When Valparaiso knocked off Merrillville on Friday, it provided a spicy sub-plot to next week's Class 4A Michigan City Sectional.
Sunday in Indianapolis, the IHSAA's pairings added to the drama, bracketing the field's top teams on opposite sides. To play a third and decisive time this season, the Vikings and Pirates will have to reach the finals.
"There's not an easy draw in the sectional," Valpo coach Joe Otis said, quickly detouring talk of the possible championship game. "Portage is coming off a win over Crown Point. LaPorte's playing well at the end here. Crown Point gave Merrillville a big scare at Merrillville a couple weeks ago. You've just got to show up and get it done. That's the most important thing."
Valparaiso (16-3) opens the tournament Feb. 26 against Portage (10-11). The winner gets Chesterton (10-8) or LaPorte (5-14). The defending champion Pirates (15-3) face Hobart (5-13) with the host Wolves (8-11) and Crown Point (5-14) completing the first round.
"I'm excited that we're playing well now, which is the time you really need to be playing well," Otis said. "I've said it before many times in locker rooms, it's all about who you are today. The whole tournament is predicated on that. It doesn't matter who you are. That's what keeps you going if you're a struggling team, that chance at salvation."
Defending Class A sectional champion Kouts (17-2) hopes to send retiring coach Marty Gaff out with a bang, but it will be pressed in its first game. 21st Century (10-7) lost 62-53 to the Mustangs last year and have been competitive with the likes of 4A's West Side.
"That's not necessarily how we would've drawn it up, but nobody knows who they're going to have to beat," Gaff said. "(21st Century's) very athletic. Their quickness concerns me. They've play a lot of 3A, 4A teams and have had a decent year. They're certainly going to be a tough challenge for us."
Also in Class A, at Culver, Marquette Catholic (15-5) is paired away from Triton (14-5), which won a one-point thriller last year. The Blazers open with Oregon-Davis (4-14).
"The great thing is they moved it (from Triton)," Marquette coach Donovan Garletts said. "I like Culver and Triton being on the opposite side. Let them beat each other up and we'll go from there. We played our best two games all year Friday and Saturday. The kids responded to getting their butts beat by 21 (by South Bend St. Joseph). We'd love to have another shot at Triton, but we're not going to look past anybody."
The 2A Winamac Sectional may be Boone Grove's for the taking. The Wolves (12-7) boast the only record over .500 in the field and drew a bye, as did defending champion Hebron (9-9).