Morton ousts York
Kendell Nichols and Jesus Perez had the same memory.
Both watched Morton seniors get emotional after losing the regional championship a season ago.
They may not have had significant playing time on that team, but one thing was for sure -- they did not want that same feeling this time around.
Perez and Nichols combined for 38 points Friday night as an elated fifth-seeded Morton boys basketball team celebrated a 60-55 victory over fourth-seeded York to win the Class 4A Morton regional championship.
Nichols added a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with 18 points as the Mustangs (22-6) held off a late rally from York standout Nate Shockey and the Dukes.
"I remember seeing the seniors last year crying in the locker room because it was all over," Nichols said. "You don't really understand it as a junior and not getting much playing time. But now this year, we didn't want to come up short. I didn't want to have that feeling and go through that. We made it our goal to win this regional championship and not feel like that. We did what we had to do and got the job done tonight."
The teams were tied 36-36 after three quarters, and Morton made just four shots in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs, though, made 15 of 24 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to win the program's first regional championship since the 2014-15 season.
Perez scored a game-high 20 points for Morton and was also assigned with the task of guarding Shockey, a North Dakota recruit.
"I knew he was a great player from watching him," Perez said of Shockey. "We just had to key in on him and know where he was on the court at all times. My goal today was not only to score but try to keep him from scoring. He's really tough to guard, but I think we did enough, obviously, getting the win tonight."
Shockey, who was playing in his second game back after missing time due to mononucleosis, scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Both coaches knew Shockey may not have been 100% but lauded the standout guard for being able to play for the Dukes (28-5).
"Shockey is a warrior," Morton coach Tony Martinucci said. "For him to even try to play (tonight) is unbelievable. I think he deserves all the credit in the world and is a tremendous player. He got a little tired, understandably so, and we play well with a lead. We got it in the fourth (quarter) and held onto it."
"Nate is such a great competitor," York coach Vince Doran said. "There's no question he's one of the best players to ever play at York. I was glad that he was able to play the last two games. I'm sad to see it end this way for our whole group. I thought we had some chances and it really just wasn't our night tonight."
Manuel Rodriguez also reached double figures for Morton. York sophomore guard Drew Kircher added 10 points for the Dukes in their season-ending defeat.
Morton advances to Tuesday's Lyons sectional semifinals against top-seeded Curie.