Butler boys advance to WPIAL finals after emotional win over rival Pine-Richland
By: Chris Harlan
Wednesday, February 27, 2019 | 11:49 PM
The final minute was so emotional, so unbelievable, that it seemed like an eternity to Ethan Morton and his Butler teammates.
“It felt like forever,” he said. “I couldn’t even look.”
With 60 seconds left Wednesday night, Butler held a 14-point lead over Pine-Richland in a sold-out semifinal at Fox Chapel. All they had to do was run out the clock, celebrate with all the Butler fans and head to Petersen Events Center for the WPIAL Class 6A final.
But it wasn’t that easy.
First, Morton fouled out, taking his game-high 40 points to the bench. Then teammate Luke Patten was injured and carried off the court on a stretcher.
Not until Kyle Polce’s free throw bounced off the rim and out of bounds as time expired could Butler celebrate its roller coaster 70-68 victory over top-seeded Pine-Richland.
“From such a high to such a low,” Morton said, “to such a high again.”
This victory takes Butler (20-4) to the WPIAL finals for the second time in three years. No. 3 seed Mt. Lebanon (21-3) awaits at 9 p.m., Saturday, after the Blue Devils defeated Canon-McMillan, 58-39.
“I say to my kids all the time, I like doing this more than I liked playing professional baseball,” said Butler coach Matt Clement, a former Major League pitcher. “That makes me crazy, right? Because the pay is not near as good.”
As Butler celebrated its win, Patten’s injury was on the team’s mind. Clement said Patten was taken to the hospital, but had full movement and believed his condition “seemed to be moving in a positive direction.”
Patten was hurt trying to stop Polce on the game’s final possession. The junior toppled over Polce, landed hard on his head and was called for foul with two-tenths on the clock.
The game was delayed for about 15 minutes.
“It kind of leaves you with a hollow feeling (after Patten’s injury),” Morton said, “but to get to experience what we experienced after the game with the community and my family and everybody, it just means the world to me. I’m going to remember that forever.”
Butler freshman Devin Carney added 17 points with five 3-pointers. Polce led Pine-Richland with 20 points, Greg Shulkosky had 17 and Dan Petcash added 12.
The teams were tied 56-56 with 5:15 left in the fourth when Butler sparked a 14-0 run. Morton scored 11 of those 14 points with nine free throws among them.
Pine-Richland went scoreless for more than four minutes as several long 3-pointers rimmed out and Butler found the rebounds.
“For whatever the reason, we struggled to score for a large portion of the fourth quarter,” Pine-Richland coach Jeff Ackermann said. “Morton controlled the game, controlled the tempo and blocked some shots inside. That’s why he’s a Top 50 guy in the nation.”
The Rams went 3 for 17 from the field in the fourth quarter including 2 for 10 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I felt like we thought it was time to jack up some deep 3s way too soon,” Ackermann said, “some deep, bad 3s that we did not need at that point.”
Pine-Richland had led 16-11 after the first quarter, 32-26 at half and 52-48 after three. But then came Butler’s 14-point run that gave it a 70-56 lead with one minute left.
With Morton and Patten both unavailable, the Rams then turned up their pressure defense and scored the game’s final 12 points including two free throws by Petcash with 16 seconds left.
They’d forced another turnover, drew a foul and had a chance to tie with two-tenths left when Polce missed the front of one-and-one. But the junior faced a tough situation. He’d had to stand around and wait to shoot as medical personnel tended to Patten.
“That game shouldn’t have come down to that,” Ackermann said. “Kyle Polce had a great game. That’s a really tough spot to put anybody in. You ask him to go out there without any warm-ups, just go out there cold and make a foul shot. That’s crazy.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .