By Zach James
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
---- — MORRISON, Ill. — On Friday night, Fulton simply ran into a team that was better on that night.
The Steamers (21-9) ended their season in a 67-54 loss against Sterling Newman in the Class 2A Morrison Regional final.
There were chances for the Steamers to make up some ground, but each time they did, the Comets responded with either a stop defensively or a basket of their own.
"They're a great basketball team," Fulton coach RJ Coffey said. "I can't say enough about our guys — I love them; they played with a ton of heart."
Fulton had its focus on one player — Noah McCarty. McCarty stands at 6-foot-7 and used every inch of his height to put his team on top. McCarty scored 11 field goals, nearly all of them in the paint to deliver a 23-point performance.
"It's an excellent feeling coming out and playing the way we did tonight," McCarty said. "We look forward to moving on to the semifinal game, and pushing our way further."
"I thought McCarty played well; he's a good basketball player," Coffey said. "They got some buckets down low, and they were bigger than us."
McCarty complimented Fulton's defense for holding the Comets to 67 points, which is under Newman's season average of about 74 a game.
"They played really aggressive this time out than the other two times," McCarty said. "They had really good help defense against us, but our guards did a really good job of facilitating around it."
One way the Comets pushed past the Steamers was at the free-throw line.
Newman shot 15-of-16 from the free-throw line while Fulton had trouble hitting its free throws with a 5-for-11 performance.
"When you don't win, there are reasons why, and that one was a big reason why," Coffey said. "I don't think we got to the line enough, didn't make them when we did get to the line, but it is what it is."
Newman also quieted the duo of Matt Dail and Zach Barber, the 1-2 combo for the Steamers.
Dail made one of the first baskets in the first quarter and did not score after that. Barber had a little better luck, leading the Steamers in scoring Friday with 15 points. Kyle Huebner hit three 3-pointers to give him 13 points.
Fulton started the game down 8-0 early in which Coffey was forced to call a timeout at the 5:03 mark in the first quarter. Fulton then went on an 11-4 run before Newman scored four straight points to end the quarter.
The third quarter didn't have a very happy beginning for Fulton after holding its ground in the second quarter, being outscored only 17-15.
Newman came out of the locker room with a 9-2 run to start the third quarter because of Fulton turnovers leading to a handful of Comet fast-break opportunities. Once the dust settled after that run, Fulton refused to go away by outscoring the Comets 14-6 in the remainder of that period.
"Our guys took a top-ranked team into the fourth quarter, which I'm very proud of," Coffey said. "These guys worked hard and fought, and that's all I can ask of them. I'll remember these guys forever."
Coffey ended his first season as Steamers coach giving the school its first 20-plus win season in over a decade. The bar may be set, but he's ready to set it even higher.
"This is a start, and we have to continue to get better," he said. "We have some young guys who are ready to get better; if you're going to be a good basketball team, you have to have good expectations, and I know my guys will be willing to reach those goals."
STERLING NEWMAN 67, FULTON 54
FULTON (21-9) — Matt Dail 1 0-2 2, Seth Sanderson 3 2-2 9, Devin Kuehl 1 0-0 2, Zach Barber 6 2-2 15, Kyle Huebner 5 0-2 13, Paul Velasco 1 0-0 2, Jake Willging 3 1-2 7, Jason Osborn 2 0-1 5, Cody Huff 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 5-11 54.
NEWMAN — Nate Terveer 1 2-2 4, AJ Sharp 3 2-2 9, Micah Trancoso 2 2-2 6, Trevor Bolin 0 2-2 2, Noah McCarty 11 1-2 23, John Payan 4 4-4 15, Nolan McGinn 3 2-2 8. Totals 24 15-16 67.
Fulton	11	15	15	13	—	54
Newman	15	17	16	19	—	67
3-point goals — Fulton 5 (Huebner 3, Barber, Sanderson); Newman 4 (Payan 3, Sharp). Total fouls — Fulton 14, Newman 13. Fouled out — None.