CHESTERTON — When Brandon Newman left with his third foul, via a technical foul, at 3:43 of the first quarter, a window of opportunity seemed to open for Portage in Wednesday's Class 4A Chesterton Sectional.
Valparaiso quickly slammed it shut.
With their star on the bench for the rest of the half, the Vikings broke away from an early tie with a 12-0 run to lead by 15 at halftime and coasted past the Indians, 63-46.
Michigan City raced by Hobart in the second game, 73-40.
"We all had to pick it up. We all felt we had to do more," said Valpo's Nate Aerts, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half. "Our defense boosted us. It led into our offense. We just kept the tempo up."
Newman's absence wasn't an ideal situation for Valpo coach Barak Coolman, but the end result certainly was with his young players getting experience under fire.
"There's nothing like the emotions, the feelings of playing in your first sectional game," he said. "We're so young. The emotions definitely got to us, but I was proud of the way we responded across the board. Guys stepped up, which they've done all year. It's a huge confidence boost for guys who have never been out there before."
Valpo (18-5) concentrated on cutting off driving angles for Portage's Maurion Martin and Greg Milledge, and was successful containing both before play got loose in the fourth quarter.
"We locked down on defense. We've struggled with that at times, but we played solid defense until the fourth quarter," Coolman said.
Presented with the opportunity in the first half, Portage shot 5 of 18 with nine turnovers.
"I bet we missed 10 shots in the paint in the first half," Indians coach Rick Snodgrass said. "They weren't stopping us getting to the rim. We just didn't make shots. If we make half of those, it's a ball game. We're a team that sometimes doesn't handle adversity well. That's been the case throughout the year when we've had slow starts. We forced too many things. We had too many errors. We needed to be more patient."
Newman played like a hungry lion let out of its cage in the second half, scoring 17 of his game-high 21 points, poster-izing an Indian on a wicked one-hand dunk in the fourth quarter.
"They're a great duo," Coolman said of Newman and Aerts. "They feed off each other."
Martin scored 18 and Milledge 15, getting most of their points late for Portage (12-13), which has lost 19 in a row to Valpo dating back to Dec. 7, 2007.
"They're good without (Newman)," Snodgrass said. "They have so many weapons."
In the second game, Michigan City (10-15) ran Hobart (12-12) ragged, building a double-digit advantage in the first quarter and pulling away.
"I was just happy we were confident and comfortable, the 2 Cs," Wolves coach John Boyd said. "You walk into somebody's home, they tell you to relax, but you're still kind of nervous. You don't want to mess up anything. We were willing to mess up stuff."
Jaivion Reid led the assault on both ends with 22 points and five steals.
"We played well as a team," Reid said. "We locked up on 'D.' We moved the ball good. We ran our sets and took open shots, the kind we knew we could make. Coach just told us, believe, have faith in the system."
Alex Thomas scored 16 points and Rayshon Howard 11 along with four blocks for City (10-15).
"It was good to see Ray being really active," Boyd said. "It's something we haven't seen all year. He's doing it at the right time. Jay's a wide body on the perimeter, getting in the lane, going to the glass, making things happen. Al got his hands on ball, rebounding, playing inside. I told Will (Hanyard), you got the reins. More than once, I've said, our biggest asset is the team. What I liked is we played as a group."
Done in by upwards of 20 turnovers, Hobart (12-13) was paced by Julian Harvey's 11 points, all in the second half. Conner Manjarrez added 10.
"I told coach Boyd before the game that's a dang good nine-win team," Hobart coach Michael Brown said. "We can't simulate that quickness in practice. They took us out of everything we wanted to. The pressure got to us, they hit shots and it just snowballed from there."