“Dug ourselves a hole”

Metamora 63, Lady Potters 56

Thirty-seven seconds into this one, Bob Becker, the Morton coach, called timeout. He had seen already what he had hoped to see not at all. The first time Metamora touched the ball, #22, whose name is Camryn Youngquist, discovered no one defending against her. So she put up a 3-pointer from the left side. Bang!

And “TIMEOUT!”

Becker said it in capital letters with an exclamation point. You know a coach is in a mood when a coach calls TIMEOUT! 37 seconds into a game. After delivering a talking-to to his Potters, Becker returned to his seat. On the way, he could be heard muttering, “Unbelievable,” for he had warned his defenders about #22.

Morton scored the next five points. But at 6:19 of the first quarter, #22 threw in another 3-pointer, causing Becker to look for possible defenders on the bench, and send in two new players who might remember they had been told to be near Miss Youngquist anytime she gets the ball.

Miss Youngquist’s second 3 put Metamora ahead 6-5 – and from there, as Becker would say later, “We dug ourselves a hole.”

How deep a hole? It measured 18-by-1. An 18-1 hole, and I will wait while you look at those numbers again. Yes, unusual numbers, discouraging numbers, 18 and 1, numbers that took shape when Miss Youngquist’s second 3-pointer began a six-minute run in which Metamora scorched the Potters, 18-1, for a 21-6 lead. A holeuva deep hole.

To the Potters’ credit, through the second quarter they climbed up the sides of the hole and were within a point at 25-24. They did it on a 16-2 run with Ellie VanMeenen and Addy Engel scoring six points apiece and Izzy Hutchinson adding a 3-pointer.

It was still a game to be won or lost a minute into the third quarter. Metamora led 30-27. It is one of Becker’s bedrock coaching beliefs that his teams can win if they dominate the first three minutes of the third quarter. But tonight, after Morton opened with an Engel 3, Metamora went on a 9-0 run.

Here, someone (me) could be heard muttering, “Uh-oh,” for Metamora, in those three minutes, showed what happens when one team is bigger, stronger, more physical, and is also very good at moving the ball to where it wants it before a defender gets there. Of Metamora’s next seven field goals that opened up a 46-33 lead late in the third quarter, six came on layups and a put-back. Guess where the seventh bucket came from?

Yep, from way out there, #22 again, and Becker would say, “We let #22 get three rhythm 3’s.” While that was not the least of the Potters’ problems tonight — rebounding may have been — when you lose by seven and you give up nine to #22, that’s a muttering problem.

The Potters got as close as six points only in the last minute when the issue had long been decided.

Metamora is now 6-3 overall, 1-1 in the Mid-Illini Conference. Morton is 6-2, 1-1.

Morton’s scoring:

Tatym Lamprecht 17, Engel 13, VanMeenen 13, Abbey Pollard 6, Hutchinson 6, Ruby Brubaker 1.

“Attacking the basket”

Lady Potters 50, Canton 37

So Addy Engel, bumping into folks, stumbling in heavy traffic, gets rid of the ball. If you’re kind, you say Addy Engel put up a little shot from the low right box. But you can’t really call it a shot. The best you can say, in coachese, is she “attacked the basket.” Just ride a little bump’em cars, hurl the rock up there, hope to draw a foul and two.

But when there was no whistle, here is what Addy Engel did not do next.

She did not go oh-gosh-darn, nor did she sulk even a ltitle bit.

Here is what she did do.

Over Canton’s bigger people, the 5-foot-10 junior forward Addy Engel ripped the clunker-shot rebound from their hands and on a second try put it softly off the glass for two.

It was no big deal, the Potters already up by five, but it was no little deal, either, because up by seven with seven minutes to play is better than up by five.

Besides, here came a repeat.

This time the 5-8 junior guard Izzy Hutchinson came flying in – “attacked” is an inadequate verb when Hutchinson comes flying in sideways, crossways, and every way but upside-down to try one of her improbable “layups,” an inadequate noun – and, of course, this improbability clanged off the rim, and again no whistle, no foul.

And Izzy Hutchinson, not even jumping because she had barely straightened out from the flight in, lost among the bigs under the hoop, somehow came up with the ball and – I cannot swear to this, but I will swear to it anyway – she had her back to the basket when she flipped the ball skyward, it fell onto the rim, and sat there, sat there, sat there, and perhaps the earth’s rotation had something to do with what happened next.

The ball rotated east, toward Carlock, ever so slowly, a leather pebble at a time.

And crawled into the net.

Up by nine if better than up by seven.

And one minute later, here came 5-10 sophomore forward Julia Laufenberg. She took a pass on right wing. She had taken such a pass in the fourth quarter of the psychol-thriller comeback against East St. Louis. As she had done that time, she did this time, too. A 3-pointer, smooth, easy, beautiful.

Up by a dozen is better than up by nine.

\And when 5-7 senior Tatym Lamprecht followed a minute later with a 3 of her own, the Potters had declared this one theirs.

They’re now on a six-game winning streak after a season-opening loss at Rock Island, where they let a 10-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter.

The issue tonight was never in doubt. Canton came in with a 6-3 record that included a three-point victory over the Rock Island team that beat Morton by three. But when the Potters led after a quarter, 12-5, I made two notes that suggested the outcome: “M lots of steals, lots of missed layups.”

“Missed” was too harsh a judgment on those layups and those moments of attack that didn’t work.

“I felt bad for the kids,” Bob Becker, the Potters coach, said. “It can be a frustration. Sometimes you can do everything perfectly and the ball just doesn’t go in the basket. They were getting good shots, they just weren’t going in. It’s a crazy game.”

Then came that fourth quarter when even missed shots led to put-backs that were catalysts for 15-5 run that moved Morton ahed 47-32.

Game over, and Becker liked most of what he saw: “I like our team. I think they’ ve got a little resiliency, a little grit about them, and I think they’re believing they can be pretty good.”

