Fab freshman Morton leads Butler to 1st title game trip since 2000
Heavy gloves and dribbling goggles.
Ethan Morton grew up with the basketball training aids and wears them proudly; when nobody's looking, after team practices and when he is getting up extra shots in the gym.
“It makes my hands quicker,” he said. “It helps me get better. It's what I learned.”
The 6-foot-4 fab freshman from Butler puts in the time, and now it's his team's time to shine.
Morton, already on the radar of Division I coaches, scored a game-high 23 points, stabilized the offense and guarded with intense pressure, all on a big stage, to pace No. 7 seeded Butler to a 54-36 semifinal victory over No. 11 Woodland Hills on Wednesday night before 1,800-plus at Fox Chapel.
The Golden Tornado (19-6) is headed to the 6A final, their first WPIAL championship game appearance since 2000. They will face No. 1 Pine-Richland (23-1) at 9 p.m. Saturday at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.
Woodland Hills (18-7) still has the PIAA playoffs to look forward to.
“This is for our fans, our student section and all the players that played for me,” Butler coach Matt Clement said. “I wanted this so bad for our kids. We came out and got smacked in the face but we stayed resilient.”
Clement, who played on the 1993 Butler team that faced Woodland Hills in the semifinals, paced nervously behind his team's bench before Wednesday's game. A former major league starting pitcher who had stints with the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, Clement quipped, “Pitching was a lot less stressful than this.”
But Clement knew he could go to his ace.
Morton only had five field goals, but he was 12 of 14 from the free throw line, including 8 of 10 in the fourth quarter.
He didn't just score. He calmed the offense when Woodland Hills opened with a 7-0 run and put his team in a position to take its first lead with a three-point play just before the half. That made it 23-21, Butler.
“I want to do whatever it takes to win,” Morton said. “If I am not scoring I want to make sure I play great defense. As long as we win.”
With the scored tied 27-27 in the third, he converted the old-fashioned three-pointer again and Butler never trailed again.
A 20-4 run from that point had the Golden Tornado up 47-31 with 3:53 left in the fourth.
Morton blocked a shot, came up with the ball and fired a pinpoint pass to Connor Ollio, who turned just in time to see the ball, to push the advantage to 51-33.
“I have been coaching (Morton) since he was in second grade,” Clement said. “He hit some big shots when we were down tonight. I knew he was going to be a good player, but I never dreamed he'd turn into this, this early.”
Senior forward Tyler Frederick added 13 points for Butler before fouling out. Four other players combined for 18 points for Butler.
“This is special for us,” Morton said. “I have learned so much from our seniors about how to be a leader.”
Clement was disappointed to hear some fans were turned away at the door.
“It's a shame a lot of people didn't get in here tonight,” he said. “It probably could have been played at a larger venue. We knew our fans would come out again and they did. There was a bunch of them here already when our bus pulled in. We out-crowded (Woodland Hills) for sure.”
Amante Britt led Woodland Hills with 19 points and Deontae Robinson added 11. The Wolverines, who upset No. 3 Fox Chapel to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1993, went cold in the second half after a quick start.
Butler's win pulls Latrobe (19-4) into the PIAA playoffs and eliminates Fox Chapel (19-4) from state-playoff contention.