VALPARAISO | Merrillville clawed back from a deficit of as many as five in the fourth quarter of Saturday's regional semifinal.
But a basket with 18 seconds left in the game by Warsaw was the biggest difference on the scoreboard as Merrillville's season ended with a 42-41 Tigers win.
"For us to not play well, we almost escaped," Pirates coach Amy Govert said. "They know we didn't play our best game, and this one is going to haunt them for a while, that we came within a point."
Merrillville fell behind with seven turnovers over the second and third quarters as trying to pass inside to post player Victoria Gaines turned into steals for the Tigers.
Warsaw forward Nikki Grose finished with five steals, including three in the second quarter.
Still, a basket by Gaines with 1:30 left and a steal by Dariyan Morris that turned into a basket by Darian Patton gave the Pirates a 40-39 lead with 1:09 remaining in the game.
"That basket gave us a lot of energy," Morris said. "It picked us up. I knew we weren't giving up."
Gaines scored 10 of her 21 points in the first quarter, sparking the Pirates to a lead of 11-4. Merrillville was unable to find its offensive spark, shooting 15-of-41 from the field.
Govert said she couldn't remember the last time her team didn't hit a 3-pointer.
"There were no 3s falling today," Morris said. "We tried. We kept shooting, but nothing was falling."
Morris finished with 10 points.
Warsaw was led by 19 points from Jennifer Walker-Crawford, who had 18 through the first three quarters, but was slowed when the Pirates moved Gaines to guard her. Grose added 13 points with 13 rebounds.
Merrillville averaged 61.7 points per game this season and its previous lowest point total was 48 in a win over Valparaiso in November.
By the end of the season, Merrillville (23-2) was ranked fifth in the state by both the ICGSA Class 4A poll and the IBCA all-class poll; Warsaw (24-1) was ranked eighth by the ICGSA And 10th by the IBCA.
Morris took the Pirates' last shot with three seconds remaining, but it careened off the rim.
"We had the look and took the shot," Govert said. "That's all you can ask for, to get the shot off."