PORTAGE | Merrillville coach Amy Govert grabbed the shoulders of her seniors on the bench with 13 seconds left and smiled.
“Enjoy it,” she told them, “you’ve earned it. We’ve worked all summer, all year for this. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Pirates won the key rubber match against Michigan City 65-60 Saturday night, capturing the sectional title. In regular-season Duneland Athletic Conference play, the teams split as Merrillville captured the conference crown.
They hoisted another trophy before cutting down the nets at Portage High School.
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to this team,” Pirates senior guard Dariyan Morris said. “We really wanted this for Merrillville. Winning against Michigan City, a big rival, we came ready to fight.”
Morris finished with 15 points as all five starters scored in double figures. Amber Sturdivant added 10 points with 12 rebounds and had to lead the offense as Morris and sophomore forward Victoria Gaines sat on the bench for most of the third quarter with three fouls each.
“This is their time to step up and take over,” Morris said. “They did what they had to do, what Coach Govert has taught them to do. They came in and played a big role.”
Michigan City fouled out three players -- Dejania Evans, Aubria Smith and Jameka Collins – and 18 points. The two teams combined for 43 fouls, including 21 in the first half.
“I can talk all day about the officiating, and it was for both teams, but the kids didn’t decide this game,” Michigan City coach Mike Megyese said. “We had to go into a chess match all night long trying to decide with fouls here and fouls there.
“That disappointed me, it should be that way for a championship game.”
The Wolves held off Merrillville even in the first half as 6-foot center Keyshana Cooper sat beginning at the 5:40 mark of the first quarter. When she returned in the third quarter, she quickly scored nine of her 13 points and grabbed six of her 14 rebounds.
Collins took over the rebounding duties while Cooper was out, finishing with 10, all in the first half.
Toni Murphy added 10 points for the Wolves, seven in the fourth quarter.
“We’re out-matched with Cooper, she’s such a big presence inside,” Govert said. “Our kids found a way. … It’s a battle, there’s no easy way to defend her. I’ve been impressed with her this year. We don’t have the size and strength inside, but we just battled.”
The Pirates have won two sectional titles in the last four years, the last one coming when the seniors were freshmen.
Gaines added 13 points, Jaz Talley had 11 and AJ Downs scored 12, including eight in the fourth quarter.