ST. CHARLES – Avoiding overtime with St. Charles East felt as blissful as it should have for the Geneva girls basketball team Thursday.
Toting a regional championship with their season’s first four-quarter score against the Saints excited the Vikings, too.
Geneva’s 63-39 victory against East represented the first game that was not a nail-biter between the teams this winter. More importantly for the Vikings, it made them IHSA Class 4A St. Charles East Regional champions and sent the team to next week’s Bartlett Sectional.
“We were hoping we were winning in regulation,” Geneva junior guard Morgan Seberger said. “Two overtimes both times we met them, it’s kind of hard thinking, ‘Oh God, we don’t want another overtime. We don’t want it to be down to the wire again.’ We just decided to show up in the second half and take control and just do what Geneva girls basketball knows how to do.”
In past years, that meant harass the opponents with the full-court press and score in transition.
This season, the post-oriented Vikings (19-10) used their size and an unrelenting man-to-man defense to outscore the Saints, 35-10, after the break.
After East (18-12) opened the night with the torrid shooting start – including 10 points from senior guard Carly Pottle in the game’s first 3:10 – Geneva adjusted its defense at the break.
Gone was the 1-2-2 zone, in was the man-to-man and on was the rout.
“We were on their shooters more closely, so they couldn’t get a shot off or it was harder for them to get a shot off,” Vikings sophomore post Abby Novak said. “We had hands up in their face in man, where zone was like you’re laying back and letting their shooters get a better shot off.”
East shot 3 for 25 after the break and was limited to three free throws for much of the third quarter. A driving Amanda Hilton jumper near the end of the quarter marked the team’s first field goal of that half.
Saints coach Lori Drumtra sensed mounting frustration in players but was glad to see them greeting one another as well as fans after decompressing from the loss.
“No regrets,” said Drumtra, whose team finished second to the Vikings in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division after splitting two overtime games in the regular season. “Very proud of the season and our seniors.”
Geneva advanced to play top-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South in a Bartlett Sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The host Tigers defeated York in a regional final to create yet another rematch for the Vikings.
Wheaton Warrenville South defeated Geneva in a Hoffman Estates Sectional semifinal last season. The Tigers have won 13 games in a row, with their most recent loss coming against Neuqua Valley on Jan. 8.
Geneva has won seven in a row, including a Feb. 8 victory at Neuqua Valley in the Upstate Eight Conference championship crossover.
Much like that game, Geneva started slowly on Thursday, falling into a 12-3 hole midway through the first quarter. Citing the Saints’ pluck, Vikings coach Sarah Meadows inspired players by noting East’s ability to hang with her team despite its size disadvantage.
With Novak (16 points, nine rebounds) and Sami Pawlak (14 points, 15 rebounds) keying the inside charge, Geneva also was effective from the outside when it had to be.
Credit Pawlak and 6-foot point guard Sidney Santos for that.
“Sami drives hard, and it’s easier when she keeps driving to open up the outside,” said Seberger, who hit three treys first half and finished with 13 points. “She just got me the ball and Sidney got me the ball and I just nailed down the shots.”
Geneva built a 12-point halftime lead in the teams’ first game before falling behind by 12 in the late stages of the second quarter in the rematch.
A late, 8-0 run pulled the Vikings closer and ultimately propelled them on another surge after the break.
In both instances, Geneva watched as East kept on connecting from long range in clutch spots.
That outside touch developed early on Thursday, but soon shorted out after the Saints grabbed a 29-28 halftime lead.
While Hannah Nowling (nine rebounds) kept the Saints competitive down low at the start, Geneva eventually pulled away behind its size. Laney Deckrow (eight rebounds), Amanda Hilton and Katie Claussner all had seven points for East.
Earlier this week, Drumtra called the game a matchup of Geneva’s “bigs” against East’s “waterbugs.”
She didn’t rescind that scouting report Thursday, not did she deny the impact of the second half.
“Boy, it just went cold,” she said. “Part of that was we got cold, but part of that was we didn’t get good looks. And when we did get good looks, they just didn’t fall.”