Burlington Central thumped Marengo, 57-28, on Monday for its 24th straight win in Big Northern Conference East play.
A win at Harvard in tonight's regular-season finale would give Central its second straight unblemished run to the conference title.
While the victories have been commonplace – each of BC's four losses have come to Class 4A teams – there still is some novelty to the way the Rockets are rolling. Instead of relying heavily on ball pressure and clogging passing lanes the way last year's 3A supersectional qualifier did, Central has placed added emphasis on packing the post and staying in position down low.
"A really strong, no one scores in the paint kind of defense," sophomore forward Sam Pryor said.
The Rockets remain well-conditioned and boast a handful of key returning guards from last season, namely sophomores Kayla Ross and Shelby Holt. But coach Mark Smith's extra work on interior defense has only bolstered the team's diversity and confidence.
"He really stresses it a lot and I think it really works," Pryor said.
'Dogs' mantra: 'One more week'
Batavia's grip on an outright Upstate Eight Conference River Division title loosened to the point of sharing the hardware with Geneva, but the Bulldogs still like their chances at a solid 4A postseason run thanks to their tightness off the court.
"Team-wise, I think the reason we play so well together is we're all best friends, and that helps," said senior forward Erin Bayram, before echoing a mantra that became popular during football season in Batavia. "When we're out there, we love every second of it. Not only do we want to win, but we just want to keep playing one more week, one more week and we never want the season to end."
The Bulldogs host a 4A regional next week and have lost just once on their home floor this season. The potentially bad news: St. Charles East defeated Batavia, 53-48 in that Feb. 1 game after the Bulldogs rolled by the Saints by 22 points in the teams' earlier meeting in St. Charles.
A handful of next week's 3A and 4A regional openers represent regular-season rematches. There definitely is a polar element to them, the cold weather notwithstanding.
Rosary defeated 3A Aurora Central Catholic Regional opponent IMSA, 54-11, in the second game of the regular season. Elsewhere in 3A, Kaneland gets another chance at Plano, where it lost, 44-41, in mid-January. The Knights led, 35-34, after three quarters but managed just six points in the fourth.
St. Charles East's 4A Batavia Regional semifinal against Willowbrook falls in between those margins of victory. Facing the Warriors for the consolation title at Wheaton North's holiday tournament, the Saints lost, 67-54, despite 14 points from senior guard Amanda Hilton, who since has suffered a season-ending kneecap fracture.
IN THE GROOVE
Rosary, Sr., G
What she did: Choice led Monday's 62-33 blowout of host Plainfield Central with a career-high 30 points.
Geneva, Jr., F
What she did: Scoring 20 of her 24 points in the first half, McCloughan helped Geneva to a 58-35 win against St. Charles North on Saturday. The win secured a tie for the Upstate Eight Conference River Division title with Batavia.
WHAT WE LEARNED LAST WEEK
You can't engrave an Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship trophy plate without "Geneva" just yet. Although the Vikings finished 0-2 against co-champion Batavia, the Bulldogs' late-season stumbles against the St. Charles schools allowed Geneva to make up ground to gain at least a share of its fourth straight league title. Batavia (third) and Geneva (fifth) earned high seeds in the upcoming 4A Addison Trail Sectional complex, and could potentially meet for the sectional title Feb. 27.
WHAT WE'LL LEARN IN THE WEEK AHEAD
How the River Division fares against the Valley in this week's regular season-ending UEC crossovers. The River Division gets homecourt advantage per this season's rotation, and will try to get the upper hand beginning Thursday, when Geneva (Bartlett), St. Charles East (Waubonsie Valley) and St. Charles North (South Elgin) are among teams hosting games. Batavia will entertain Valley winner Neuqua Valley in Friday's championship crossover game.
COACH SLY SAYS ...
Batavia knew it was going to get every opponent's best shot sometime around midseason, when the Bulldogs kept faring well against a tough nonconference slate while winning their first eight UEC River games.
The urgency isn't going to change with the postseason around the corner. The Bulldogs will have home-court advantage for regionals, but other teams will at least have a blueprint to try and slow down star guard Liza Fruendt.
Batavia has talked about a special season since summer camp, and doesn't plan on wilting now. Thing is, neither will the clubs on the other side of the court.