“We Can Win the Regional”

Normal Community 58, Morton’s Lady Potters 49

Ten minutes after this one, the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, was thinking 12 days ahead.

“I believe we can win the regional,” he said. “We can find a way to beat Central on their home floor.”

Let’s play this out. First presume that Morton beats Richwoods in its regional opener on Feb. 14. Then, three days later, say the Potters find a way to beat Peoria Central at Peoria Central (though last month they lost to Peoria Central at Peoria Central by nine points). A victory over #1 seed Peoria Central would give Morton the regional championship and establish the Potters as favorites to win the LaSalle-Peru sectional and move on to the supersectional at Romeoville where a victory would send them to Redbird Arena as one of the last four teams standing.

Yes, yes, oh my yes, I know, forgive me, that last sentence there is one gigantic pot of supposin’, let’s-sayin’; and wishin’ upon a star.

But, look. Remember when America’s darling, Julia Roberts, lost her mind for a minute and married the weird-haired country singer Lyle Lovett? Since then, I have believed that ANYTHING can happen.

So there is that. And Becker saw enough good in today’s defeat to say, “I don’t believe in ‘moral victories,’ but I said to the team afterward, ‘Why would we play them?'”

The game against Normal Community was a last-minute improvisation when both Normal and Morton lost scheduled opponents and scrambled for a game that would help prepare them for the post-season. Morton might have searched for a cupcake victory; instead, Becker wanted a test.

“We played them because they’re a good team, they’re a 4A state-ranked team,” he said. The Lady Iron would be a real test, a team with a 20-6 record in the state’s highest level of competition. It’s also a team good enough to have Peoria Central beaten, only to lose by a point when it missed on the front end of a one-and-bonus with 1.3 seconds to play. That was a week ago.

“And after their terrific start today,” Becker said, “we won the last three quarters.”

Seventeen seconds into the second quarter, Normal Community had made seven 3-pointers, one a minute after they made their first one. (They made only two more all day.) At that point, they led, 24-13. Becker’s silver-lining math, then, was correct. From there on, Morton outscored the winners, 36-34.

In fact, from that 11-point deficit Morton found a way to get the lead at 36-35 midway through the third quarter. The Potters did it with a 10-0 run achieved in a minute and a half. Katie Krupa started it at 4:04 with four straight free throws earned on shooting fouls. Tatym Lamprecht and Ellie VanMeenen followed with a pair of 3’s from the left side to give Morton the lead at 2:34 of the third quarter.

Normal Community took the lead back immediately, never again trailing. It sealed the victory with six straight points when Morton’s offense — fitful at best on a day of turnovers galore — went totally silent from 5:30 of the fourth to 1:37. As Morton has done to so many teams in the last seven years, Normal Community closed the deal with a ball-control offense that produced eight free throws in the last minute.

“We just gifted them points at the end,” Becker said. “Gifted them! That CANNOT happen.”

In those last 5 1/2 minutes, profiting from Morton’s failures, Normal Community outscored the Potters,14-7.

Krupa led Morton’s scoring with 16, VanMeenen had 14, Maggie Hobson 11, Izzy Hutchinson 5, and Lamprecht 3.

Now 22-5, the Potters close their regular season Tuesday at the Potterdome with a Mid-Illini Conference game against Limestone. Victory would give the Potters a share of their seventh straight Mid-Illini championship. The Peoria regional starts the next Tuesday.

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