The Valparaiso Vikings notched another conference win onto their season Friday night, impressing a huge home crowd with a 62-47 victory over a strong Merrillville Pirates squad. It was a turbulent game, with momentum swinging each quarter. Valpo coach Barak Coolman knew he and his team could not afford to take the Pirates lightly.
“They’re a good group, well coached, and they always play hard,” Coolman said. “They’re always a team you’ve got to worry about especially once it gets to the end of the season.”
Despite the biting cold and rough roads, Valpo’s fans turned out big to support the home team. They watched as the Vikings grabbed an early lead and made even the most difficult shots look effortless. Things took a turn in the second quarter when the Pirates stopped Valpo cold. The game was close until the final quarter, when Nate Aerts helped turn things around for the Vikes, tallying 21 points throughout the game.
“We talked about it at half time, we knew we were taking bad shots,” Aerts, a senior wing. “The mentality coming out [the second half] was just to pass the ball around. We don’t have to force anything, we know we can score. We just got to do it correctly.”
The Pirates played hard all game, succeeding particularly well on the defense and only faltering after Aerts entered in the second half. Merrillville Head Coach T.J. Lux acknowledged that despite the loss, there was a lot to gain from the game.
“We showed that when we do some good things offensively and defensively, we can play pretty well,” Lux said. “We’re still trying to find our stride, it’s a little bit up and down. We’re getting there, getting closer. There’s a lot of good things to take away from tonight.”
Valpo’s student section mobbed their players after the win, which brings the Vikings a big step closer to a conference title. Reece Crossin, a senior and a captain on the Semi-State runner-up Viking Football squad, said that coming out to support the basketball team is second nature.
“I think it’s really big for us to come out here, during the football season a lot of the basketball guys came out to support us,” Crossin said. “And it’s not just basketball that we come out for, we go to volleyball games, all the girls’ sports. Everybody feels appreciated when people come out to show support at games.”
Next stop for the Vikings is Munster, while Merrillville moves on to face Lowell.