Morton’s scoring:

Engel 19, Lamprecht 12, Ellie VanMeenen 9, Hutchinson 6, Laufenberg 3, Magda Lopko 1.

(And this winner’s statistic: Morton was 16 of 23 on free throws, Canton 4 of 5.)

“It was fun.”

Lady Potters 52, Normal Community West 26

After that Saturday evening East St. Louis psycho-thriller, I don’t know about you, but me, happy to be alive three days later, I needed a kinder, gentler movie. Perhaps a romantic-comedy. A happy story. Something predictable, delightful, pleasing. On arrival at the Potterdome tonight, yes, I needed pleasant. I wanted to be pleasantly bored.

The Lady Potters delivered. They provoked excitement early in the show and midway through. And they did it all so well that the happy ending was never in doubt. Early on, they created a 22-4 run. Later, a 19-0 sprint. The offense moved efficiently with crisp ballhandling, and the defense was so aggressive the poor Normalites seldom got a decent look. Me, I yawned a lot. Perfect.

It was the Potters’ fifth straight victory –- all in five days! – done in workmanlike fashion, solid basketball created by a good team against an overmatched opponent. It was work of a kind that would cause a Hall of Fame coach, in this case the Potters’ Bob Becker, to say a very coach-y thing, “We got a lot of productive minutes from a lot of people tonight.“ The production: the Potters starters scored 29 points, four reserves scored 23.

The best part of those productive minutes – it says here – were provided by the Potters’ Ellie VanMeenen, the 5-foot-9 sophomore who played so well at the end of last season when the Potters finished third in the state Class 3A tournament. Tonight, for the first time this season, she scored in double figures – 17 total, 12 in the first half, scoring from outside (one 3-pointer) and on attacking moves in the paint.

Becker’s summary: “Ellie was terrific at both ends.”

VanMeenen’s summary: “It was fun.”

Speaking of fun, I beg your kind indulgence. I want to go back to Saturday for a fun moment you might have missed.

I call it “Lumberjack Ejects Four Batavians.”

Batavia’s coach drew two technical fouls. Then a referee asked Morton High School’s security to remove two Batavia fans from the bleachers.

And here came the security man. He wore a lumberjack’s red-white-black checked flannel shirt. He had a dark, dark beard. He was 6-foot-8. He didn’t look like a man who needed a really big ax to chop down a tree.

He walked to the top row of the Batavia bleachers. He said something, at which point the four Batavians did what I would have done. They rose from their seats and left the building.

The security man was Jake Rutan. He’s a Morton High SchooI science teacher, chemistry and biology. He played basketball at IVC High School in Chillicothe.

Tonight’s scoring:

VanMeenen 17, Abbey Pollard 9, Dru Brubaker 6, Graci Junis 6, Tatym Lamprecht 5, Addy Engel 4, Julia Laufenberg 2, Emilia Miller 2, Izzy Hutchinson 1.

“This is a team that’s not going to quit”

Lady Potters 64, Batavia 29
Lady Potters 59, East St. Louis 55 (OT)

Damned if I know what to say, other than be still my frickin’ heart. Talking about the East St. Louis game. The Potters were down 21 with a quarter to play. That late, nobody wins from 21 down. It’s deadsville.

Twenty-one down, they had not made a field goal in the third quarter. Twenty-one down, they had missed six of their last eight free throws. Twenty-one down, they couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle.

It was 49-28, East St. Louis, and I made a note to myself, “Worst regular season loss ever?”

Then the Potters went and did the damn thing.

In one of their state championship seasons – maybe it was 2017 – the coach, Bob Becker, thought to praise his Lady Potters for their resilience, their refusal to lose, their ever-lovin’ persistence in the belief that doomsday would never arrive.

He said, “You are the toughest little shits in the entire state of Illinois.”

Well, now we have seen the arrival of Tough Little Shits, 2.0.

They began the fourth quarter with three buckets in two minutes – an Izzy Hutchinson rebound, an Addy Engel driving layup, a 3-pointer by the sophomore Julia Laufenberg. Those field goals caused a stirring of life. I even made a note: “Hope?”

Bob Becker saw more than hope. He said, “I looked at the clock, we’re only 14 down with six minutes to play. Plenty of time.”

In girls’ high school basketball, six minutes is not always time enough to score 14 points, let alone score 14 against a team that had pushed you around all day. But Becker said plenty of time, and the sweethearts of TLS 2.0 must have believed him because the game turned in ways only they might have imagined.

Engel came out of a timeout to throw in a 3-pointer. Now the Potters were within single digits, 49-40, 5:21 to play. East St. Louis called two timeouts in a minute, desperate to find a way through the Potters’ full-court pressure – desperate and failing. The pressure pushed East St. Louis to a nervous breakdown of turnovers and the Potters were quick to cash in.

An Ellie VanMeenen layup at 4:10. Two free throws by Hutchinson at 3:10. A Tatym Lamprecht 3 at 1:56. An Engel drive at 1:23. Two more Hutchinson free throws at :45.4 made it 51-all.

When it was over, when she held a tiny plaque that went to the champions of this Thanksgiving Tournament, I asked Lamprecht an unanswerable question: “Was there a moment, a play, when you knew, ‘We got this’?”

Unanswerable? Not on your life. Tatym Lamprecht had the perfect answer.

“When I made that 3, the first one in the fourth quarter,” she said. That one moved Morton within three, 50-47, for the first time in an hour. Then came the Engel layup and Hutchinson’s free throws for the tie.

Another Lamprecht 3 was the killing dagger, her fifth 3 of the game. It came the first time she touched the ball in the overtime. It came after Hutchinson did the scratching, clawing, invaluable dirty work that winners do when it must be done.

Off the center tip to begin the overtime, a tip won by the East St. Louis player, the ball fell among three or four pairs of feet setting off a whirling, diving, falling-onto-the-pile scramble for possession of the kind that is won by the girl who wants the ball the most.

