Morton’s Lady Potters 55, Bethalto Civic 41

We saw her coming as an eighth-grader, the young Katie Krupa, a precocious basketball baby, so good so young that the grown-ups told her she had to play defense with her hands behind her back. She was blocking too many shots. Also, she could not shoot the ball. She was too good at that. She had to pass so the other kids could have some fun, too.

And now she’s gone, and we won’t soon see her like again, Katie Krupa, Katie Krupa!!!

With 59 seconds to play in the Class 3A state tournament third-place game tonight, she left the court for the last time as a Lady Potter.

She wept.

Since the fourth grade, she has played basketball with Maggie Hobson, with Paige Griffin and Paige Chapin, a lifetime of teammates who finished this long, hard season with a redemptive victory at Redbird Arena tonight after losing badly this morning in a semifinal against Nazareth Academy of LaGrange Park.

Krupa went to them all, one by one, and took them all to her, one last embrace on one last basketball court, and they all were crying, and Bob Becker, her coach, embraced Krupa before the trophy presentation and said into her ear, “I love you.”

She is one of the great Lady Potters ever, and it’s good to remember what she did and what she made posssible. Her freshman year, big in the biggest games — a state championship. Second place the next year, robbed of three points by a referee’s bad call late against her in a championship game lost by a point. Robbed by Covid the third year. This season, with only Krupa back from those unforgettable seasons, who knew what could happen?

“If you had told me, we would get to the Final Four and we would win third place . . .”

Bob Becker was talking. The coach was talking to the press after tonight’s game. He began the kind of sentence that usually ends with a clause suggesting you’d be a fool to think such a thing, crazy even.

Instead, he finished the thought with “. . .it would take a lot of work.”

Actually, both thoughts are good. You’d have been certifiable to put Final Four expectations on this team. And, yes, it took a lot of work. They shared the Mid-Illini Conference championship. They won two of the state’s most difficult regionals and sectionals. They defeated a #1 seed in a super-sectional to get to the Final Four at Redbird Arena.

They did all that because Katie Krupa made it possible. The 6-foot-1 senior, a first-team all-state selection, was the team’s best scorer, rebounder, defender, passer, motivator, cheerleader, and, for all I know, its best dancer in high heels. Without her, these Potters, who finished with a 29-6 record, might have been — oh, let’s not go there. It’s enough just to listen to Becker.

“This was Katie’s team,” the coach said. “She took ownership. As great a season as she had personally, she knew she couldn’t do it alone. She had to make her teammates better, and she did that all season. This was her team.”

Tonight’s victory was yet another example of Krupa’s mastery. Coming out flat after a long afternoon’s uneasy rest — who rests well after losing a semifinal the way they did, by 31 points? — the Potters were quickly down to Bethalto, 12-2. Krupa then scored 9 of Morton’s next 14 to make it a game, the Potters down only 18-16. At halftime she had 13 and Morton led, 29-27.

The Potters’ lead after three quarters was 42-37. It moved to 48-38 on Krupa’s three straight buckets in the paint. With 3:19 to play, the Potters had won.

Krupa led Morton’s scoring with 23, Tatym Lamprecht had 19, Izzy Hutchinson 9, Ellie VanMeenen 3, and Anja Ruxlow 1.

In Krupa’s four years, the Potters went 113-13 overall (19-2 in Final Four games) or, as she put it between tears, “Oh, man. So much fun. So much success. So special. Oh, man. A million things.”

Here, dear reader, if you’re up to it, are some painful words about that first game..


Nazareth Academy 55, Morton’s Lady Potters 24

For 11 seconds, the Potters led in this Class 3A state semifinal game at Redbird Arena. Paige Griffin’s 3-pointer near the end of the first quarter put Morton up, 13-12.

Other than that, it was a seriously terrible day for the Potters.

Before Morton could score again, Nazareth Acadamy’s Gracie Carstersen made five 3’s in two minutes and 51 seconds. Not one 3, or two 3’s, not even three 3’s, and she didn’t stop at four 3’s, either, because, suddenly, Gracie Carstersen had become Steph Curry running around screens, taking a pass, stepping back behind the NBA arc — not the high school line, not the college line, but the millionaire superstars’ line — and bubbling over in delight as the ball left her right hand en route to its inevitable destination, another dagger in the heart of Morton’s defenders who knew the scouting report on Carstersen — five 3’s in the supersectional final — and yet could not get a hand in her face today.

A man who thought he saw a Michael Jordan-esque shrug — remember that time when MJ shrugged and smiled, like, “I can’t help it, they just keep going in”? — yes, a man thought he saw that in Carstersen today and asked her about it.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was just . . . oh . . .like, ‘Oh, awesome.'”

Those five 3’s moved Nazareth Academy to a 27-13 lead and it got worse for the Potters for another hour. The winners’ big, strong, aggressive 2-3 zone defense denied Morton any offensive rhythm. All-stater Katie Krupa scored 13 of Morton’s first 16 points and never scored again, surrounded by defenders unworried that any other Potter could score, often forced far from the paint in order to even take a pass from beleaguered ball-handlers.

Krupa’s 13 points led Morton’s scoring. Griffin, Tatym Lamprecht, and Ellie VanMeenen each had 3 and Paige Chapin 2.

Nazareth Academy, #1 ranked in 3A, moved to 33-2 for the season.

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