BATAVIA – As fleeting as the Batavia boys basketball team's rut was Saturday night against Larkin, it was enough to deprive the Bulldogs of a big-time upset.
Batavia saw its double-digit fourth quarter lead punctured in a hurry by Upstate Eight Conference River power Larkin, which stormed past Batavia late for a 69-65 win.
The Bulldogs lost despite outscoring the Royals, 39-0, from 3-point land.
"It's frustrating to know we were there," Batavia senior guard Micah Coffey said. "We had the opportunity to put that game away. It just kind of shows the fight that we can have. We kind of see glimpses of where we can be, we've just got to be there all the time now."
Coffey's 3-pointer with 5:15 to go in the game put Batavia ahead, 59-49.
But the Royals (7-1, 3-0 UEC River) negated that 10-point deficit in less than two minutes, catching the Bulldogs at 60-all on senior guard Kendale McCullum's coast-to-coast layup that turned into a three-point play with 3:18 to go.
McCullum, perhaps the top defender in the conference, cranked up his team's energy throughout the fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his 19 points.
"They did capitalize on some of our turnovers, and when they capitalized, they scored in like three seconds some possessions," said Batavia coach Jim Nazos, whose team dropped its fourth straight game . "Maybe in a run we've got to dig in, really get in a gap better, force another turn and draw some possessions out for them offensively. But they're good. McCullum's good, and that (Andrew) Jones kid has got a lot better, too.
"We did have a couple rough turnovers, a rough patch there, but our rough patches are going down from halves to quarters to minutes, I guess. We've got to look at it in a constructive way and move on."
Despite momentum swinging dramatically to Larkin midway through the fourth quarter, Batavia (2-5, 0-2 UEC River) had several chances to tie or take the lead after Bulldogs junior Chasen Peez drained the team's 13th and final 3-ball of the night to tie the game at 65 with 1:34 to play.
McCullum's slashing basket put the Royals up, 67-65, with 1:02 left. Peez then was fouled and missed both free throws with 48 seconds to go, but Bulldogs junior Danny Pieczynski gathered an offensive rebound.
Coffey misfired on a 3-pointer but Pieczynski snared another clutch offensive rebound, and Batavia called timeout with 30 seconds left. A well executed backdoor cut positioned Coffey to tie the game, but he was unable to finish in traffic.
This time, Larkin gathered the rebound, but the Royals' Brayden Royse missed two free throws with 20 seconds to play, giving the Bulldogs new life again.
Peez tried to tie it but missed a shot in the lane, and Larkin's Jones then converted a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds left for the final margin.
Although the once-hot Bulldogs' shooting touch eluded them late, Nazos was proud of his team's late-game grit, particularly Pieczynski's efforts on the glass.
"He's somebody who practices hard and does a lot of good things," Nazos said. "There's not a possession that he isn't fighting and doing things."
Batavia led, 35-30, at halftime, during which Royals coach Deryn Carter only spent a few minutes with his team in the locker room before returning to the bench by himself.
"To be honest, there wasn't much I had to say that was going to be positive so I tried to keep it as brief as possible," Carter said. "And I needed to collect my thoughts, and I needed to do a better job. I didn't do a good job in that second quarter so I knew myself well enough to get out, kind of relax and get back to coaching."
The Bulldogs' lead swelled to 13 points twice late in the third quarter before Larkin's ramped-up sense of urgency took a toll on Bulldogs ball-handlers late in the game.
"We can't make a habit out of this," Carter said of needing the big comeback.
Jones led all scorers with 24 points, while Peez led Batavia with 21 points. Coffey's football rust appears to be eroding; he had five of the Bulldogs' 3-pointers and scored 16 points. Pieczynski and reserve forward Ryan Olson scored eight points each for the Bulldogs.
It was a more encouraging performance than the Bulldogs have exhibited the past few times out, but the result made that difficult for the Bulldogs to appreciate.
"Tomorrow we can take a look at where we were good," Coffey said. "But tonight, it hurts."