That girl on this night, all this night, always somehow coming up with the ball, was Isabella Hutchinson, who later would say, “We had more heart than they did.”

Her scrambling save set the Potters offense in motion. One pass, maybe two, and the ball moved to Lamprecht outside the arc on the left side.

Just lovely. Ball touched her hands. A microsecond later, gone, in the air, nothing but net. And the Potters led for the first time since late in the first quarter. Now it was 54-51.

Lamprecht added three more free throws and Laufenberg one to send East St. Louis to deadsville.

“This is a team that’s not going to quit,” Becker said. “It’s going to compete, regardless of what’s already happened. Winning is not easy. But the kids, their belief in themselves is getting better and better. We’re growing.”

I would tell you about the Potters first game Saturday, a 64-29 victory over Batavia. But too much happened and it’s too late to keep writing. Here’s the shorthand: Batavia was already worn out by winning an early-morning battle with Richwoods. Immediately after, foregoing rest so it could get to its football team’s state championship game, it had to play Morton. Many things ensued. Batavia was charged with three technical fouls, the coach was ejected, four Batavia fans were ejected from the gym for speaking ill of the referees, and the reserves got to play a lot. In all, it was fun.

Today’s Potters scoring:

In the Batavia game – Lamprecht 20 (including the 1,000th point of her career), Engel 10, Emelia Miller 9, Hutchinson 8, Laufenberg 5, VanMeeneen 4, Magda Lopko 4, Abbey Pollard 2, Anja Ruxlow 2.

In the East St. Louis game –Lamprecht 18, Engel 18, Hutchinson 14, Laufenberg 4, VanMeenen 3, Graci Junis 2.

“Indecisiveness”

Rock Island 57, Lady Potters 52

I was in mid-season form. The Potters not so much.

I first stopped at a Dr. Gyro’s cure-your-hunger cafe on Rock Island’s 18th Avenue. I asked, “Where am I?”

Lost. Again. Driving to the season opener. In a city. In the daylight. Wait until I try to find the map-dot village of Dunlap with snow flying sideways across the tundra on a February night. Next stop, a Saskatchewan pizza parlor.

Anyway, early on today, the Potters played about the way you might have expected. It’s a young team that will be learning its way around for a while. Five turnovers in today’s first four minutes. Nerves. Coach Bob Becker used nine players in the first quarter. They scored six points. The good news was, Rock Island scored seven.

The Potters led at halftime, 28-24, though I made a note at the beginning the third quarter: “RI mean, aggressive, pushing, shoving. M weak.” Even so, Morton was still up four when Tatym Lamprecht made back-to-back 3-pointers in 40 seconds to push the lead to 41-31 with 1:54 left in the quarter. Ellie VanMeenen’s short jumper a minute later made it 44-36.

From there, the Potters, too, were lost. Their lead fell to 46-45 when Rock Island opened the fourth quarter with three 3-pointers in 68 seconds. It was 50-all with 5:06 to play when this happened: A referee decided the game.

I know, I know, c’mon, Dave, don’t start with the zebras.

Yes, yes, I know, the egotist in question did not cause the Potters to score only two more points in the game’s most important five minutes.

But I am here to say that an I-am-God-and-you’re-not referee might have caused a young team to wonder WTH’s going on.

With 3:52 to play, he called a 5-second violation on a Potter ballhandler even as she was advancing the ball down the right side. Turnover.

One minute later, he called a 3-seconds in the lane violation when the Potters were moving the ball on the perimeter with no one looking into the paint. Turnover.

I know, c’mon, Dave, quit nit-picking the poor fella. Maybe, I admit, he could justify those calls on video. But c’mon. He made calls that he did not have to make for one reason, to show just how extraordinary he is. He could have let the girls play. Reminded me of a Deer Creek cop I met once. Noon hour, flashed his lights. I stopped. “Twenty-nine miles per hour through town, 25 limit,” he said. Really, did I leave peeling-out rubber in front of the Village Tap? (I wanted to say.) “And you rolled through the stop sign.” Oh, Lord. Barney Fife has moved from Mayberry to Deer Creek! (Didn’t say that, either.)

From that 41-31 lead, then, Morton was outscored in the last 10 minutes, 26-11.

Not that the Potters made any of my retired-sportswriter complaints, nor should they have, for they lost this one on their own. They gave up 9 3-pointers! Nine! (To their four). They allowed themselves to be shoved around under the boards by the beefier, more aggressive Rock Island girls. Mostly, they sabotaged themselves with sloppy, hurried ballhandling – also “indecisiveness,” to quote Becker– that led to too many turnovers of the unforced persuasion. “This is one that probably got away. But we’ll be back at it in practice, and we gotta get better in the next couple weeks.” (Morton next plays on the Friday after Thanksgiving in its own tournament, against Batavia.)

Addy Engel led Morton’s scoring with 18 points (14 in the first half, but when moved into the post the second half she seldom touched the ball, so ineffective were Morton’s ballhandlers). Lamprecht had 11, Izzy Hutchinson 9, Magda Lopko and VanMeenen 5 each, and Graci Junis 4.

This Rock Island team, by the way, lost its season opener at home this week to Peoria High, 61-26. Uh-oh.

“THIS WAS HER TEAM”

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..

“OH, AWESOME”

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.

“ WHIRLWIND”

Morton’s Lady Potters 49, Marian Catholic 40

These kids, don’t they know we’re old? These basketball games of the last two weeks, they’re roller coasters slowly grinding to the top, and then…OMG!!!….we’re falling out of the sky in a rocket contraption designed to scare us into fits of screaming heebie-jeebies, sometimes known as prayers.

