With the Wolves’ leading scorer on the bench, Merritt realized it was his turn to take the wheel.
“When Maggie got the second charge, I knew I had to step up and be the leader of the team at that moment,” Merritt said later. “That was really my mentality.
“Actually, I wasn’t thinking about anything else other than the game. I was just thinking about the next game; What can I do right now?”
Merritt kept Oswego East afloat and took a brief lead on a three-pointer late in regulation. Lewandowski then came back and led the way to a 57-52 overtime victory over Yorkville.
Merritt totaled 12 points as the Wolves (15-13, 13-2) won the Southwest Prairie West championship. Lewandowski led all scorers with 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half and overtime.
Oswego East coach Abe CarrettoMeanwhile, he was impressed by Merritt’s stance. Wolves fell behind 10-0 with two players on the bench, including Lewandowski, committing two fouls.
All Merritt did was keep the Wolves alive with a 27-26 halftime lead.
“He was big enough to basically be a quarterback,” Carretto said. “It slowed things down there. He committed some crimes and expressed them. I thought you looked beautiful.
“We kept falling and fighting.”
As for his attitude in such a big game, Merritt noted that his mentality has improved as his second varsity season has progressed.
“It wasn’t that good at the beginning of the season, but it’s getting better,” Merritt said. “As long as I work at it, I’ll keep getting better.”
Lewandowski was left on the bench after picking up two fouls and watched Merritt’s efforts to keep Wolves afloat.
“I feel like he worked hard this year,” Lewandowski said. “He was a little nervous last year as a freshman. “He is very confident and can carry out tasks that I cannot.”
Yorkville was unable to capitalize on a 10-0 run to start the first quarter. The Foxes dropped both games to Oswego East this season.
Yorkville coach: “We got out of our rhythm” Kim Wensit aforementioned. “I guess you have to give them credit. They’re the ones who beat us. We have to thank them for responding without fear of falling.”
As Lewandowski scored eight consecutive points, Oswego East tied the game 47-47. Merritt gave the Wolves a 50-47 lead with a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left.
“Someone shot a shot, and I boxed hard and got the rebound,” Merritt said. “I dribbled to the three-point line. I saw an opening, let it fly and it went in.
“I couldn’t even tell you how I felt at that moment. I had so much adrenaline.”
Lewandowski scored the first six points in extra time and the Wolves faced no threat after that, winning their first conference title since 2017.
“It means a lot because I’ve never actually experienced anything like this,” Lewandowski said. “We have been working hard since the summer months. It all came together. “It’s a good feeling.”
Lewandowski may have embarked on another star turn on Tuesday, but Carretto knows he can rely on Merritt in a tough situation.
“He worked hard on his game,” Carretto said. “He’s got a lot going for him. He doesn’t need to do that because when he’s under control and calm, he can make some plays.”
Paul Johnson is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.