This week marks arguably the most critical juncture in the Upstate Eight Conference River race, with both St. Charles schools set to take their second cracks at conference-leading Larkin.
St. Charles East is first up Thursday against the visiting Royals, and the Saints then have another marquee home matchup Saturday against Geneva.
“I call it a season-defining week for us as far as the regular season,” East coach Pat Woods said. “I mean with two of the top four [teams in the conference], one obviously being the best, and one hanging around in Geneva, we have two of our top three opponents this week, so we’ll know by Saturday where we stand and figure out if we still have a legitimate shot or if we’re out of it and have to start working toward regionals. But I feel good about where we’re at and the direction we’re headed, so I think it could be an interesting week.”
Larkin (7-0 UEC River) has a two-game lead in the loss column on St. Charles East (6-2 UEC River) and St. Charles North (5-2 UEC River), which the Royals will visit Saturday. Geneva is 5-3 in the conference and still has a game at Larkin slated for Feb. 14.
In the first round of conference play, Larkin survived stiff challenges from Geneva and North but handled East relatively easily, winning, 82-65, Dec. 5 after building an 18-point halftime lead. Woods, however, thinks the Saints are a much better team than they were at that stage, and looks forward to another chance to match up with the Royals.
“We know them very well,” Woods said. “Larkin, the thing about them is they have so many different kids that have the ability to score. It’s not like they’re dominated by one player. They have five solid starters who can hurt you at any time and even better than that, and credit [Larkin coach Deryn Carter] for this, is they play very well together. I’ve seen other teams that have five nice players that just don’t mesh well.”
The Saints’ preparations for Larkin were somewhat hampered by weather-dictated school closings Monday and today, canceling practice. But anticipating that possibility, Woods said the Saints fit in an extra workout Sunday before conducting a youth clinic.
Woods said Saints standout guard Dom Adduci – who has missed East’s past two games with a mild groin strain – practiced Sunday and should be ready this week.
Bulldogs lose Peez
If Batavia is going to reverse its struggles anytime soon, it will have to happen without dynamic junior forward Chasen Peez.
Peez has missed the past three games and likely will be sidelined an additional three-plus weeks with what coach Jim Nazos described as “a stress reaction” in his back. Nazos said the good news is the condition was diagnosed before it became a full-blown stress fracture.
“Everybody kind of picks it up to replace the 16 points and the eight boards [Peez was averaging],” Nazos said. “You feel bad for him personally to have to be out. I really thought he was making strides in other ways other than just scoring and rebounding. He was making strides defensively and in practice, but those things happen and you move on.”
After falling to Elgin for the second time in a week Saturday, Batavia fell to 6-13 overall, 1-7 in the UEC River. Nazos said he still thinks Batavia can be successful through solid half-court offense and half-court defense, but too many turnovers and rebounding woes have wreaked havoc.
The Bulldogs’ search for solutions will continue Saturday in a shootout at Rock Island.
“I think there’s motivation and there’s belief through work,” Nazos said. “You’ve got to get back in the gym and you work your way through it. You have a good practice, you say that’s a good day.”
Knights bumped back
Kaneland coach Brian Johnson was scheduled to coach against his alma mater, St. Edward, tonight in Elgin, but that game has been moved to Thursday because of today’s weather postponements.
Today marked the second straight Kaneland game to be postponed after Friday’s matchup against Sycamore was moved to Feb. 22.
Johnson played on successful Green Wave squads in the mid-1990s.
St. Francis coach Bob Ward is one win away from reaching 300 for his career. Ward, in his third year with the Spartans, coached previously at Spring Valley Hall, Round Lake and Wheaton North.
The Spartans are scheduled to trek to Rock Island’s shootout Saturday after today’s game with Glenbard South was postponed.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com
IN THE GROOVE
Michael Sheehan, Marmion, Sr., G
What he did: Sheehan poured in 24 points in Friday’s home win against St. Francis, then set a career high for the second straight night in Saturday’s loss to Wheaton Academy, scoring 26 points in the 66-62 Cadets home loss.
Cole Gentry, St. Charles East, Jr., G
What he did: Gentry made all 17 of his free throws attempts while scoring 32 points Thursday, keeping East competitive in an Upstate Eight Crossover loss at Metea Valley. Gentry then added 17 points in Friday’s UEC River win at Streamwood.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEK
Sometimes, even scoring 44 points isn’t enough.
Aurora Central Catholic senior guard Sean Harreld erupted for 44 points – including a game-tying, long 3-pointer to end regulation – in Friday’s overtime loss at Walther Christian. Harreld scored 36 of his 44 points after halftime.
WHAT WE’LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
How St. Charles North deals with its long layoff.
After playing what coach Tom Poulin described as the North Stars’ lone “stinker” of the year in a 90-55 loss at St. Charles East on Jan. 18, North finally can put that one in the rearview mirror Thursday when it visits Elgin before taking on Larkin at home Saturday.
COACH SLY SAYS
Kaneland’s stars have stayed healthy this season, but that doesn’t mean the Knights haven’t been bitten hard by the injury bug. The Knights have been without three key parts of their rotation (Jake Gomes, Dylan Vaca, Connor Fedderly) at various points, Gomes and Vaca for prolonged stretches.
Kaneland has hung in there and is having a respectable season, but a team that was one of the area’s deepest at the start of the year has certainly had its depth strained, and that has to take a toll.
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