GENEVA – Scheduling suggested Friday’s Geneva-Batavia girls basketball game provided the undercard entertainment for the boys in prime time.
The girls also will play the earlier tip-off in the schools’ Jan. 11 double-gender doubleheader in Batavia. By then, there might just be a movement for a flip-flop.
Many fans who hadn’t seen the first 24 minutes of the girls game Friday found themselves fighting hallway gridlock as the Vikings and Bulldogs slugged out the final eight. While Geneva’s 60-56 victory maintained the team’s stronghold in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division, it also served notice about Batavia’s emergence to a few more folks than usual.
“We were right there. We had it in our hands,” Bulldogs junior point guard Liza Fruendt said. “It’s fun, though. You wouldn’t trade anything for a game like that. We played our hearts out, but we just couldn’t finish it at the end.”
Geneva (5-2, 2-0 UEC River) used poised free throw shooting and a strong fourth quarter from sophomore Abby Novak to erase a deficit that lasted for much of the night.
The Bulldogs (4-3, 1-1) have not won in the series since the 2007-08 regular season finale.
With the score 58-56 Geneva, Fruendt and freshman Hannah Frazier had separate looks at the tying basket as Batavia stole the ball on an in-bounds play with 18 seconds remaining.
In flux at guard after the speedy Michaela Loebel tore an ACL last month, Geneva is using senior Ellen Dwyer at the point on most possessions. Dwyer, who missed much of last season with a shin injury, is finding her way with the rest of her teammates in the Vikings’ vaunted 1-2-2 full-court diamond press.
Vikings coach Sarah Meadows elected not to press Friday, and her rationale paid off. Post-heavy Geneva benefited from double-digit scoring from Sami Pawlak (13 points), Novak (12), Sidney Santos (11) and Morgan Seberger (11). At 5-foot-10, Novak is the shortest among that group.
“We focused a lot on not turning the ball over and keeping the game at our own tempo,” Vikings senior Kelly Gordon said. “We didn’t want to push too fast. We wanted to keep it upbeat but not crazy.”
Geneva’s recent margins of victory against the Bulldogs largely read like a skewed lottery ticket. Whittling the difference to four points after falling by 35, 25, 23 and 23 in the first two seasons of UEC River play both inspired the Bulldogs and made sages of the Vikings.
“We were getting pumped up before the game because this is probably one of their strongest teams in the past couple of years,” said Pawlak, back in the lineup for the first time since breaking a middle finger Nov. 17.
While Geneva out-rebounded Batavia, 18-11, in the first half, the Bulldogs compensated with expert outside shooting. Working off quick ball movement from the guards to forward Erin Bayram, then back to the perimeter, Batavia swished 5 of 11 three-point attempts before the break.
Fruendt, who matched Tuesday’s career-high effort of 26 points, appreciated the outside help from freshman Bethany Orman (nine points) and senior Sami Villarreal (eight).
Orman’s pair of treys late in the third quarter helped Batavia take a 42-41 lead entering the fourth. Novak and Co. proved the difference with tenacity inside.
“We fought. We fought, we fought, we fought and they believed,” Bulldogs coach Kevin Jensen said. “It didn’t mean anything, [but] in the fall they played a close game with [Geneva] at Montini in that fall league. For whatever reason, it just gave them a little confidence and we felt like we were ready. And the next game’s going to be a battle. And it could be just as close and maybe go the other way.”
Both teams figure to look different in Batavia in six weeks, although they hope the bleachers don’t.
Asked what fueled the Vikings down the stretch, Pawlak grinned as spectators walked the hallways behind her.
“The excitement of the fans,” she said. “That was fun.”