MERRILLVILLE | At the beginning of the season, Merrillville girls basketball coach Amy Govert told anyone who would listen that LaPorte was the team to beat in the Duneland Athletic Conference.
On Friday, the Pirates came within a shot of beating the Slicers.
Instead, LaPorte forced Merrillville into 23 turnovers in a 48-45 Slicers win. LaPorte remains the only unbeaten team in the DAC, handing the Pirates their second conference loss.
"We knew what we were going to get coming in here and we responded pretty well," Slicers coach Skeeter Heath said. "We knew (the Pirates) were going to play hard, because they lose this game and their domination in the conference ends.
"We knew they were going to respond, and I thought we responded. They came back and tied the game and we didn't lose our composure."
Behind 22 points from freshman Nicole Konieczny, including two 3s as part of a 12-0 LaPorte run that opened the second quarter, the Slicers took a lead of as many as 13 points.
With a seven-point lead at halftime, Konieczny and sophomore Kyleigh Kubik scored all 13 of their team's points in the second quarter, while Merrillville pulled within three.
The Pirates tied the game in the third quarter, and came within a point in the fourth, but turnovers hurt Merrillville.
"At halftime we talked about possessions, we can't have those empty possessions," Govert said. "I was really happy with our team defensively, but offensively we hurt ourselves."
LaPorte had a two-point lead with 9.4 seconds left when Merrillville's inbounds pass was turnover to Slicers forward Delaney Alcorn, who finished with three steals.
Alcorn hit one of two free throws and three different Pirates had the shot as time expired, giving the ball away again and again. Point guard A.J. Downs took the final shot at the buzzer, a 3 that missed the mark.
"We were running a play for (Victoria Gaines) and that's something we have to learn, too, nobody wants the ball at the end," Govert said. "(Gaines) got rid of it, and (Jaz) Talley got rid of it and A.J. ended up with it. That's the biggest thing I want them to take away from tonight, that last shot. We have to have somebody who wants to be that person."
Downs led the Pirates (5-3, 1-2) with 18 points and junior Gaines had a double-double of 10 points with 13 rebounds.
LaPorte was perfect from the line for the first three quarters, then missed six of 11 in the fourth.
"We didn't shoot well, but give Merrillville a lot of that credit," Heath said, "we didn't get the open looks that we're going to get from a lot of other teams."
Kubik added 11 points for the Slicers (7-0, 3-0).
The last time Merrillville lost to LaPorte was Dec. 8, 2006. The last season that Merrillville lost more than one conference game was 2010-11.
"We're still inexperienced, that's what people don't understand," Govert said. "We're still trying to figure each other out, but we don't have that go-to guard, yet. If we keep playing like this, we'll be fine."