FAIRBURY – This is the 17th time Morris won at least 17 varsity games in a boys basketball season, per incomplete records on the IHSA website.
It may not be a terribly rare occurence for the program historically, but reaching 17 wins has been more difficult for the Redskins in modern times. They have gotten there twice since 1993 and three times since 1974.
The win total itself certainly could be considered acceptable; it is two more than the preseason goal the Redskins set for themselves. Less desirable is the way the season ended; with a 48-45 championship loss to Pontiac Friday at the Class 3A Prairie Central Regional, Morris finished with only one win after Feb. 15, going 1-5 in its final six games. It now has been eliminated in a regional final for two straight years, by a combined margin of five points.
“To me, one of the signs of an extremely successful team is one that’s playing their best basketball at the end of the season,” Morris coach Joe Blumberg said.
“Part of it, I think, was scheduling. Part of it, I think, was mental and physical fatigue, as we talked about a little bit. It’s still a successful season. It’s not gonna feel that way right now. After the two-point loss to Coal City [in 2013], I think this was a big one to ‘em, and to lose a one-possession game – again – stings.”
Friday was the third time Morris played in a tournament championship game this season. It previously had lost to Coal City at the Coalers’ Turkey Tournament, 67-59, and to Ottawa at the Plano Christmas Classic, 68-50.
Another title was contested during the Redskins’ final regular-season game. It’s 60-30 loss to Sycamore caused it to have to share the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East championship with Kaneland and Sycamore rather than having it to itself.
“If I was told at the beginning that we’d go 17-10 this year, have a shot, potentially, at four championship games – being the Turkey Tournament, our Plano Christmas Classic, the game against Sycamore and now regionals – there’s not many teams that get to do that, any year,” senior Morris center Ned Kneller said. “Me personally, I’m happy with the year, how it went.”
Until Friday, the Redskins had done everything they had set out to do.
“Beginning of the year, coach said we need to write down three goals we want, and then the three main goals were 15 wins – we got that – winning conference – we have a share of that – and then winning a regional,” senior point guard Sam Allen said. “We just came up just short on that. It really hurts, because we work every single day trying to get those three goals. To come up short, it really is hard. It’s hard.”
When Kneller looks back at his senior basketball season years from now, he expects the positive history the Redskins made to be his most vivid memory.
“Being the first Morris team to even split the conference title championship, it’s gonna stick with me for a while,” Kneller said.
Allen says he will most remember is the time he spent with what he calls his “lifetime friends” on the team.
“The thing that will stick with me the most is all the memories that we had. I’ll never forget any player from this team,” Allen said. “I don’t want it to be over right now.”