T.J. Lux, as Darion Williams scored eight of his 12 points in the second quarter to keep the Pirates within 26-22 at the break.
However, Valpo outscored Merrillville 17-7 in the third period. Brody Wilson hit a pair of 3-pointers for the Vikings, and Zach Meyer hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 remaining in the period to give Valpo its biggest lead of the night at 41-24 with 1:03 remaining.
"That was huge," Mosser said. "It was the nail in the coffin. Zach stepped up and made a big play for us."
The Pirates were in catch-up mode the rest of the way, and pressed the Vikings into several turnovers early in the fourth quarter.
By then, Jenkins had finally broke into the scoring column for the Pirates. He scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter while Zoran Talley had all of his 12 in the final period.
Merrillville finished 23 of 52 shooting. Jenkins hit the only 3-pointers for the Pirates in the fourth quarter, a huge contrast to the last time the teams played on Dec. 28 when the Pirates won 68-57.
"We struggled offensively," Lux said. "We couldn't get the ball in the basket. We're attacking the basket but we're just coming up empty. We want to be aggressive and get to the rim, they just didn't fall.
Meyer finished with 13 points and six rebounds for the Vikings, while Wilson and Quentin Palmer each added eight.
Valpo was able to beat Merrillville's pressure after coach Joe Otis called a timeout early in the fourth quarter to settle the team down after three consecutive turnovers.
"We just wanted to stay ahead. Winning by one would have been a big deal," Otis said. "This will only give them some added incentive at sectional time. I felt like we didn't play that well the first time we played them and we obviously played better tonight."
The win snapped a four-game losing streak to Merrillville, but the teams could meet again in the Michigan City Sectional. The draw is Sunday.