BATAVIA – Now that the Batavia boys basketball team has dug itself out of a big hole, the Bulldogs were able to enjoy flinging some dirt in their rival’s direction.
The Bulldogs continued their midseason resurgence Friday night by making a mess of Geneva, 59-37, in front of a packed, rivalry night crowd.
With music blaring and joyous expressions at every turn, Batavia’s postgame locker room looked a lot different than during the team’s six-game losing streak earlier this season. Batavia (8-8, 2-4 Upstate Eight Conference River) has won six of its past seven games and climbed to .500 for the first time since Thanksgiving week.
“There’s a lot of love,” Batavia senior Jake Pollack said. “We’ve never been more excited.”
Bulldogs coach Jim Nazos called it “a great win against a great team,” and was especially heartened by 32 minutes of fresh evidence that his defensive-minded teachings are resonating with his squad.
“I think it’s a big win for the fact that we sustained a certain defensive effort for four quarters,” Nazos said.
While the 22-point final margin indicated a blowout, the game was competitive most of the night, and the Bulldogs’ lead was 37-29 entering the fourth quarter.
But the fourth quarter started ominously for the Vikings (13-4, 4-2 UEC River) when Geneva was assessed its second technical foul in 15 seconds’ worth of game clock, this time for a scorebook error that coach Phil Ralston accepted blame for after the game.
Batavia senior point guard Mike Rueffer made two free throws for a 10-point lead, and a baseline jumper by Pollack followed by two Luke Horton free throws less than 45 seconds into the final quarter started ballooning the margin Batavia’s way.
Geneva’s loss bumps the Vikings a game behind Larkin for first place in the UEC River. Playing their first game since the East Aurora Holiday Tournament, the Vikings scarcely resembled the form they displayed for most of the season, including an 11-point win against the Bulldogs when the teams met in Geneva.
“We were emotional without playing with emotion,” Ralston said. “We talked about not getting wrapped up in the hype, just doing our stuff, play to our strengths, and I think we did that for about 14 minutes, and then it felt like we were carrying about a 1-ton boulder on a steep hill because it all started falling on top of us. It just seemed like we couldn’t do anything right.
“Our guards did a very poor job of entering the ball, our posts weren’t moving and we weren’t playing to our strengths.”
With Bulldogs senior Zach Strittmatter leading the charge defensively, Batavia limited Geneva sophomore standout Nate Navigato to a season-low four points. The Vikings’ other chief scoring threat, senior center Connor Chapman, was held to nine, a team high.
Conversely, the Bulldogs’ didn’t need a monster night from junior sharpshooter Micah Coffey to click offensively.
Pollack turned in one of his best performances in a Bulldogs uniform, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half. He hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter and added a stick-back just before halftime for a 27-21 Bulldogs lead.
Horton worked to finish off the Vikings with 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, while Strittmatter contributed 11 points and seven rebounds.
“A lot of people might look at the [Elgin] Christmas tournament and think, hey, Coffey’s their scoring, but I think a team that wants to be great, other people do the job, too,” Nazos said. “There’s shared responsibility.”
Horton’s strong night seemed unlikely after he was forced to the bench with two early fouls.
“I was getting too pumped, and I was making some bad decisions,” Horton said. “But after we got into the flow of the game and settled down, I knew I’d get my chance back in there.”
As the Bulldogs’ season is demonstrating, a rocky start is no cause for panic.