ELGIN – Batavia boys basketball players sense a transformation coming, a time when they'll fuse hot starts with sustained shooting success.
Once more, the Bulldogs had momentum during stages of Saturday's Upstate Eight Conference River Division game at Larkin. The sequences where Batavia wasn't so sharp, however, ultimately accumulated in a 56-47 loss.
"Obvioulsy, we're taking steps. Each game, we feel like we're there. In the past few weeks, we feel like we're right there, but we just need to take that one more step and have better starts," Bulldogs senior forward Zach Strittmatter said. "We've been down a lot early, so we're always playing catch-up, so we know we can play with these teams. We've just got to start off games better."
Batavia (2-5, 0-2 UEC River) struggled to 30 percent shooting (17 for 56). The Royals' counterpunch was especially effective in the first half, when they responded with an 18-0 run following the Bulldogs' initial 5-2 lead.
Playing without injured point guard Derrick Streety (groin) Larkin (7-2, 2-1) rarely lagged. A night after tormenting St. Charles North for 22 points, senior guard Quentin Ruff drilled five three pointers en route to a game-high 19 points.
Three of Ruff's treys came in a short span midway through the second quarter, when the Royals led by 15 and flirted with more.
"I was just thinking to shoot good shots and not force anything," Ruff said. "There were times where they were just leaving me, and I had to take advantage of it."
Breaking the Royals' trap while creating their own defensive havoc behind point guard Mike Rueffer, Jake Pollack and others, Batavia expertly attacked in spurts after halftime.
The team scored on its opening possession of the second half when the Bulldogs decoyed the Royals on the sideline inbounds pass, lining up near the goal at which they just had shot.
Rueffer advanced as if he were coming toward his teammates before breaking the other way for an easy layup.
"It works sometimes," Strittmatter said. "Other times, the fans will be yelling or something about it."
Micah Coffey (12 points) and Luke Horton (10) led a balanced Bulldogs offense that also counted on contributions from Rueffer (nine) and Strittmatter (eight).
Coffey had four treys, including a shot that pulled the Bulldogs to within 31-26 with about five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Larkin, which also had Kendale McCullum (14) and Quantice Hunter (12) in double figures, followed with one of its rare inside breakthroughs moments later.
Center Daniel McFadden's three-point play stretched the lead to eight. Even as the Bulldogs pressured and hustled down the stretch, the Royals' advantage stood.
"They take care of the ball, they find the open player and they hit shots. They guard real well and make you feel uncomfortable offensively," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. "They did a good job. Every time I thought we'd kind of make a run, maybe get back in it, they'd drill you again."