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CHESTERTON —  After losing by 20 to Merrillville the first time around, Chesterton relished a second crack at the Pirates in the sectional on the Trojans' floor.

The outcome was only more of the same.

Merrillville seized control in the second quarter Friday with its trademark pressure defense and rode an all-star caliber performance by Johnny Bernard (31 points) to blow away Chesterton again, 80-59.

Valpo stifled Michigan City in the second game, 59-41.

"The whole week of practice, we were working on pressing, being able to guard full court, and that's exactly what we came out and did," Bernard said.

Chesterton turned the ball over 19 times.

"For us, it starts with defense," Merrillville coach T.J. Lux said. "Our energy was good. We were just a little too amped up offensively. Chesterton's a tough team to guard. They move the ball really well. They space the floor. We were flying around. I like the way we competed."

Sabotaged by poor free-throw shooting, the Trojans (21-4) made a modest push in the second half, but never seriously threatened the Pirates (18-5).

"We were trying to get the ball in certain spots and they made it difficult to get into some things," Trojans coach Marc Urban said. "We did things you can't do against Merrillville." 

Bernard was lights out, shooting 12 of 17.

"I like to show people how good I am," Bernard said. "It was a big crowd, I like to go out and perform. Coach realized they had a big on me and it's hard for them to guard me. I love my pull-up shot coming off a screen. I'll take that any chance I can."

Freshman Keon Thompson backed Bernard with 15 points and four steals, while Braeden Stubbs provided a big lift on the boards.

"The seniors, especially Johnny, when he gets that look, he hates to lose," Lux said. "He hit some tough shots that helped us settle down. Keon had that attacking mentality. The way Stubbs played inside, with (Rishard) Balkcom a little rusty, was big for us. We didn't have to double on their bigs."

Austin Peterson had 20 points and Jake Wadding, returning from a sprained ankle, pitched in 14 for Chesterton.

"The seniors were absolutely awesome," Urban said. "They will mean so much to the program going forward."

In the second game, Valpo (18-5) kept Michigan City (10-16) off the board for over six minutes at the outset and used a 12-0 second-quarter run to take full control.

"That's what it really comes down to in the sectional is defense,: Vikings coach Barak Coolman said. "That's the one big thing you can control. You can't control making free throws, apparently, or the ball golng in. We didn't play our best game.  Sometimes you miss shots that usually go in. That's the sectional. I was proud of the way we played and the way we competed."

With IU coach Archie Miller watching, Brandon Newman shook off a sluggish start to score 12 of his 16 points in the second quarter as Valpo camped out at the free-throw line. Nate Aerts, as usual, backed Newman with 14.

"Once we got into foul trouble, it changed everything," Wolves coach John Boyd said. "We're not deep and they were able to get to our eight, nine, 10 guys. Sixteen fouls in the first half is difficult. Valpo knew our limitations and they were able to exploit them."

Michigan City made just one of 16 from the arc.

"The (defensive) game plan was very similar (to Portage)," Coolman said. "We wanted to keep them out of the basket area, defend the drive, inside and outside, and finish the play by rebounding."

Valpo controlled the boards, 31-19.

"Like Coach said, 'if we're going to have a bad game, we're glad it was this one and not (the championship),'" Marcus Gholston said. "It's good to get it out of the way. Before every game, he emphasizes energy and rebounding. We practice it every day and I try to do my part, just playing hard."


Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.