HEBRON | It's only appropriate the opening game of the 91st Porter County Conference boys basketball tournament featured an upset with a wild final minute.
Morgan Township survived a near collapse in the fourth quarter to beat state-ranked Class A No. 4 Kouts 45-43 to earn a spot in the semifinals Saturday morning at Hebron.
In the nightcap, the host Hawks survived a 42-point outburst by LaCrosse senior Bryce Guse to beat the Tigers 58-57.
Morgan 6-foot-3 sophomore Jake Koselke had 24 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots to lead the Cherokees (7-4), who produced the biggest win in the two-year career of coach Eric Braden.
"It's definitely my biggest win, because we struggled last year," Braden said. "I'm sure it's the biggest win of the high school career for these kids.
"We're going to let them enjoy it but then get back to work. I definitely don't want them to feel satisfied, but it sure does feel good."
Koselke more than did his part in the middle against Kouts' 6-8 senior Matt Stewart. He was in foul trouble all night, and endured the first scoreless game of his career, only attempting one field goal.
"(Stewart) is a big offensive rebounder, and we worked all week on blocking him out and hoping he would get called for going over the back," Braden said. "Jake is finding his groove. He's good at flashing to the basket and getting to the ball."
Koselke scored 13 points in the first half, leading Morgan to a 21-17 advantage at the break. His basket in the lane with 2:57 remaining gave the Cherokees a 42-37 lead.
But enter Cody Nelson.
The 6-foot Kouts senior guard scored a career-high 31 points, with Stewart rendered ineffective on the bench. Nelson had a breakaway layup with 1:41 remaining and then nailed a 15-foot jumper with 59 seconds left to get the Mustangs within 42-41.
"We knew they were going to make a run," Braden said.
After Nelson's jumper, the Mustangs forced a five-second violation against Morgan to get the ball back, as Stewart hounded Morgan's Chase Braden on the out-of-bounds play.
On the next possession, Kouts' Jacob Bekelya was called for a charge against Morgan's Jacob Hernandez.
Morgan's Conner Martin then had his shot blocked by Nelson on a breakaway, but Chase Braden scored on the out-of-bounds play on a pass from Tyler Abbett for a 44-41 lead.
In the final seconds, Nelson misfired on a 3-pointer that would have tied it. On the rebound, Stewart was whistled for his fifth foul going over the back of Koselke, setting off Kouts coach Matt Crawford, who was assessed a technical.
Chase Braden hit one free throw, but Kouts stole the in-bounds pass, and Nelson scored to get the Mustangs within two. With 0.7 on the clock, Morgan knocked away Kouts' final in-bounds pass.
For Morgan, Chase Braden was the only other player in double figures with 15 points, while Martin scored six. Bekelya added eight for Kouts (9-2).
In the second game, Guse almost willed the Tigers (2-10) to an upset victory. He scored a career-high 42 points, hitting 14-of-22 from the floor including 7-of-13 from 3-point range.
Guse went 6-for-6 in the third quarter, hitting three 3-pointers to help close a 34-23 halftime deficit down to 49-43.
Guse, calling for the ball, hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the fourth and then a pair of free throws to get the Tigers within 56-54. He then tied it at 56-56 with 42.6 remaining, hitting a pair of free throws after being fouled away from the ball.
Hebron's Tony Rose scored in the lane with 21 seconds remaining for a 58-56 lead, and LaCrosse's Nate Rhodes hit one of two free throws to get his team within one.
In the final seconds, Rose missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving LaCrosse one last chance with 8.7 remaining. Guse missed an off-balance 3-pointer to allow the Hawks to escape.
For Hebron (7-3), Drew Wheeler scored 24 of his career-high 26 points in the first half. Bryce Hannaway had 13 points and five assists, while Rose finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.