Potters stay on path in sectional

Bryan Veginski
Knocking off the No. 1 seed: Caitlyn Vandermeer, middle, a Morton junior, made the game-winning shot Feb. 16 in the girls basketball team’s contest against Limestone in the Class 3A Bloomington Regional semifinals.

Girls in final for third time in four seasons

In a dramatic finish, the Morton girls basketball team kept its season alive Feb. 16.

On a Caitlyn Vandermeer basket just before the buzzer, the Potters eliminated No. 1 seed Limestone, 44-42, in the semifinals of the Class 3A Bloomington Regional.

After calling a timeout, the fourth-seeded Potters inbounded the ball with 3.4 seconds left. The pass deflected off the hands of Sarah Livingston, Vandermeer scooped it up and banked in a seven-footer to stun the Rockets.

“It was one of those moments that’s still hard to comprehend,” Vandermeer said shortly after Morton advanced. “We just didn’t give up.”

Limestone (17-9) earlier had possession of the ball in the same spot with the same time remaining, but threw away the inbounds pass without anyone touching it.

Livingston and Vandermeer were scoring tri-leaders with 16 points. Felicia Johnson of Limestone had 16 as well. Livingston registered a double-double with 10 rebounds. Vandermeer added eight boards.

“The posts were the key to the game,” said MHS head coach Bob Becker.

The Potters started out red hot at the Robert Frank Sports Complex, making their first six shots from the field in a 12-12 deadlock after one quarter.

A variety of players assisted on the baskets as Morton consistently got up-close opportunities.

After Livingston made the Potters’ seventh consecutive attempt, on a Mariah Nimmo helper, the Potters cooled off, missing seven of their next eight.

Brooke Johnson’s bucket with 28 seconds left in the second period lifted Limestone to a 19-17 edge at the half.

Morton had just one field goal in the first six minutes of the third to fall behind 30-20.

An 8-1 surge to close the quarter, however, gave the Potters a spark. Four of the points came in a one-second span

Livingston made two free throws at the 1:51 mark, then when the Rockets botched an inbounds pass, she made a baseline jumper.

Vandermeer’s three-point play at :20.2 brought Morton within 30-28.

The end of the fourth quarter was wild.

The Rockets were on top, 42-37, before Livingston finished off a three-point play with 1:10 remaining.

Reilly Dunne of Limestone badly missed on a pair of one-and-bonus tries at the charity stripe in the final minute.

Between her first and second trips, the Potters had a steal and turnover in the same sequence.

Finally, a Livingston putback at :04 tied the game at 42.

The Rockets called their final timeout with 3.4 seconds left, starting a string of events that will be remembered for some time.

“For us, it was a great finish,” Becker said. “At this point, we’ll take it and I hope we run with it.”

Morton’s long positive streak steered the program toward its seventh straight winning season.

“We’ve worked so hard,” Vandermeer said. “It’s nice to do something with it.”

The postseason game was similar to Morton’s first loss at Limestone, 45-40, Jan. 5. The Potters led almost the entire way until a late Rockets comeback.

The opposite unfolded this time, to give Morton a 2-1 advantage in 2009-10 meetings.

“It was a struggle all night to do much,” Becker said. “Limestone outplayed us in a lot of ways.

But hustle plays like the ones made by Vandermeer and Livingston elevated the Potters.

MHS 36, Normal U-High 34

The Potters won their fifth regional championship in the last six years Thursday.

By ousting the No. 3 seed Pioneers, Morton won its eighth game in a row.

Nimmo had 19 points to lead all scorers. She hit a trio of threes and was 6-of-7 at the line.

Livingston added eight points for the Potters.

Morton trailed 24-22 at halftime before holding U-High (19-9) to 10 second-half points.

Alyssa Palmer paced the Pioneers with nine points.

MHS 56, Champaign Central 39

The Potters dismantled the host Maroons in the second half Monday in the Champaign Sectional semifinals.

Morton (18-15) outscored Champaign Central 33-15 after halftime at Combes Gym to advance to the Sweet 16.

The Maroons had the momentum after an 18-6 surge in the second quarter.

“We had a chance at halftime to regroup a little bit,” Becker said. “We didn’t give up any of those spurts again.”

Livingston erupted for 12 of her game-high 19 points in the third period. She also was the top rebounder on the night with 11.

Lexi Ellis hit a trey during a 9-0 run that gave the Potters a 40-28 lead at the 1:41 mark.

“It’s lots of fun playing with our friends,” said Livingston. “It’s great when we can all click.”

Livingston said she developed an “all or nothing” mentality at halftime with Morton trailing by a point.

“Sarah came out with a lot of fire,” Erin Tisdale said.

The Potters’ spree carried into the fourth quarter. They shot 7-of-9 from the floor and their advantage was never smaller than seven points.

Consecutive assists by Tisdale to Vandermeer in the last two minutes sealed Morton’s third sectional-final berth in the last four years.

“She had some nice passes. She’s a really good player. I hope this gives her some confidence,” Becker said of Tisdale.

Vandermeer had another big outing with 17 points and six boards. She was 7-of-9 from the field.

The team’s other 20 points came from Ellis, Nimmo and Tisdale.

Tisdale made all three of her shot attempts in the first quarter to help the Potters to a 17-6 cushion.

Central (21-8) was the third straight team with a glitzy record that Morton eliminated.

“No one expected it from us,” said Tisdale. “It’s nice to prove everyone wrong.”

The Maroons canned all four of their threes in the second period and Morton committed eight turnovers as the game turned.

But the Central comeback proved to be short lived.

Kierra Robinson and Laura Litchfield were Maroon co-leaders with 10 points.

Becker wished to thank the vocal group of Potter fans who made the trip southeast.

Despite playing at Central’s gym, Morton seemed to feel at home. The stage backdrop with the maroon curtain on one side, similar to the Potterdome, probably did not hurt the cause.

Sectional final: Morton plays Springfield (29-2) at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow for the sectional title.

The winner moves on to the Springfield Super-sectional at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the University of Illinois-Springfield against the Breese Mater Dei Sectional champion.

The Senators hammered Decatur MacArthur, 80-38, in the other sectional semifinal Monday. Springfield was ranked third in the final Associated Press 3A state poll.