VALPARAISO | Scoring the first 14 points of the game was a positive for Amy Govert. Watching her Merrillville girls basketball team miss 16 straight free throws was quite another.
The Times No. 1 Pirates dominated a short-handed Valparaiso squad 57-28 Wednesday in the Duneland Athletic Conference opener for both teams, but Govert was left shaking her head about the missed opportunities at the charity stripe.
"We can't let free throws cost us games," Govert said. "As a coach you're always looking at the negatives, but in this one I'm going to choose to concentrate on the positives. I'm very thankful for my team."
Four players scored during the opening 14-0 run, which included two foul shots from Jaz Talley. The senior then missed her next eight free throws, and her struggles spread throughout the team. Talley led the Pirates (4-1, 1-0) with 13 points.
"We talked about getting off to a good start all week," Govert said. "What I was happy about was that our defense really came out and set the tone."
Michigan State recruit Victoria Gaines was limited to just three points, but freshman Jasmine Wright picked up the slack with 11 points and five steals. The newcomer had an electric stretch in the second half when she had back-to-back steals that led to layups on the other end of the floor.
"(She'll be special) as long as she keeps improving in every game," Govert said. "We see her getting better every day in practice. It's not an easy transition from eighth grade, but she's really embraced her role with the team and is starting to get comfortable."
The Vikings (2-3, 0-1) were without the services of several key players as Grace Withrow and Kristina Veljovic missed their second straight game. The pair missed a game last weekend while playing in a soccer all-star game and had to sit on Wednesday, as well. Reserve Lexi Ferngren also missed Wednesday's game after suffering an injury during warmups.
"We're just a little snakebit right now," Valparaiso coach Joe Otis said. "We didn't show much composure, and I burned a few timeouts early. I obviously didn't have an answer for what (Merrillville) was doing. Credit Amy for going easy on us and calling off the dogs."
Heather Fetla led the Vikings with eight points and six rebounds, while Rylie Vaughn scored eight points in her first extended action with the varsity.