MICHIGAN CITY | The first time No. 1-ranked Munster and Valparaiso met back on Jan. 29, the final was more like a JV score.
Munster 48, Valpo 25. You could almost hear the white canes tapping.
But heading in Saturday night's Michigan City Regional boys hoops championship game, the huge crowd expected a blistering shootout, knowing both teams had improved drastically, particularly from long distance.
Munster withstood a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Vikings for a heart-pounding 40-38 win and the regional title.
The Mustangs were outscored 19-9 and managed 18 second-half points. Jay Doane gave the Vikings (16-9) new life late with three 3s in the final period.
"Without Jay Doane, there's no drama. Fatigue was a factor. Concord took a lot out of us and the lights-out shooting from this morning did not carry over until Jay Doane did it single-handedly," Valpo coach Joe Otis said.
"The third quarter was just dismal so to make it entertaining was really good. I can't fault the effort of the kids. (Munster) is 25-0 and we took it to the final buzzer."
Once again this postseason, Munster was pushed repeatedly against the wall only to push back harder. The 'Stangs began the fourth quarter with a 31-19 lead but two quick 3s by previously-silent Doane in the closing minute cut the lead to 36-30.
Doane's third trey cut the deficit to 38-36 with :09 to go and two Butterfield free throws, his only points of the game, pulled Valpo to within 40-38 at 4.7.
Somehow, the Vikings got the ball back but two desperation shots missed their mark.
"We paid a little attention to Adam Butterfield," Munster coach Mike Hackett said. "If you saw the morning game and didn't, you should have your head examined."
Said Joe Crisman, who was on Butterfield like sweat: "I knew I had to stay with him. Me and him are really good friends. We've played together (in the summer) a long time.
"We knew they were shooters. That's how they came back in the game."
The Vikings were 12-for-25 beyond the arc in the morning win over Concord, with Butterfield burying six 3s.
Munster shot 7-of-16 in beating South Bend Riley as Joe Crisman and Christian Young had three 3's apiece.
Munster led 22-18 at the half of the championship game, then opened the third quarter on a 9-0 run. The Mustangs took a 31-19 advantage into the final period after holding Valpo to a single point on a Jerrick Suiter free throw.
Shootout? What shootout?
"Other than the first game of the tournament, when we kinda ran away from West Side, every other game has come down to the last possession," Hackett said. "Our senior leadership pulled us through, again.
"At this point, they don't have to be pretty wins. Just wins."
Both teams were allowing less than 45 points a game in their quest for a regional title -- Valpo's last coming in 2004 and Munster's in 2009.
Munster will face Kokomo (22-2) in next Saturday's semistate, the site to be determined.
Dan Hummel led Valpo with 12 points and Suiter had 10. For Munster, Ricky Carbajal and Brian Stolarz had 11 each. Crisman added 10.
"I let the game come to me. I like to get my teammates involved because we are a talented team," said Stolarz, who's had a quiet postseason.
"Three years in a row, we've had 24 wins and didn't get that 25th win. We really wanted to get that 25th tonight," Hackett said.