ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East girls basketball fans shifted into show-and-tell mode Tuesday night, presenting a Laney Deckrow cardboard headshot and a “No Dogs Allowed In the Hilton” sign to two of their muses.
Deckrow and point guard Amanda Hilton weren’t the only ones flattered after the Saints handled Batavia, 59-40, in the nightcap of a semifinal doubleheader at the 4A St. Charles East Regional. No Saint or East partisan was in a hurry to scatter to the locker room, home, or any other destination as the hosts darted past the Bulldogs for the second time in 16 days.
East (18-11) advanced to face Geneva in the regional final at 7:30 p.m. Thursday after the Vikings defeated Glenbard East, 54-39, in the opening semifinal. East and Geneva split a pair of overtime games in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play this season, and it’s the Saints’ intention to practice the same postgame protocol Thursday as they did against the Bulldogs.
“I thought it was going to be a close game this time because I knew they wanted it, but I’m glad we came out how we did,” Saints sophomore wing Kyra Washington said. “I guess that’s a pretty decent score.”
Saints coach Lori Drumtra billed the rubber match as Geneva’s “bigs” against East’s “waterbugs,” but reiterated how she liked her team’s chances despite its size disadvantage.
Batavia (18-11) had some height on East, too, but the Saints’ hustle, crisp passing and rebounding edge balanced the equation, as Hilton (16 points), Washington (15) and Deckrow (13) led the charge.
On Jan. 8, the same two teams met in Batavia, with the Bulldogs winning, 74-49. Now fully adjusted to a new lineup after senior guard Paige Jordan elected to leave the team in December, the Saints have outscored the Bulldogs, 136-106, since.
“I think they were quicker – and then you can insert any statement after that – than us tonight,” Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. “Yeah, I said that same thing to our coaching staff. It felt like any time there was a tip or a loose ball that we were stuck in the mud and they were getting there. I don’t necessarily think it was us [having a] bad effort after it, I just think when you have those three guards that are that fast, they can make an opponent look like you’re stuck in the mud. At times, that’s what it did.”
Jensen was referring to Hilton, Carly Pottle and Katie Claussner, a speedy trio that was just the beginning of the Saints’ success. While Batavia’s 16 for 46 shooting night included woes from long range, the Bulldogs also struggled inside against the rangy, 6-foot-1 Washington and Deckrow, who combined for 17 rebounds.
Washington, who has come off the bench lately with the emergence of her classmate, Claussner, also affected her share of shots with sound positioning.
East led by as many as 21 in the second half, remaining poised even when Batavia junior point guard Liza Fruendt (24 points) cut the deficit to eight in the final 20 seconds of the third quarter. When they weren’t scoring in transition, the Saints were effective with their man-to-man defense, especially in the paint.
“I think they couldn’t get the ball inside as much,” Washington said. “We had solid down-low ‘D’ and then good help.”
Geneva (18-10) defended the Saints man-to-man in the teams’ most recent meeting, but largely frustrated Glenbard East with 2-1-2 and 2-3 zone looks. Starters Sami Pawlak (12 points), Abby Novak (10), Morgan Seberger, Kelly Gordon and Sidney Santos scored at least three points each in a 19-0 run to begin the game.
Glenbard East tallied its first points with 1:53 remaining in the first quarter on an Elie Donovan trey, and drew to within 19-6 when Kelly Eberle connected from long range moments later.
The Rams trailed, 38-15, at halftime and again came within 13 points during garbage time before their season ended at 3-23. Geneva’s torrid start was a welcome contrast to recent beginning sequences in what now is a six-game winning streak. In the past 10 days, the Vikings tussled with St. Charles North and Neuqua Valley before closing strong after halftime.
“That start, it really just gave us a confidence boost and kind of showed us that we can play as a team and we can go far,” Novak said.
Batavia shot 7 for 24 in the first half and was limited to four points for much of the second quarter.
A late boost brought the Bulldogs to within 33-21 at the break, including a long, wild trey Fruendt banked in at the buzzer. Fruendt, recently named the UEC River Player of the Year, managed the beginnings of a frustrated smirk before shaking her head and moving toward the locker room.
Exiting the locker room at night’s end, Fruendt assessed the season before joining her nine teammates in a pileup embrace at midcourt. Batavia fielded a roster of eight for much of the season before Jensen promoted two players for the postseason.
“You can’t win as many games as we did with eight people and not be best friends, and truly, I wouldn’t have asked for anything else,” Fruendt said. “Obviously, we want to win and we want to keep going, but it’s something that I’m going to take with me and I know the rest of us will take with us for the rest of our lives.”
Erin Bayram followed Fruendt with eight points.
Deckrow said the Saints flinched while reviewing tape of the first Batavia game, but it was an important step in the group’s overall growth. While a late-season hiccup ultimately made the Saints UEC River runners-up to the Vikings, East quickly resolved to move on toward the postseason.
At that point, the Saints knew they would be a lower-seeded team in regionals and play on their own floor in their road uniforms. That may be, but with its fans and a confidence Drumtra described as “just flying high,” East couldn’t feel more at home.
Glenbard East 32, Fenton 26
St. Charles East 67, Lake Park 49
Geneva 54, Glenbard East 39
St. Charles East 59, Batavia 40
Thursday’s championship game
Geneva vs. St. Charles East, 7:30 p.m.