C’mon, already, girls, enough’s enough. Peoria 10 days ago, we’re down four. Washington four days ago, we’re down three. This is in the fourth quarter of win-or-go-home games. Tonight, we”re down again after being up by 15, we’re down in the fourth quarter again, by a point this time, and these kids, such as the freshman Ellie VanMeenen, will tell us, “It was really fun,” and the senior Maggie Hobson will speak of a “whirlwind of emotions,” and all the teenage celebrants will be right because, after taking everybody to the top of the sky, they said, “Hold on, Old Folks, not to worry, we got this.”

And 25 seconds after Marian Catholic took its fourth-quarter lead with 4:41 to play . . .. . . .

Twenty-five seconds….

In 25 seconds, what the Potters did was bring the ball up-court against Marian’s tenacious, aggressive full-court press . . . .

That took maybe 9 seconds . . .

Against Marian’s tenacious, aggressive 2-3 zone defense, let’s say point guard Izzy Hutchinson settled out front and looked for a way to get the ball to Katie Krupa above the free throw line. I’m not sure of what happened once Morton got across the mid-court line. Too much happened all night to keep track of every zig that led to what zag. And the more tenacious and aggressive Marian got on defense, the more effective the Potters got on offense. “We had to match their intensity,” Hutchinson said later.

Anyway, and I am absolutely sure of this, from her spot in the free throw circle, Katie Krupa moved the ball to Tatym Lamprecht, the little guard who was set up a step behind the arc on the left side.

Early this season, I told Bob Becker, the Potters’ coach, that I wished Lamprecht were less shy about answering questions from a man with a notebook. Becker said, “She’ll find her voice on the court this year.”

With 4:16 to play tonight, Lamprecht took Krupa’s pass, went up for a 3-pointer, and . . .

BANG!

Tatym Lamprecht’s basketball voice spoke loudly.

She gave the Potters the lead, 39-37.

“I felt confident,” Lamprecht of the 3-pointer, using her other voice, the whispering one.

The Potters had trailed, 9-7, before going on a 13-0 run that produced a 23-11 halftime lead. Once content to throw up 3-pointers over Morton’s man-to-man defense, Marian scored eight field goals in the paint to move within 34-30 entering the fourth quarter.

“I think we panicked some in that third quarter,” Becker said. Once they fell behind in the fourth, the Potters did to Marian what they did to Washington and what they did to Peoria.

“Our girls didn’t collapse,” Becker said. “They stayed positive. What we’ve been saying, ‘Stay in the moment.’ They weren’t thinking about what just happened or what was going to happen. It’s a mental toughness that they’ve had all year.”

This tough: They forced Marian into desperation shots.

This much tougher: Next time down, Krupa took another pass at the free throw line and moved it outside the right arc where Maggie Hobson took it and in that “whirlwind of emotions,” she spoke as loudly as Lamprecht had spoken a thousand heartbeats earlier . . .

BANG!

“When Tatym made hers, I got confident, too,” she said, adding brightly, “We are the Splash Sisters.”

That made it 42-37 with 2:37 to play. Then Lamprecht, fouled while getting a rebound, made two free throws at 1:51, and her sister-in-shooting, Hobson, added two more free throws to make it 46-37, with 1:12 left. Game over.

The Lady Potters will play in Class 3A’s Final Four at Redbird Arena for the sixth time in the last seven full seasons, needing two victories for the program’s fifth state championship in those seven years. Their semifinal is set for 11:45 a.m. Friday against Nazareth Academy of LaGrange, the latest #1 ranked team in 3A.

Lamprecht led Morton’s scoring with 15. Krupa had 13, VanMeenen 11, Hobson 8, and Hutchinson 2.

“ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?”

Morton’s Lady Potters 44, Washington 38

Someone, please, take this one. Write this one. Notes, I have notes. Unreadable. Like hieroglyphics off King Tut’s tomb. Important notes have asterisks, like this ***!!***!. To earn my Milk Duds, I need tell you how the Lady Potters did it. How they did it? I have no freakin’ clue. They just did it.

I looked up with 3.9 seconds to play.

Katie Krupa, Katie Krupa!, took a seat on the bench, exhausted.

Here came Bob Becker, in a paroxysm of delight (look it up, I’m busy writing). He threw his self onto the seat next to Katie Krupa, Katie Krupa!!!

They’d done it. They’d won a sectional championship. They’d beaten their good neighbors, Washington, for the third time this season. They’d been five points down in the third quarter. They took the lead early in the fourth quarter. And with 5 minutes to play, Bob Becker crouched in front of his team during a timeout.

Five minutes to play. Up by four points.

Becker’s face was the color of his tie, flaming red.

In all-capital letters, only louder, he said to his Potters, “ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT NOW?”

Goodgawdamighty, folks, that’s called asking a question to which you know the answer, because, after using up precious Grandma-deadline minutes decoding my notes, it’s clear that the Lady Potters won this game by . . . .

Hell, I dunno how they won it.

Maybe it was a Grandma thing. When Morton’s fans seemed less lively than Joan Krupa liked, Katie’s grandmother, in the third row of the bleachers, turned to face all those fans and pumped her hands into the air, asking everyone to join her. They did. “I don’t know what got into me,” Mrs. Krupa said, happy that whatever got into her got into her.

Or maybe the Potters won it by playing unrelenting defense for 32 minutes.

Maybe by wanting loose balls more than Washington wanted loose balls.

Maybe by finding ways to score when they hadn’t scored that way all night.

Maybe by refusing to lose.

Like this: They were down 31-28 with 6:59 to play. Then came a Potters freshman Ellie VanMeenen, throwing in a 3-pointer from the right arc to tie it. A freshman! Who knew?

Thirty-seconds later, after a Washington basket, VanMeenen made another 3-pointer, this one from the left side. A freshman throwing strikes in the heat of a big moment! Who in November could see that happening in February?

