Beaten at the buzzer
MERRILLVILLE — Class 4A No. 13 Kankakee Valley’s final play out of a timeout with 8.8 seconds left in a tied Class 4A Merrillville Sectional title thriller with No. 12 Michigan City on Monday was supposed to be a backcourt screen and a deep toss toward the basket for a layup.
The sequence didn’t happen how Doug Nelson drew it up, but after Sarah Martin’s last-second layup gave the Kougars a 61-59 win over Michigan City, K.V.’s coach wasn’t complaining.
“That was not near what we drew up on the out-of-bounds play, but it worked,” Nelson said. “We have people that create plays. They made plays all night. They had the poise to not freak out and find someone that could attack. We just figured it out. I gotta watch it on film.”
Kaylee Barrett set a screen for Catherine Cavinder on the inbounds pass from Karmen Nowak and raced down the near sideline past City’s Katelyn Halfacre. She dished to a trailing Nowak driving into the lane and Nowak dropped a pass to Sarah Martin, who slipped by Trinity Thompson and stuck the dagger in the Wolves with a left-handed layup just before the buzzer for the Kougars’ third sectional crown since 2013-14.
“It wasn’t even close at all,” Martin said with a laugh of the play. “Kaylee was supposed to screen for Maddie (Swart) and Maddie was supposed to throw the ball while Kaylee was going long for a layup. And I don’t even know how Karmen got it, but she did, she dished it off and I just laid it in.”
Martin led all scorers with 29 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. She made 11 of 12 free throws along with six steals, three rebounds and two assists on a night where a missed shot brought a collective gasp from the Kougars faithful. Nowak made two massive plays in the game’s final 35 seconds. Beforfe the game-winning assist to Martin, she grabbed a missed Hannah Noveroske free throw and went coast-to-coast to tie the game at 59 with about 30 seconds to play.
After a timeout, tthe Wolves (20-5) had three attempts in the paint to take the lead back, but all three rimmed out. A tie-up with the arrow pointing the way of the Kougars way gave them the final chance.
“I don’t know how it all happened,” Nowak said. “Sarah was just there and she screamed and I passed it to her ... it’s just our teamwork. At the end, it all came together. Our team’s so great. We worked together, we’ve bonded together and we always know where each other are on the floor. Our hard work paid off.”
The finish was just the final chapter of a game that could’ve legitimately had a book written about it.
Momentum swings, big shots, key defensive plays, weird sequences like City being called for a technical foul for only having four players on the floor 10 seconds into the second quarter, a raucous crowd and a cheerleader handspring battle were just a few of the talking points.
The Wolves raced to a 9-2 lead on five quick Halfacre points and two makes down low by Noveroske, but the Kougars used a pair of Martin triples to trim the City lead to 14-13 heading into the second quarter.
Martin canned four freebies, while Nowak hit two treys in the second. That helped fend off a City push led by Thompson, who scored eight of her nine points in the period with Noveroske on the bench for most of the frantically-paced stanza with two fouls.
City battled through turnover troubles and leveled the game at 42 at the third-quarter horn off a Halfacre right corner 3, her third in five attempts, with a hand in her face and a little smooch off the window.
“They’re the best group of young ladies I’ve ever coached,” Wolves coach Mike Megyese said. “We love them. They’re hurting right now. It’s tough. (KV) shot the ball extremely well from all areas. Martin played extremely well. We had our chances.”
With City up 57-55, Thompson swiped the ball and raced down the far sideline in front of both fan sections, but was called for a charge with 1:07 left. Her pretty pass to Tee Coleman on the previous possession put the Wolves ahead.
“I thought we had a chance to take a four-point lead with Trinity ... and I let her go on that because she’s so tough going in,” Megyese said. “I’m not really sure it was an offensive foul, but it ... probably could’ve sealed the game for us. I’m surprised they made that call. They let so much go all game long...
The Wolves’ night ended with plenty of ifs and buts, especially in the final few minutes. They missed four free throws, turned it over 22 times, had the strange technical and yet, had as many opportunities as the Kougars to win.
“We had our chances late,” Megyese said. “Hannah misses a shot and Janicia (Anderson), if I saw correctly, got a rebound and had a perfect two-footer and missed it. Those things happen unfortunately, but they don’t cost you the game.”
With the win, the Kougars move on to Saturday’s La Porte Regional to face 4A No. 4 Crown Point (26-0). The Bulldogs beat the Kougars 61-46 back on Jan. 15. The victor will play No. 2 Penn (24-0) or Plymouth (20-5) for the title.
For the Wolves, it’s the end of the line in a season where they won 20 games for the first time since the 2008-09 season, the year before Megyese arrived. They had two eight-game winning streaks, the second ending Monday night.
Anderson, Joani Ashley, Naomi Ashley, Coleman and Noveroske all depart.
“Congratulations to (KV) and good luck to them,” Megyese said. “But I truly thought that this was our year. We had a fantastic year. I couldn’t be any more proud of them than I already am.”
Reach Michael Whitlow at email@example.com or (219) 214-4169. Follow him on Twitter @couldbelikemike.
Class 4A Merrillville Sectional
Kankakee Valley 61, Michigan City 59
Despite Hannah Noveroske’s 21 points, the Wolves lost to the Kougars at the buzzer.