PORTAGE | Hobart coach Mike Hamacher tried telling everyone that would listen not to expect another blowout victory over Valparaiso on Wednesday night.
The Brickies easily dispatched the Vikings 55-14 last Tuesday, but struggled to put away Valparaiso until late in the fourth quarter, needing late free throws to pullout a 47-40 victory in the first round of the Portage sectional.
“I told my team, our fans and our athletic director that we were going to see a different Valparaiso team tonight,” Hamacher said. “Valpo is not as bad as they were the other night and we played incredibly well in that game. I knew it would be a different kind of game.”
Hobart used a 16-1 run throughout the first half to take a 19-5 lead midway through the second quarter. Sophomore guard Kara Cooke scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the first half and was a strong replacement for the injured Grayce Roach.
“We knew right from the beginning that it would be a different game, but maybe we got a little too confident,” Cooke said.
Grace Withrow hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and then sophomore Lauren Caputo added another triple to cut the deficit to 40-38, but the Vikings (3-18) would never get closer. Valparaiso had four chances to tie the game in the following possessions but came up short on every attempt.
“Our young kids came of age in the fourth quarter,” Valparaiso coach Jeanette Gray said. “Sometimes teenagers don’t realize just how close they are to getting to where they need to be. This is a big offseason for us and if we can close that gap, we can make some really progress.”
Withrow led the Vikings with a game-high 18 points while Andi Sarkisian had six points in her final high school game. Daley Law and Caitlin Leath combined for 13 points and hit six free throws in the 34 seconds to ice the game.
“At this point you just want to advance,” Hamacher said. “I’d rather blow a team out by 50 so I had less gray hair, but I think this can be good for us.”
Merrillville survived a scare from Portage in the nightcap, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 54-44 victory. Dariyan Morris knocked down four 3-pointers to lead the Pirates (20-1) with 16 points while Victoria Gaines was limited to nine points and six rebounds while being saddled with foul trouble for much of the game.
Portage senior Nicki Monahan scored a game-high 22 points in her final high school contest while Alexis Johnson scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half.
The Indians jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the first quarter before Morris shot the Pirates back in to the game. Merrillville opened up a double digit lead in the fourth quarter, but the Indians (13-10) got the deficit down to four points. Darian Patton scored seven of her 10 points in the fourth quarter to ice the game for the Pirates.