A little play-by-play here to show the frantic wrestlings for possession and ways a bouncing crazy basketball can decide who wins and who loses. With Morton up 34-33 at 6:08, Washington missed a 3-pointer, Krupa rebounded it, came downcourt, missed a 3 of her own, and in the rebound frenzy, the ball squiggling away, like a greased pig at the county fair, the Potters’ Tatym Lamprecht got ahold of it long enough to earn a jump ball with the possession arrow pointing Morton’s way.

Time on the clock: 5:34. The pass in-bounds found Lamprecht on the left side and she turned all that frenzy into a beautiful rainbow of a 3 and a 37-33 lead with 5:13 to play.

Refusing to lose? VanMeenen and Lamprecht were 1-for-9 on 3’s until those moments when the game was there to be won.

When Washington committed a turnover, Morton called the timeout in which Becker asked his all-caps question to which he knew the answer was DAMN RIGHT WE’RE READY, only said teenage-girl sweetly, or even as the sophomore Izzy Hutchinson put it, “Our energy moved up to the next level, like, WHOOOOOSH.”

Lamprecht followed with another bucket earned on a I’m-not-stopping-until-I-want-to-stop drive to the hoop, putting the Potters up, 39-33, at 3:26. Washington scored quickly, but Morton — ready to fight, sir! — made it 41-35 on a Maggie Hobson put-back that was the Potters’ only rebound basket tonight. “What Coach said, we left it all out there,” Hobson said. “The best win we’ve had.”

From there it was just hang-on time, until, with 3.9 seconds to play, Becker sent in someone for Krupa to give her a moment of appreciative applause not only from Grandman Krupa but from everyone who’d ridden up I-39 in a snowstorm to see Katie Krupa, Katie Krupa!!! do Katie Krupa things.

“Katie’s been a huge part of our success in the past,” Becker said, an allusion to Krupa’s freshman and sophomore seasons (a state championship, a 37-1 season). “But this year we really asked a lot from her, She needed to LEAD this team, and she did it.”

Krupa led Morton’s scoring with 18, VanMeenen had 10, Lamprecht 9, Hutchinson 4 (and a truly astounding game defensively, handling the ball, ripping away rebounds), and Hobson 3.

Morton’s super-sectional opponent Monday nigh in Streator will be Chucago Heights Marian Catholic, now 27-8 for the season.

“ EDGE OF OUR SEATS”

Morton’s Lady Potters 59, Galesburg 35

At the Winter Olympics, we saw people throw themselves off mountain peaks with bed slats strapped to their feet. They ski straight down at 80 miles per hour until they hit a snowflake crossways and go head over tea kettle and wait for an ambulance to pick up the pieces. Also, there’s that Big Air event. Kids go DOWN A GIANT HILL sideways on one ski until they go UP A GIANT HILL and fly into the sky doing cartwheels, only sideways and upside down.

As best I could tell, anyway. It’s terrifying, worrisome, and it keeps us on the edge of our seats in a state of high anxiety.

Kinda like the Lady Potters bringing the ball up-court.

They won easily tonight, winning by 24 over a team they beat by 19 a month ago. I say “easily,” and that’s what the score suggests, but anyone paying attention knows it might have been fun to be in the Potters’ locker room at halftime to hear if their coach, Bob Becker, thought it had been done easily. Morton led at halftime, 26-20, with the last three points coming on a Katie Krupa 40-footer at the halftime buzzer.

Until Krupa’s rainbow, the Potters had been half a mess with half of the mess the result of careless ball-handling, wayward passes, and unforced turnovers that caused Becker to rise from the bench, clasp his hands on his haircut, and walk toward the exit end of the gym where one witness (me) wondered if he might return with a bag of popcorn, the better to enjoy the evening.

“Very frustrating,” Becker said. His four state champion teams were models of efficiency. This team, not so much. This team reaches double figures in turnovers most nights. And yet the Potters are now 26-5 and are two victories away from another appearance in Redbird Arena’s Final Four.

“We’re overcoming it with defense,” Becker said. “The girls are fighting through this.” A senior, Maggie Hobson, said, “When we’re playing our game –turnovers are not our game — and we keep battling, we can beat anybody.”

They showed that in the third quarter against Galesburg. They stretched the halftime lead from six points to 18 points in 6 1/2 minutes. They allowed Galesburg one field goal in the quarter and led, 45-27, going into the fourth.

“Coach gave us a pep talk at half,” Hobson said. The Potters responded with the kind of run that transforms a struggling team into a dominating team. It started with a Krupa pass producing a Tatym Lamprecht layup followed 15 seconds later by a Lamprecht breakaway created by a Hobson deflection. The freshman Ellie VanMeenen, on a streak lately, added a 3-pointer, the third of her four 3’s tonight. Suddenly, Morton led, 33-22, and Galesburg never got closer. By quarter’s end, Lamprecht had scored eight of her game-high 17 points in the period. She also had the perfect explanation for how the Potters can fix the turnover thing. “Play better,” she said.

The victory moved Morton into the LaSalle-Peru sectional championship game where Thursday night they will play Washington for the right to advance to the Streator super-sectional.

Washington, old friends from down the road. Washington, with whom they shared the Mid-Illini Conference championship. They defeated Washington twice in the regular season and now are faced with the hard thing of beating a good team three times in a season. And Washington comes in off the thrill of tonight’s upset 61-51 victory over Geneseo, Class 3A’s #1 ranked team most of the year.

Lamprecht’ s 17 led Morton’s scoring. VanMeenen had 12, Krupa 11, Hobson 9, Anja Ruxlow 6, Izzy Hutchinson 2, Paige Griffin 2.

“A DREAM”

Morton’s Lady Potters 31, Peoria High 27

Where were you when it was 27-all with 18.5 seconds to play?

A time like that, do you remember to breathe? A time like that, win or lose, where are you?

Win, you’re a regional champion for the seventh straight season and you’re headed to a sectional next week, still alive on the snowy road to Redbird Arena and a chance for a fifth state championship.

