ELGIN – The postseason is only a few weeks away, and for stretches of Friday’s game against Larkin, the Geneva boys basketball team emboldened the notion that this could be the Vikings team to net some elusive postseason hardware.
The Vikings outplayed high-flying Larkin throughout much of the first half and had a pair of leads early in the fourth quarter before the Royals rose up in emphatic fashion late for a 67-53 Upstate Eight Conference River victory.
“The sad part is we had probably about a three-, four-minute stretch in that second quarter, maybe part of that first quarter, where I thought we played so exceptionally well, I was thinking, boy, there’s no team that we could see anywhere the rest of our season we couldn’t beat if we play like that,” Geneva coach Phil Ralston said.
“The sad part is we got silly and squirrely and thought we could run up and down the floor with them, and the next thing we know, we got guys that are trying to get themselves pulled out of the game because they’re too tired, and they’re wondering why. But lesson learned, hopefully.”
The Royals (22-3, 12-0 UEC River) already had taught the conference a winter-long lesson that they’re a handful, and Friday’s win nailed down an unbeaten run through the River for the back-to-back champs.
Larkin coach Deryn Carter put in a plug for a Geneva team that could finish in a tie for second place if it defeats St. Charles North next week.
“I told coach Ralston before, they’re a top four seed in the [East Aurora] sectional,” Carter said. “I don’t know if they’ll get it because they’re underrated, but these guys are as good as everybody we’ve played. They’re a very good basketball team, well coached, they play hard. This is as good of a win as we’ve had all year.”
Geneva (19-5, 7-4 UEC River) trailed, 42-40, entering the fourth quarter, but took a pair of leads early in the quarter on fast-break layups from an unlikely source – burly sophomore reserve Loudon Vollbrecht, whose ability to run the floor might have taken both teams by surprise.
But the final 6 minutes of the game belonged almost exclusively to Larkin, and in particular, senior point guard Derrick Streety, who scored 11 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth. He scored the last eight points of a swift, 10-0 Larkin burst to give the Royals a 55-46 lead midway through the fourth.
As is often the case for Larkin, big things began with pressure defense.
“Pressuring the ball speeds up players, speeds up the whole game,” said Streety, who didn’t start the game because he missed practice for a college visit to the University of Dubuque. “We tried to get them out of their comfort zone. Their comfort zone is playing offense, running an offense to the ‘T.’ They run offense all day until they get something, and that’s hard for us to try not to make a mistake the whole time.”
Carter said he sensed Geneva becoming comfortable with Larkin’s pressure and decided to ratchet it up, sending extra defenders running at ball-handlers.
“To sustain that type of pressure like our guys did for 32 minutes, that’s tough for a team to consistently beat,” Carter said. “I thought it was at a tipping point either way. Either they were going to consistently beat us or we were going to crack them. I think we were fortunate enough, the ball bounced our way a couple times, and we got a nice run to end the game.”
Geneva forward Nate Navigato scored 15 points and had 12 rebounds while fellow junior Pace Temple also had 15 points and helped tighten the game after a 13-0 Royals run overlapping the second and third quarters made it 33-28, Larkin.
Geneva had a 28-20 lead in the second quarter and settled for a 28-26 halftime advantage. The Vikings’ early success had plenty to do with Vollbrecht (12 points, five rebounds, blocked shot), who made all six of his field-goal attempts on the night but went 0 for 3 from the foul line.
“Obviously when you see him take a big step forward like this, he’s definitely earned some more minutes with his playing time, playing like he did tonight,” Ralston said. “He was a load.”
The Vikings’ pursuit of their third 20-plus win season in Ralston’s six-year tenure will continue with road games next week at St. Charles North and at South Elgin.