“For the 4th time in 5 years, state champions!”

Morton’s Lady Potters 35, Glenbard South 21

It’s so hard to be humble. Bob Becker wants it for his basketball team. He calls it “humble swagger.” It’s a Midwest thing. As long as you’re good at what you do, just do it, no need to brag it up. The coach has preached the humble manner for 20 years. He even lives it (except maybe for the bow tie, which we’ll get to in a minute.) But when a team wins a state championship and wins it the next year and the next and then, after a year away, wins it all for a fourth time in five seasons – as the Morton High School Lady Potters did today – maybe it’s time to grant the Potters a one-day exemption from humility. They could say anything they want, like . . .

“We are pretty gosh-dang good.”

“Tootin’ our own horn, we’re darn near perfect.”

“If there was a higher league, we’d go play up there and give the earthlings a chance to win the big trophy.”

But no. No, no, not a chance that any Potter is going to say anything like any of that. Ego inflation is not in these Potters, not even in the first minutes after defeating Glenbard South, 35-21, at Redbird Arena today to add the 2019 state Class 3A championship to the 2015, ’16, and ’17 titles.

“It’s surreal,” Katie Krupa said, “so surreal, and I haven’t really processed it yet. It was what we wanted from the first day on.” She’s a freshman, a 6-foot post player, a star rising in the Potters’ firmament. She called the Potters’ achievement surreal, and she meant it wasn’t just that they won, it was how they did it. “I’m so proud of this team, my teammates, how hard we’ve worked all season,” Krupa said. “It’s the Potter way.”

OK, I’ve long since bought into the Potter preachments. But, seriously, folks. Think of it. Morton is now tied with Lombard Montini for the most 3A championships in Illinois history. And in the last five seasons, the Potters have gone 33-3, 33-3, 34-2, 31-2, and 33-3. Do the math: 164 and 13, a .927 winning percentage. Now, tell me. How many state championships do you have in your trophy case? What do you do that you succeed in doing 92.7 percent of the time? I haven’t put the garage door up that often before getting into reverse. I can’t find my shoes that often. To talk about surreal is to talk about these Potters, who today proved they are so good that they can beat you any way you want to be beaten.

Yes, as the country song goes, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way – and the Potters have won running against running teams, won physically against physical teams, and won shooting against shooting teams. Today, they won walking. This was basketball played by somnambulists. (I’ll wait while you look it up.) Save for its historic significance in the pumpkin patches of Central Illinois, this game could have cured your insomnia.

That’s because 1) Glenbard South depends on aggressive man-to-man defense that funnels opponents toward its tall, shot-blocking post, and 2) its offense is designed to help the defense by killing time at the other end. The result is Zylocaine-ish. Morton’s 35 points today were the most Glenbard South had given up in its last 11 games.

And those 35 points were absolutely the fewest Morton could have scored today. The Potters led after a quarter, 17-3, and there was no reason to think anything would change. At halftime, it was 24-5. “The first quarter, we were masterful,” Becker said. In scoring the game’s first 15 points, the Potters were dominant at both ends. Their press forced a 10-second call. They made three steals in the first five minutes. They scored on fast breaks, on a put-back, and on a 3.

At quarter’s end, an Illinois High School Association official walked behind the Morton bench. He was carrying the state championship trophy. It would have saved time had he simply tapped Becker on the shoulder and said, “Here, take care of this for an hour, then it’s yours.”

From there on, I needed a snooze alarm on my notebook.

For nearly four minutes of the second quarter, neither team scored. Glenbard South did put up three 3-point shots, all airballs. However proud Glenbard South was of its defense, its defense was the second-best defense on the court today. By game’s end, Morton had made 13 steals (to the losers’ 4), had committed only 7 fouls (to 14), had allowed the losers only 10 shots inside the 3-point arc (against 3-for-18 from outside).

As dreadful as the second quarter was, the third surpassed it in zzzzz’s. Morton didn’t score for 7 minutes and 57.3 seconds. At :02.7, Krupa made two free throws for a 26-14 lead. Becker attributed the desultory performance to Glenbard South’s defense. I thought that any team with a 24-5 halftime lead had reason to lose interest in the proceedings, though that’s never a good idea with a state championship there for the taking. In any case, Morton snapped out of it long enough to go up, 31-17, on a free throw and power move by Krupa around a Tenley Dowell drive. There were 3 minutes, 27 seconds to play. It only seemed like three days, what with the losers then giving fouls to get to a bonus situation that might profit them. It didn’t.

Krupa and Dowell each had 10 points, Lindsey Dullard 5, Courtney Jones 4, Raquel Frakes 4, Peyton Dearing 2.

Wait. In addition to the trophy presentation, the game did have a thrilling moment.

It came when Bob Becker first walked onto the court.

That bow tie. A red bow tie.

He had talked to a fellow coach about Glenbard South. That coach ended the scouting report with a piece of advice.

“Wear something good for the championship picture,” he said.

Becker had been to a store in Champaign. He bought a shirt. He thought of buying a red sports coat. After all these years of blacks, browns, and beiges, Becker considered a red sports coat.

“I couldn’t go there,” he said.

Humble swagger does not wear a red jacket.

“But the salesman was really good,” Becker said.

Thus, the bow tie.

A bit swaggerish, perhaps, but it was a small bow tie.


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