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St. Charles North boys basketball repels Batavia’s charge to win in OT

St. Charles North’s Tony Neari keeps the ball away from Batavia’s Zach Strittmatter on Friday during North’s 45-44 overtime win over Batavia in St. Charles.
St. Charles North’s Tony Neari keeps the ball away from Batavia’s Zach Strittmatter on Friday during North’s 45-44 overtime win over Batavia in St. Charles.

ST. CHARLES – Kyle Swanson made sure things started and ended well for the St. Charles North boys basketball team Friday in a 45-44 overtime victory against Batavia on senior night.

In between, the visiting Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point deficit to force the extra session in the battle of Upstate Eight Conference River Division rivals.

“I think Batavia came out the second half and turned it up a notch as far as their effort or intensity,” North coach Tom Poulin said. “We kind of took a step backwards and it ended up just being a dogfight. Luckily, we pulled it out.”

That was largely because of Swanson, a 6-foot-6 senior forward. With less than a minute to play in overtime and the score tied at 39, Swanson took the ball strong to the basket, hitting the go-ahead basket and drawing a foul call on Zach Strittmatter, who appeared to be in good position to draw a charge.

“We were struggling,” Swanson said. “We couldn’t get a basket in the fourth quarter or overtime. … [Strittmatter] gave me my right hand and I just went to the basket and I got fouled. It was kind of a lucky shot. It just fell in the hoop.”

Swanson converted the free throw to put the North Stars (12-8, 5-4 UEC River) up by three, then made two more free throws with 19 seconds left to extend the lead to 44-39. Strittmatter, who led Batavia with 15 points and nine rebounds, scored on a rebound with eight seconds remaining to cut the deficit to three. 

North used a legal out-of-bounds pass to get the ball back into play to Jake Ludwig, who was fouled with six seconds left. Batavia senior guard Mike Rueffer injured his left knee during the play, causing some Bulldog fans to react angrily at the officiating.

“I have no idea how it is,” Batavia coach Jim Nazos said of the injury. “The big test will be in the morning. The trainer thought there was no ligament damage.”

Ludwig made the first of two free throws, which proved crucial as Jake Pollack (13 points) drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for the Bulldogs (9-11, 3-6).

Early on, it didn’t appear the North Stars would need any late heroics. Swanson put back a pair of rebounds early to give North a 7-2 lead. He then evaded an obstacle in the form of a Batavia defender on a drive with one second left in the first quarter to put the North Stars up 15-6. Early in the second quarter, he hit a right baseline jumper after snaring another offensive board to extend the lead to 13.

“I think we were feeding off the energy for senior night,” Swanson said. “All the seniors were really fired up and we were working together really well.”

Swanson finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Classmate Justin Stanko, a 6-6 center, had all six of his points and five of his seven rebounds in the first half. Senior guard Quinten Payne contributed 11 points to the winning effort.

In the second half, though, it was 6-3 junior forward Erik Miller who did most of the damage for North. He scored all nine of his points after halftime, mostly on aggressive drives to the hoop.

“He’s had some very good practices as of late,” Poulin said. “He hasn’t got extended playing time, but when he gets minutes, you notice him for the right reasons. He’s earned more time just through his effort and his attitude.”

Miller converted an old-fashioned three-point play midway through the fourth quarter to give North a seemingly comfortable seven-point lead, but the Bulldogs scored the final seven points of regulation.

“We fought well and did a lot of good things in the second half to get back in it,” Nazos said. “This team all year has bounced back, practiced hard, gotten better, and done things and I think it’s going to pay off for us somewhere down the road.”

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