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Morgan Park's Kyle Davis talks with his teammates in the final quarter of their game against Limestone in the state basketball semifinals. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Morgan Park guard Kyle Davis could see that teammate Josh Cunningham was frustrated at the half of Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal against Limestone.
And a frustrated Cunningham isn’t a productive Cunningham.
Even though Morgan Park was enjoying a 10-point halftime lead, Davis realized if the Mustangs were going to finish their dismantling of Limestone, it was mandatory the 6-foot-7 Cunningham was focused on the task at hand.
So Davis, a senior, he had a little heart to heart, teammate to teammate, big brother to little brother talk with Cunningham, a junior.
“Coming out of the locker room, Josh was kind of frustrated,” Davis said. “I pulled him to the side and told him ‘I need you. Help me win this game.’
On the Mustangs second possession of the third quarter, Davis had a steal and a clear lane to the basket.
Instead of coasting in for the easy two, he unselfishly passed the ball behind him to a charging Cunningham, who then dunked it.
The crowd roared and the Mustangs, like a pot of water preparing to boil, were beginning to heat up.
Cunningham scored the next two baskets, one via an alley-oop pass from Davis that resulted in another dunk.
Just like that, Morgan Park’s 28-18 halftime lead had swelled to 36-18.
And Davis, a 6-foot guard headed to Dayton in the fall, might have found a career as a motivational speaker.
Limestone never recovered and the Mustangs never took their foot off the gas pedal, registering a 70-49 victory and a date with Cahokia on Saturday for the 3A state championship.
“The coaches said something to me at the half and I should have never let it get to my head,” said Cunningham, who was limited to just two points in the first half. “Kyle said he needed me and I did whatever I could do to help us win the game.”
Consider it a lesson learned for Cunningham, immersed with major skills and enormous potential.
“I learned you have to fight through adversity and to not let anything get to me,” said Cunningham, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds. “Kyle’s a senior and I listen to all the seniors. They’re not going to steer me wrong.”
Morgan Park has impressively steered itself to the 3A championship, which really isn’t a surprise to folks who have watched coach Nick Irvin’s team this season.
The Mustangs have defeated their first five playoff opponents leading into Friday’s game by 46 points.
That’s men against boys stuff, people.
If the Mustangs, who have conquered 32 of 35 opponents, can beat Cahokia, they will bring home the program’s second state title and first since 1976.
It’s been a state title or bust season for the Mustangs, the SouthtownStar’s preseason No. 1, since Day 1.
Believe me, Morgan Park has no intention of finishing second-best. It’s the Mustangs championship to lose.
“It won’t feel right if we don’t finish the job,” senior Billy Garrett Jr. said. “It means a lot to us and to the school.”
Anything is possible, especially in high school athletics, but as I sat and watched Cahokia beat Orr in the other 3A semi, I just can’t see the Mustangs failing to complete their dominant journey.
Morgan Park has had to overcome various obstacles all season, but still persevered.
Heck, the Mustangs had to overcome a minor game-day obstacle on Friday.
They had mistakenly dressed in their home “white” uniforms, thinking as the No. 1 seed, they were automatically the home team.
An IHSA official informed Irvin the Mustangs were the visiting team.
Morgan Park assistant coach Walt Woghiren had to hustle back to the team’s hotel and gather up the Mustangs visiting green uniforms.
By the time he returned to the Civic Center, with all the uniforms crumpled in a large bag, Woghiren was dripping with sweat.
“I told him to grab some water,” Irvin said. “It was a fun thing to see. That set the tone.”
The players didn’t even have enough time to grab their own shorts. It was every man for himself.
“We changed in about two minutes,” said Davis, who scored 15 points, with a big smile. “They just dumped all the green uniforms all over the floor. I just grabbed any pair of shorts I could. I was lucky I grabbed an extra large, but they’re not my shorts. It was a kind of fun experience.”
Typical of the Mustangs season — fun.