MICHIGAN CITY | It was a bold statement. The kind coaches in Indiana don't like their kids to say. Especially at 2 p.m. on a regional Saturday.
What Merrillville senior B.J. Jenkins said after he hit a 25-footer to beat undefeated Munster in the Class 4A Michigan City Regional semifinal on Saturday morning went against all logic and history.
“We'll have something left,” Jenkins said of Saturday night's championship game against South Bend Adams. “We will win this game.”
Let's start with Munster. On several different occasions the Mustangs were up with the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to spread their lead, just like the first game against the Mustangs.
Time for another bold statement.
“Anyone who was at that game knew we should've won, we were better,” Jenkins said of Munster's 61-49 win at Merrillville on Feb. 2. “We were the better team.”
Munster was No. 1 in both state polls at the time. But that is the will to win that Merrillville athletes seem to have, in both football and basketball.
“Our kids hate to lose,” Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said after the Munster win. “They really wanted Munster. It was about respect.”
Lux has all the respect for Munster coach Mike Hackett, a former Merrillville assistant, and the program he's built. But his blood bleeds purple.
Like Jenkins, he didn't buy that the deck was stacked against the Bucs in the Adams game, despite what many fans were thinking.
Merrillville played the second game in the regional, meaning three hours less rest. The Pirates also spent more emotion than the Eagles, who beat Warsaw 48-46, also on a last-second shot.
But Munster has been the standard bearer in Da Region for the past five years. Beating the “best” is something that brings out the, well, best in the Bucs.
“We had the hunger, we're seniors,” Jenkins said after he nailed a 25-footer with three seconds left to get the semifinal win. “That hunger came in. I guarantee we'll have that hunger (Saturday night).”
Merrillville was not super impressive in winning the sectional, where the Bucs had to play three nights in a row because of the snow. After disposing of Hobart easily in the opener, a five-point win over Michigan City and a seven-point overtime win over Valparaiso was good.
Munster was unbelievable. South Bend Adams was sick.
Merrillville's 76-55 win send the Pirates to their first semistate since 2003.
Jenkins was right. Lux was right. This team this year will not be denied.
“We respected Munster,” Lux said at 1:55 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. “But we believe in ourselves. We'll be ready.”
Zoran Talley and Jelani Pruitt were freaks in the paint. The two big men could not be stopped. Jake “The Winner” Raspopovich didn't score a ton, but his floor burns, all 30 of them, should what this team was about.
He and Jenkins handled the Eagles press. Few expected this.
And few will expect these Pirates to win next week in the semistate.
Here's where my money is. Don't bet against this group. Not now.
“We're hungry,” Jenkins said. “That's how we play.”
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.