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Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.

Girls basketball sectional - Merrillville vs. Kankakee Valley

Merrillville coach Amy Govert plans her strategy Tuesday against Kankakee Valley at the Class 4A Kankakee Valley Sectional.

WHEATFIELD — Amy Govert walked into the gym Tuesday night like a wolf walking into the unattended hen house.

The Merrillville coach brought her young and inexperienced Pirates into the Class 4A Kankakee Valley Sectional, ready to play the favorite and host Kougars in the opener.

This was a win-win, lose-lose kind of scenario.

Govert's program had won five straight sectional championships. But the 2017-18 team had just five wins in the regular season.

No one is going to feel sorry about the Pirates' 66-52 loss to the Kougars. Honestly, some probably cheered the loss with all the success Govert has had, feeling it's time to give someone else a chance to climb the ladder.

But it wasn't always this way for Govert. In her first four season as head coach she never even got to the sectional championship game. Finally, in 2010 the Pirates won a sectional and advanced to the state finals.

And in 2015 Merrillville returned to the semistate.

"No one knows how hard it is to win a sectional championship," Govert said after the loss. "I really don't think people outside of the game understand it."

There are 398 teams competing in the IHSAA's 43rd annual state tournament, which tipped off all around Indiana on Tuesday night. Those on the benches do realize what must happen in order to have scissors on their Saturday night hands.

It isn't one thing. It could be as many as 100 items, working in your favor.

"Almost every factor has to go your way," Govert said. "You have to have a good shooting night at the right time. You have to play good defense. You have to get the breaks and when you don't you have to find a way to overcome them."

Or in a one-point game one of your players has to bank in a 25-footer in the fourth quarter to spark up the night, like K.V.'s Kailee Barrett did.

Having a fourth-quarter lead for a five-win team was all Govert could ask for. Especially with where the season started, a 1-10 genesis.

Freshman guard Torri Miller said the first few games people at her school would ask if the Pirates won or not. Then, after a few weeks, the question changed. Painfully.

"They would ask me how many points we lost by," said Miller, who scored nine points but played well.

The Pirates had a remarkable middle school program four-plus years ago but as many as six players left to compete elsewhere. That did not help the record this season.

But Govert said she had a ton of fun teaching fundamentals to a very green group.

"No one expected anything from us this year," Govert said. "I had to go back to the basics. We had to break everything down. This season was all about progression.

"And seeing the way these kids competed (Tuesday), I am very happy with what we did this year. I am nothing but proud of these girls."

Again, Merrillville has a very good middle school with a lot of talent. If the players stay and not transfer to a school without borders to win sectionals against teams under different rules, the future could be very bright, very soon, on Broadway.

"I really learned a lot this year," Miller said. "The way we played in this game it makes me want to work even harder so we can come back and win sectionals next year."

And for those whose careers may have ended — like Merrillville's Shelby Harmon, Kennedy Tanniehill and Brittney Williams — hold your head high. And this is for all the seniors who won't be making it to Indianapolis.

If this game brought you joy and you gave it everything you had in your final contest, be proud. That is what this is all about.

This column solely represents the writer’s opinion. Reach him at steve.hanlon@nwi.com.

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