HOBART | Caroline Puntillo felt a vibe on the bus ride from Chesterton to The Brickyard Wednesday.
This wasn’t going to be her last game. Not this night. This Trojan's big senior year still has some gas left in the tank.
“I’m definitely not ready for this to end,” Puntillo said. “I had a feeling this wasn’t my last night. At halftime we had another talk about how we weren’t ready to end this season because we have some more games left in us.”
Despite making just three field goals, one of which was a game-breaking 3-pointer, Puntillo scored 26 points to lead Chesterton past Michigan City 55-41 in the first of two quarterfinal games Wednesday at the Class 4A Hobart Sectional.
Merrillville beat Valparaiso 64-41 in the second game behind Victoria Gaines’ 18 points and nine rebounds to set up a semifinal pairing between the two Duneland Athletic Conference squads Friday.
“Confident is definitely the word now,” Puntillo said. “This gave us confidence we are still able to get the wins.”
Puntillo shot 19-for-24 from the free throw line. She got a head start with a pair of technical free throws before tip-off after a technical foul called because of a clerical error in the Michigan City score book.
On the rare occasion when she wasn’t on the line after one of Michigan City’s 27 fouls, Puntillo was the focal point of Chesterton’s offense.
“She’s got that mentality to score,” Chesterton coach Jack Campbell said. “She does a lot of stuff out of our offense.”
Michigan City did not go away easily. The Wolves (4-17) shot 0-for-9 from the field in the quarter in falling behind 20-16 at halftime. A quick start to the fourth quarter pulled the Wolves to within two at 32-30.
Puntillo answered with a 3-pointer from the elbow to make it 35-30 with 6:26 left in the game and then drew a foul on a similar shot and sank a trio of free throws to extend the lead to 38-32 with 5:29 to play, sufficiently deflating Michigan City’s momentum.
“We were running a play to open up the wings, and I was feeling that shot and decided to take it,” Puntillo said. “It felt great coming off, and it went in.”
For the game, Chesterton had three 3s, seven two-point field goals and shot 32-for-41 from the foul line.
Merrillville (14-6), meanwhile, had a big first quarter behind Gaines and gradually drank Valparaiso’s milk shake. The Pirates led 18-7 after one behind seven points from Gaines, who had two 3-pointers in the game. Freshman Jasmine Wright added 10 points with a pair of 3s and four steals.
Grace Withrow led the Vikings (9-11) with 15 points and four assists. Teammate Kristina Veljovic, the only senior on Valpo’s roster, had 10 points, including a putback to cut the lead to 26-18 in the second quarter before a Gaines 3 led Merrillville back into firm control.