Lose, the season’s over. So where are you when it matters most?

Tatym Lamprecht had the ball in her hands at the free throw line.

To hear her tell it, though, the Lady Potters junior was not in the Peoria High gym with everyone else.

She was alone at the line in the Potterdome.

“I knew I’d make them,” she said. And here, in capital letters, she said again, “I KNEW.”

How did she know?

“I imagined I was at practice.”

Swish the first, swish the second, and seven seconds later, 11 second to play, there she was again at the free throw line. Swish one, swish two. And the Potters had beaten Class 3A’s #3-ranked team on its own court.

Jubilation, celebration, and other teenage frenzies ensued, so much so, and I promise you I have not seen this before, not even in the four seasons that his team won state championships — but, I aver, testify and swear up and down that Bob Becker, the Potters’ coach, took hold of the regional championship plaque, raised it high over his players’ heads, and then he, a Hall of Fame coach in his 23d season, began bouncing up and down as if suddenly 17 and at Sycamore High again.

Don’t you love when that happens?

“Incredible,” Katie Krupa said.

“Funnest game ever,” Maggie Hobson said.

“Ugliest, prettiest game ever,” Becker said. “Fifteen turnovers the first half and we were up by 10. These kids have been so resilient all season, through injuries, finding a way, making a way. Tonight, going from 10 up to 4 down and coming back at the end. Beating the No. 3 team in the state that had been No. 1, that had beaten us here six weeks ago.” Here, with beads of water shining on his suit coat (“Yeah, got me in the shower”), Becker remembered to stop talking in order to breathe. Now, going on: “These kids, so gritty, just such toughness.”

What a game it was, and I took hundreds of notes on how Morton led after a quarter, 5-2, at halftime, 16-6, and 21-17 after three quarters. But I’m skipping past those notes to the point in the last quarter when Peoria High finished a 13-0 run in 5 1/2 minutes to take a 25-21 lead.

From there, once up by 10 and now down by 4, the Lady Potters showed who mattered when it mattered most.

It went like this:

Hobson two throws to close the gap to two points.

Next time down, freshman Ellie VanMeenen made a 3-pointer from the right edge of the arc. Her third 3 of the game, Morton’s only 3’s. About that game-turning 3, she said, “I was nervous at first, but as soon as the game went on, I wasn’t nervous anymore.” As VanMeenen spoke, Krupa bumped her on the shoulder and said, “HUGE 3!”

A Krupa free throw made it 27-25 before Peoria got it to 27-all with :39.3 seconds to play.

Then it was Lamprecht, controlling the ball against Peoria’s aggressive press, drawing back-to-back fouls for the game’s last four points.

I could go on about Lamprecht a bit. And I will. Twice she blocked Peoria shots in the paint, not the kind of work a 5-foot-7 guard usually gets done, and she had a perfect explanation.

“Adrenaline,” she said.

Because Lamprecht had played two seasons at East Peoria, where the Raiders seldom won games, before transferring to Morton, where she has been an integral part of a regional championship team that now is 26-5, there was the inevitable question of what this season has been like for her.

“A dream,” she said.

Krupa led Morton’s scoring with 11 of her hardest-ever points, all while being double- and triple-teamed. VanMeenen and Lamprecht each had 9, Hobson 2.

“WARRIORS”

Morton’s Lady Potters 47, Richwoods 34

Afterwards, Katie Krupa sat there in a hazy daze of exhaustion, happiness, and pain literally from the top of her head to her ankle.

No wonder she couldn’t make out what I said.

I said it again. “You were heroic.”

She smiled, kind of, a tiny smile, puzzled.

So I spelled it. “H-E-R-O-I-C.”

It’s not that she scored 21 of the Potters’ 47 points. It’s not that she got every freaking rebound when nothing less would do. It’s not that she blocked shots. It’s not that she brought the ball up against Richwoods’ hacking, whacking, scratching, clawing press.

It’s that she did most all of that after she collapsed on the floor not once, not twice, but three times, first after a collision caused an upper leg cramp, second after she rolled an ankle, and third after cracking her skull into a Richwoods nose.

We’ve seen NFL players with leg cramps. From out of nowhere, three or four trainers sprint onto the field. They surround the guy. They minister to his pain. Tonight, when Katie Krupa went down after that collision, here’s what happened. Nothing. Nobody came running to her. Play went on until a referee noticed Krupa writhing in pain. Then Krupa got up and limped to the bench. There, ministering to herself, she bent her leg up to her shoulder, made a fist and started pounding on that cramp, trembling as she did it. And she said something to the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker. “She told me,” he said later, “she wasn’t coming out.”

At that point, early in the fourth quarter, Morton’s lead was 35-28. The issue was in doubt. The season was in doubt. Lose this regional semifinal, the season’s over. Richwoods had trailed by as many as 12 but had closed the gap with a strong third quarter. At 35-28, it would not be good for the Potters to have Katie Krupa on the bench.

After a timeout, Krupa limped onto the court. Four seconds later, at the free throw line extended, she took an in-bounds pass from Izzy Hutchinson and immediately returned the ball to Hutchinson under the hoop for an uncontested layup.

It was two minutes later when Krupa rolled that left ankle and went down again. This time she left the game — for all of 17 seconds. And on return this time, with the Potters’ lead cut to 37-31, Krupa did the brightest thing that only the brightest of stars does. She called timeout. Sounds easy, eh? But do it from the far side of the court. Do it when a teammate, Maggie Hobson, has gained possession with a steal and is about to be tied up. Do it when Becker hasn’t done it. Do it when Hobson was too busy to do it. And when a referee called timeout, he thought the ask for a timeout was so extraordinary that he explained to the official scorekeeper, “Thirty-one called it,” and he said it agan, “Thirty-one,” which is Katie Krupa’s number and there she was, in the far left corner, 40 feet behind Hobson wrestling for possession.

