MISHAWAKA | While Merrillville couldn't keep the ball when it needed it, West Side used its speed-driven offense to impress.
As the Pirates fell to host Penn, 66-55, in the first semifinal game of the Penn Regional, West Side beat Northridge 72-56 to advance to the championship match on Saturday.
Merrillville turned the ball over 11 times in the first quarter and 31 times overall, unable to sustain any momentum.
After falling behind 19-5 in the first quarter, the Pirates (16-7) pulled as close as eight points in the fourth quarter.
But, Merrillville turned the ball over again, and sent the Kingsmen to the free-throw line.
"We almost had more turnovers than shots, how do you expect to win a game with stats like that?" Pirates coach Amy Govert said. "If they threw something at us that we weren't prepared for, that's one thing, but they didn't. We threw over the top, didn't attack, didn't get anyone in the middle, that's on us."
All of Merrillville's turnovers came from five players, led by eight from Jasmine Wright, who also scored 11 points.
"The turnovers, for us, were very frustrating," said senior AJ Downs, who chipped in 11 points. "We knew we needed to stop and we knew we needed to score."
Jaz Talley* also scored 11 points as Kiarra Thompson pulled down a team-best eight rebounds.
Penn, which beat Merrillville 70-63 on Feb. 3, was led by 21 points from Camryn Buhr and another 20 from Caroline Buhr, who scored 12 in the first quarter.
"You can't expect to put yourself in a double-digit hole against a team like Penn and get back. We made runs, but we couldn't get over the hump," Govert said. "We had, from our 'stars' if you want to say, they led us in turnovers."
In the second game, West Side let Dana Evans control the offense to the tune of 35 points in dominating fashion over the Raiders. Evans had 15 in the second quarter as the Cougars erased a three-point deficit and took a 36-31 halftime lead.
After West Side's lead grew as large as 18 points, a run at the end of the third quarter pulled Northridge within seven.
Evans sparked an 8-0 run with 3:56 remaining in the game with a 3-pointer and Amari Ferguson, who added 14 points for West Side, capped it with a pair of free throws.
"One thing you can always count on with Dana is that she's not going to stop shooting," West Side coach Rod Fisher said. "We had a good supporting cast, even with the foul trouble we had."
The Cougars had seven fouls by the end of the first quarter, and the Raiders were in the bonus most of the first half.
Still, West Side finished 17 of 22 from the line as Evans hit 7 of 8 and Ferguson 5 of 6.
"For a young team like this and the adversity they had, I think they responded really well, but it helps when you have the best player on the floor on your side," Fisher said. "We hit free throws today ... but when you've got Ferguson and Evans shooting free throws, they're probably 80 percent from the line."
The win put West Side into the regional final for the first time since 2005, when the Cougars played for the state championship.
*This corrects an earlier version of the story. The Times regrets the error.