WHEATFIELD | Kankakee Valley came out against Merrillville with a lot of confidence on Thursday night. The Pirates came out with a lot of Victoria Gaines.
The Michigan State recruit scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Times No. 4 Merrillville wrapped up the regular season with a 59-49 road victory over the No. 9 Kougars.
Gaines scored just two points in the third quarter, but the Pirates (13-6) opened up a close game as the junior contributed in other ways. Gaines was a dominant force on the defensive end with six blocks and set up her teammates for easy baskets with four assists.
“Blocks get the team motivated and they help (me) with momentum as well,” Gaines said. “On the other end, it’s my goal to get my teammates involved. Everything works much better when we’re all able to contribute.”
While the Kougars (12-6) were unable to overcome Gaines, Kankakee Valley coach Ryan Myers was proud of their effort. Ashley Norberg scored six of her team-high 11 points in the first quarter and the Kougars held their own against the more physical Merrillville squad. Bethany Jansma also added 11 points to go along with six rebounds.
“We knew this game was going to be a great test for us,” Myers said. “After getting knocked out of the first round of sectionals last year, I wanted to add some teams to the schedule that would challenge us. I thought our kids did a lot of good things and we didn’t back down.”
The Pirates nearly led from wire-to-wire, but Merrillville coach Amy Govert was still frustrated by the effort from her team. Missed defensive assignments, inadequate rebounding and general lack of energy were among the biggest detriments Govert pointed out following the game.
“We weren’t ready for this game,” Govert said. “We saw they didn’t have school and we felt like we weren’t going to play. We weren’t there mentally and there’s absolutely no excuse for that.”
Thursday’s game represented Merrillville’s final regular-season game. The Pirates open sectional play next Wednesday against Valparaiso. Merrillville knocked off the Vikings 57-28 on Nov. 27.
“We were playing really well this season coming into this game, but we didn’t bring it tonight,” Govert said. “We can’t let this happen again.”
Jaz Talley had 11 points and four assists for the Pirates while Riana Todd added eight points and five rebounds.