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Loss helps Batavia girls basketball re-evaluate, refresh for postseason

Batavia’s Erin Bayram (33) goes up for a basket as Neuqua Valley’s Malia Smith (far left) defends during the Bulldogs’ 56-49 loss Friday in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover game involving the River and Valley leaders in Batavia.
Batavia’s Erin Bayram (33) goes up for a basket as Neuqua Valley’s Malia Smith (far left) defends during the Bulldogs’ 56-49 loss Friday in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover game involving the River and Valley leaders in Batavia.

BATAVIA – Batavia girls basketball players are guaranteed at least one opportunity to defend their home court next week.

The Bulldogs host a Class 4A regional, and, lofty postseason aspirations notwithstanding, that first means the chance to wash clean this recently funky taste of home cooking.

Friday’s 56-49 loss to Neuqua Valley in the Upstate Eight Conference championship crossover was only the Bulldogs’ second home defeat this season – but also its second in a row.

That’s not a cue to panic, however.

“We’ve talked about regional titles, we’ve talked about 20 wins,” Bulldogs coach Kevin Jensen said. “Those are all things still on the table that we said, ‘They’re still there for us.’ Even though it was a loss tonight, I think we kind of got back on track with how we played.”

Batavia (18-9) ultimately became the 12th straight victim of Neuqua Valley (24-5), but fought back throughout.

Trouble was, the Wildcats responded.

“Relentlessly” so, in Jensen’s words, especially with their pressure defense.

“You feel like you have the press broken, then all of a sudden, there’s three people right on your hip looking to get a back tip,” Jensen said. “It’s almost like, ‘We don’t care if you get by our first level, they’re still going to chase you down. The next level will slow you up, and as soon as you slow up, and as soon as you slow down, we’re going to tip the ball away.’ ”

Batavia trailed by just six at halftime despite only two points – both on technical free throws – from UEC River Player of the Year Liza Fruendt.

Fruendt shot 6 for 10 from the field after halftime to finish with 16 points, tying longtime friend and fellow senior Erin Bayram for the team high.

“Liza kind of caught fire in the second half, but she was always our focal point for stopping,” said Wildcats sophomore guard Kai Moon, whose 15 points led the team in her return from an ankle injury.

Hannah Frazier added 13 points for Batavia, while Bayram corralled eight rebounds. The Bulldogs will host the winner of Monday’s opening-round game between Addison Trail and Elk Grove in a regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Wildcats maintained control in the second half behind their depth and defense, but Batavia climbed to within 50-45 with 3:26 remaining.

Batavia, the first school not named “Geneva” to represent the River in a championship crossover, shared the conference title with the Vikings but earned the nod here because of its two regular-season wins against Geneva.

Neuqua Valley entered the game with an edge on Batavia, having handled the Bulldogs, 71-57, in Montini Christmas Tournament play in December.

The result undoubtedly hinged on free throws, with the Wildcats hitting 29 of 32 to the Bulldogs’ 13 of 25 in what were otherwise tight proceedings.

Friday’s rematch opened with two Fruendt free throws, the result of a pregame technical foul called against Neuqua Valley because of a roster error.

Batavia extended its lead after that and remained ahead until the Wildcats’ much-anticipated shooting spurt.

The teams combined to shoot 15 for 55 (27 percent) in the first half, but Neuqua Valley started to distance itself from the war of attrition midway through the second quarter.

Valley Division Player of the Year Niki Lazar (11 points) swished a 3 to bring the Wildcats to within 15-12 at the 3:50 mark, helping set the stage for a long Moon 3-pointer that gave Neuqua Valley its first lead at 22-19 with 1:17 remaining before the break.

Note: A halftime ceremony recognized all-conference honorees from both divisions. Kane County Chronicle-area players who earned All-River nods were: St. Charles East’s Kyra Washington; St. Charles North’s Nichole Davidson and Morgan Rosencrants; Geneva’s Janie McCloughan, Sidney Santos and Morgan Seberger, and Frazier and Fruendt.

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