I’m making a lot of that timeout call because, when Becker says of his team, “They made a way, they found a way,” one of the ways they made and/or found was that timeout. It gave Morton the ball. And a minute later, Hobson scored on a layup. Twenty seconds after that, Krupa made a mid-court steal that led to two Tatym Lamprecht free throws and a 10-point lead with 1:46 to play.

Game over.

Almost over, anyway, except for Krupa’s head-on collision — “THAT hurt,” she said later — that left a Richwoods’ player bleeding from the nose and Krupa sitting on the court pressing a hand against the top of her head, as if she could keep an egg from popping up there.

“It was really two different games,” she said. “The first half, the referees were calling everything, so we were attacking and getting fouls.” She scored 17 points in that half, seven on free throws. “Then the second half, they let everything go. It got really physical.”

Physical? Brutal’s more like it. Ugly. Morton took advantage of it. The Potters made 21 free throws, Richwoods 3.

“We showed a lot of toughness, they’re all warriors,” Becker said. “Everybody in our locker room wanted this one to get to Thursday night.”

Thursday night, Morton (now 24-5 for the season) will play Class 3A’s No. 1-ranked team, Peoria High (25-3), for the regional championship and a spot in the LaSalle-Peru sectional next week. A month ago, Peoria beat the Potters, 41-32.

Krupa’s 21 points led Morton tonight. Lamaprecht had 11, Hobson 6, Hutchinson 5, Paige Griffin 2, Paige Chapin 2.

“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.

“FaceTime for Graci”

Morton’s Lady Potters 50, Pekin 35

In this OUCH-iest of Lady Potters seasons, four injured players were in their warmups on the bench for Pink Night tonight. Paige Griffin and Addy Engel, both of whom had been in the team’s starting lineup, are out for the season. And now we see Maria Lopko and Magda Lopko sidelined as well. The list of injuries includes broken bones, a stress fracture, sprained shoulder, and a lower vertebra inflammation.

And where, pray tell, was Graci Junis?

In her hospital room.

Because there was more than enough snow to go sledding, the Lady Potters organized a play day Wednesday in the hills of Morton’s Northwoods Park. Too soon, the play day became a bad day. Junis ran her sled into a tree and suffered internal injuries. A 911 call brought paramedics to the park. They carried Junis to a Peoria hospital where she was in intensive care today.

A starter as a freshman and a top reserve of late, Junis came to the Potterdome tonight but only by the magic of FaceTime.

“Graci wanted to be included in the pre-game talk,” senior Maggie Hobson said.

So the Potters dialed her up for coach Bob Becker’s talk before sending them out against Pekin. If Becker’s mission tonight was to fire ’em up and forget Saturday’s last-second loss to Metamora, the Potters can say mission accomplished.

“We bounced back from a really tough loss,” Katie Krupa said. The senior all-stater, tonight’s leading scorer with 19 points, might have been echoing Becker’s post-game talk. He said, “Teams with a good pedigree will bounce back. The girls responded tonight.”

Pekin is a second-division Mid-Illini team that lost to the Potters at home a month ago, 55-35. Tonight was not much different as the Potters went on an 25-8 run to move from 9-7 down in the first quarter to a 32-17 lead early in the third. The run included the kind of offense the Potters need consistently. They got four 3-pointers, two by Ellie VanMeenen, one each by Hobson and Tatym Lamprecht. And Krupa not only dominated in the paint, she also added a 14-footer to show no one can give her that shot for free. Defensively, the Potters were so good that Pekin’s only real offense was to back up, to back way way up, and hurl a prayer skyward. Of their 12 field goals, nine were 3-pointers, and my guess is they put up at least 9 airballs from out there and were 9-for-35 or worse overall.

Now the Potters are 22-4 for the season and 11-2 in the Mid-Illini. By beating Limestone in the Potterdome next Tuesday, they can claim at least a share of their seventh straight regular-season conference championship. (I’m saying the Covid-abbreviated 2020-21 season didn’t happen.)

Saturday, in a change of schedule, the Potters play at Normal Community at 2:30. The Lady Iron are 20-6 overall, with a victory at Washington and a one-point loss to Peoria Central. A good test for the Potters before beginning regional play in 10 days (opening against Richwoods with that winner most likely playing Peoria High in the regional final).

After Krupa’s 19 tonight came Lamprecht with 15 (including two rebound buckets). Hobson had 6, VanMeenen 5, Paige Chapin 3, and Lydia Rogers 2.

Best of all on this Pink Night, through their fund-raising efforts, the Lady Potters were able to write a check for $22,000 to the Illinois Cancer Care Foundation.

“Hail #4! Hail #13!”

Hail #4! Hail #13!

Metamora 38, Morton’s Lady Potters 35

So much to like about tonight, Chandler Ryan in the house, Brandi Bisping embracing her, the two icons sitting at midcourt, feeling applause sent down on them when they took their places in Potters history.

No one will wear Ryan’s #4 again, and no one will wear Bisping’s #13 again. Their numbers are not officially retired. The official language says their “jerseys” are retired, as if old and tattered, sent to the laundry, never to be seen again. Still, before tonight’s ceremony, the Potters’ coach, Bob Becker, said he would never again order a #4 or a #13 (that #13 is now doubly retired, first worn by Brandi’s sister, Brooke). And it’s good we’ll never see those numbers again, because #4 and #13 were the heart and soul of four state championship teams. They should stand alone, undiminished.

Ryan came up from her home in Florida, Bisping came down from Milwaukee, both graduates of Division 1 basketball programs, and it was wonderful to see them both, young and happy, in the Potterdome bleachers tonight.

Too bad they couldn’t un-retire their jerseys for an hour or so.

As efficient as the Potters were two nights earlier in an 18-point victory over Washington, they were careless at both ends tonight.

“What’d we have, 20 turnovers?” Becker said. “Every time they gave us a chance, we threw it away.” He spoke of the game in its entirety, but those words fit perfectly the Potters’ third-quarter play. Hard to believe, but the Potters scored only 5 points in the first quarter and 6 in the second to fall behind, 20-11. Maybe Metamora’s defense was that good. Could have been. Still, of Morton’s 20 (or more?) turnovers, too many were unforced, the result of poor ballhandling.

But that third quarter — Metamora’s worst. It had one field goal the first 6 1/2 minutes. And yet it maintained that nine-point halftime lead, going into the fourth quarter up 29-20.

Only then did Morton make a run. Down 35-28 with 4:29 to play, the Potters scored the game’s next seven points for a 35-all tie.

They did it this way: Ellie VanMeenen made a 3-pointer from the left corner at 4:09. At 2:39, Katie Krupa scored down low off a great Tatym Lamprecht pass. In the last minute, the Potters had a chance to take the lead. First, down 35-33, Izzy Hutchinson made a steal at mid-court with 1:20 left. On that possession, Morton somehow won two scrambles for offensive rebounds and moved the ball to Krupa at the free throw line. Her 17-footer tied the game with 37 seconds to play. Until that point, Metamora had led all the way.

Unfortunately, Morton never touched the ball again.

Holding for one shot, Metamora was able to avoid being sent to the free throw line. Just as important, it was also able to control time by calling two timeouts, the first with 23 seconds left, the second with 11.8 seconds on the clock.

Out of the second timeout, Metamora worked the ball into the paint and to the deep left corner where Alyssa Russell was unguarded.

“I felt confident the whole game,” Russell said later. “It was designed to go to the post, and she kicked it out to me. It was a good shot.”

She made the 3-pointer with :03 showing on the clock.

Morton was given a timeout at :01.4, meaning that perhaps a second was lost in the frenzy. The Potters then failed to connect on a long in-bounds pass and time expired.

The defeat left the Mid-Illini Conference race up for grabs with a week to play. Morton is 21-4 overall and 10-2 in the league with both losses to Metamora, 19-3, 8-2. Washington is 19-4, 9-2.

Krupa led Morton’s scoring with 15. Izzy Hutchinson had 9, VanMeenen 5, Lamprecht 3, Maggie Hobson 3.

“The TRUTH”

Morton’s Lady Potters 46, Washington 28

Izzy Hutchinson did not score. She was a star.

Ellie VanMeenen scored twice. She was a star.

Maggie Hobson, star.

Tatym Lamprecht, star.

Katie Krupa Katie Krupa!, star.

Graci Junis, off the bench, star.

At the Potterdome tonight, they were all stars in a game for undisputed first place in the Mid-Illini Conference.

Izzy Hutchinson’s in-your-face defense against Washington’s best scorer baffled that girl, who once put up a 3 that hit the top edge of the board and, for the night, scored 7 points, none in the decisive last 15 minutes. . . . freshman Ellie VanMeenen’s two buckets were 3-pointers and six of Morton’s 14 points in the first half. . . . Maggie Hobson and Tatym Lamprecht — the Potters’ “Splash Sisters,” only with ponytails — made five 3-pointers in the second half and 25 of 34 second-half points . . . Graci Junis did a reserve’s dirty work of rebounding and defense when it must be done. . . .and Katie Krupa, besides presenting a constant offensive threat (13 points), blocked so many shots that a Washington star went up for a 3-point shot and, once up there, saw Krupa closing on her, and decided, “#$%&,” (or however a teenage girl might express excruciating dismay) and came down without the ball ever leaving her trembling hand. Traveling. It happened with two minutes and 10 seconds to play and Morton up 42-25.

It was Washington’s ultimate concession of embarrassing defeat. It was also the Potters’ declaration that they expect good things to come.

“One of the funnest games I’ve ever played,” Hobson said. “It’s only up from here.”

“So fun,” Lamprecht said. “The best we’ve been all year.”

“One hundred percent TEAM,” Krupa said..

“We played our tail off from beginning to end,” the coach, Bob Becker, said. “Everybody was locked on completely. We are on an upswing.”

Coaches like to talk up “team” victories. They’ll say, sure, the STAR scored a bajillion but, hey, don’t forget the moms’ bang-up job on laundry this week. Tonight, trust me, the Lady Potters created a spectacular TEAM victory. Washington came in with a 19-4 record and had lost to the Potters by a point five weeks ago.

Morton’s defense was sensational, proactive, aggressive, smart. For a half, that seemed that might be enough to win. In the first quarter alone, the Potters’ defense left Washington with nowhere to go. The visitors made four turnovers, put up three airballs, had a 3-pointer blocked, and one poor girl twisted herself into such a pretzel as to throw a shot UP into the net.

Still, the Potters won this one when their offense did what their offense can do — strike quickly and often.

The first strike came from Tatym Lamprecht. The junior guard scored 11 points in five minutes of the third quarter to move Morton from a 14-10 lead to 25-16. She did it with 3 from the left corner, a driving floater high off the board, and two more 3’s — done 18 seconds apart. “When I make 1 or 2, I feel really good,” she said.

Then it was Maggie Hobson’s turn. The senior guard’s successive 3’s only 35 seconds apart opened the lead to 38-23. (Add it up. Four of the Hobson-Lamprecht 3’s came in a total of 53 seconds.)

“I told you,” Krupa said, telling us again, “when defenses come on me, we can get it to Maggie and Tatym.”

The victory raised Morton’s overall record to 21-3 and moved it at 10-1 past Washington and Metamora into first place in the Mid-Illini. Washington is now 9-2 in the league, and Metamora, upset tonight by Dunlap, is also 9-2. Metamora will be Morton’s next opponent, Saturday night in the Potterdome.

Hobson led Morton’s scoring tonight with 14. Krupa and Lamprecht had 13 each. VanMeenen had the other 6.