MERRILLVILLE | Merrillville simply showed the heart and desire to extend its season at least one game longer on Thursday.
The Pirates came out with solid defense, both by their backfield and goalkeeper Chris Stojanovski, holding on to defeat Griffith 2-0 in the first semifinal game of the Merrillville Sectional.
"I'm so proud of my guys. We had a lot of injuries towards the end of the season with guys sitting on the bench that were starters," Merrillville coach Brian Past said. "We had a couple of guys today that truly stepped up for us. I can‘t say enough about Chris Stojanovski. He‘s been the MVP of our group."
Junior forward Emmanuel Calvillo got the Pirates on the board with 27:35 left in the first half. Merrillville (4-14) would take its 1-0 lead into halftime after fending off intense pressure from the Griffith (6-9) defense.
"I knew I had to come in and give my team something to motivate us," Calvillo said of his goal.
The Pirates added their insurance goal on a boot from Peter Berlanga on a feed from Miguel Lagunas with 8:44 left in the game, allowing Merrillville's defense to settle in and ensure the win despite a furious comeback attempt from Griffith.
"Finally, I was able to breathe a little sigh of relief," Past said. "Trying to hold on to a 1-0 lead all game is a lot of pressure. You've got to hand it to Griffith. They've got some kids who are hard-nosed."
Merrillville will face Andrean in Saturday's championship after the 59ers routed Hobart 5-0.
Andrean (10-7) netted four goals within the first 22 minutes of the game to distance themselves between Hobart (0-16-1).
The 59ers received two goals from Salvador Angulo and a goal each from Dean Ricciardi, Mike Gore and Adam Drabick.
Andrean's starters were on the field for only the first 30 minutes, giving the 59ers' backups some valuable playing time going into Saturday's championship.
"It was good, because everybody got to play," Andrean coach Pete Reist said. "We're just looking forward to playing Merrillville on Saturday night. Playing Merrillville is always tough -- you can't go by their record this year."
"We got a couple quick (goals) there, and everything kind of fell in place."