Record-setting season

Bryan Veginski
The state’s best: The Morton Junior High School seventh-grade boys basketball team went 27-0 in 2008-09 and won the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 4A state championship Thursday. Members of the team are, in front, from left: Madeline Taylor, Haley Shumaker, Ally Lindell, Shelby Zbinden, Brittany Stamm, Peyton Silverthorn, Lyndi Roecker, Kayla Kniep and Allison LaHood; second row: Ally Sniff, Luke Detloff, Corey Dullard, Nick Tadie, Jake Morsch, Nick Monferdini, Justin Schick, Steven Hufford, Scott Kieser and Jordan Wright; third row: Anna Johnson, coach Matt Yarcho, Nick Taylor, Dominic Rowley, Breck Swinford, Ian Saatoff, Damon Lemoine-Munoz, Joe Kennell, Cole McDonald, Austin Hassett, assistant coach Mark Rhodes, Drue West, Julia Trapp and assistant coach Jeff Millard.

The Morton Junior High School seventh-grade boys basketball team fulfilled a dream Thursday.

The Junior Potters defeated East St. Louis Clark, 48-36, to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 4A state championship.

Joe Kennell led MJHS with 28 points, five assists and five steals as the team set a school record for wins with 27.

The Junior Potters completed the first undefeated season at Morton since 1938.

Breck Swinford chipped in six points and a team-best five rebounds.

Nick Taylor and Corey Dullard combined for nine points, and Jacob Morsch totaled four boards.

The game was tied in the fourth quarter until Swinford’s basket on a Kennell assist.

Kennell then drained four consecutive free throws, two of which were awarded after a Clark technical.

Taylor extended the lead to eight with less than two minutes left with a field goal, also on a Kennell pass.

MJHS seventh-grade coach Matt Yarcho said he thought the tone was set from the opening tip when the Cardinals got the tap and Morsch drew a charging foul to get the crowd going.

The Junior Potters outscored Clark 16-6 in the first quarter in Dwight and 20-11 in the fourth.

MJHS handed the Cardinals, whom Yarcho said were very quick and could pound the boards, their first loss of the season.

“To go undefeated was really nice,” said Yarcho. “The guys made it happen.”

Now that IESA boys basketball is in the third year of a four-class system, every game in the postseason poses a challenge.

“It felt good,” Yarcho said of gaining his third state title as Morton head coach. “It’s a special thing for me and these guys.”

Yarcho matched Ward Grundy’s three championships after also finishing first in 1989 and ’90.

After having many opportunities with elite teams, Yarcho was not sure if he would equal Grundy’s feat.

“I didn’t think I was going to do it,” Yarcho said. “I kept thinking I was getting snakebit.”

He acknowledged the Junior Potters got their share of breaks along the way this year, which is crucial to holding a state-title trophy.

In basketball, MJHS now is the all-time IESA leader in state tournaments won (10) and games won (86).

Yarcho thought this team had a lot of potential to win it.

“The kids were really good all year long,” said Yarcho.

As the year progressed, Yarcho said, the team did a lot of things right defensively and played smart offensively.

The rest of the seventh-grade team included: Ian Saatoff, Damon Lemoine-Munoz, Luke Detloff, Nick Monferdini, Justin Schick, Austin Hassett, Nick Tadie, Cole McDonald, Dominic Rowley and Steven Hufford.

Yarcho recognized the efforts of basketball coaches Mark Rhodes and Jeff Millard.

In separate volunteer stints, Rhodes has served five years. In four of those seasons, MJHS has appeared in the state championship game.

Millard, the longtime MJHS baseball coach and new eighth-grade boys leader, made big contributions.

With the postseason run, Yarcho surpassed 400 career victories.

Prior to the seventh graders’ hoops accomplishment, the last Morton championship was in 2007 by the baseball team.

At a school with a decorated athletics history, this title on the hardwood carries much significance.