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O’Brien: Lincoln-Way West shocks the state, upsets Morgan Park

A handful of kids that grew up together and played basketball at New Lenox’s Liberty Junior High shocked the state on Tuesday when Lincoln-Way West beat Morgan Park 68-60 in the Class 3A Joliet Central supersectional.

It’s the biggest supersectional upset since New Trier beat Proviso East, featuring Dee Brown and Shannon Brown, in 2002. But that group of Trevians was far more well-known than the Warriors, a team that many hardcore fans haven’t even seen play.

“I don’t think it has all hit me yet, all that we are doing for our school and program,” Lincoln-Way West junior Marco Pettinato said.

Fans on Twitter were comparing the result to the Milan over South Bend upset that inspired the classic basketball movie Hoosiers.

“Walking into school on Wednesday was honestly crazy,” Pettinato said. “Even when we got back [Tuesday night] there were kids waiting for bus.”

Pettinato and Jon Marotta are the Warriors’ star players. They played at Liberty with current Lincoln-Way West teammates Erik Christensen, Cal Pohrte, Cameron Gavin, Jay Bumstead and Nate Studnicka.

Liberty advanced to the junior high state tournament Pettinato’s seventh and eighth grade year and finished fourth both times.

“I think that has been huge,” Lincoln-Way West coach Brian Flaherty said. “When the state tournament hit this year they had a difference focus. It’s almost like they had been there before. They have an expectation to win, that definitely helps. We have some pretty good poise. We don’t get too rattled, kind of stay the course. That’s just a byproduct of the success they had when they were younger.”

Pettinato averaged 21 points this season, he’s a true star. Marotta is a great shooter with deceptive length and athleticism. Gavin, the point guard, has been improving throughout the season and Bumstead has developed into a real threat from three-point range.

“I’ve always known what those guys can do,” Pettinato said. “We’ve been through just about everything that any high school team in the state has been with all the games we’ve played together over the years.”

Lincoln-Way West (21-9) will face Peoria Manual in Peoria on Friday in the Class 3A state semifinals.

The scope of the victory hadn’t quite set in with Pettinato on Wednesday afternoon. But the sting of the loss was fully evident at Morgan Park.

“The kids are taking it pretty hard,” Mustangs coach Nick Irvin said. “With us it is either state championship or failure. [Lincoln-Way West] just made every shot. It’s just one of those things. We didn’t make shots, didn’t play defense. We looked past them probably. I don’t know why.”

Irvin wasn’t ready to give full credit to the feisty underdogs from New Lenox.

“Honestly, we couldn’t have beaten anyone yesterday,” Irvin said. “We just didn’t have it. It seemed like we were sluggish the whole game.”

Morgan Park and Belleville Althoff, the state’s top team, seemed destined to meet for the Class 3A state title in Peoria this season. It’s the matchup most fans had waited a year to see. Althoff defeated the Mustangs in the semifinals last March.

“We just gave Althoff the trophy,” Irvin said. “I think we are the only team that could have beaten them. We gave them the trophy. That’s what is really sticking in the back of my mind. I wanted to play them and show them that we are the better team, but that is not going to happen.”