ST. CHARLES – Nate Navigato finished strong, much as his Geneva boys basketball team is closing the season.
The Vikings defeated St. Charles North, 61-51, on Friday in Upstate Eight Conference River play. The victory in the conference finale landed Geneva (20-5, 8-4 UEC River) in a three-way tie for second place in the conference alongside St. Charles East and St. Charles North, four games behind champion Larkin.
After a lukewarm start in conference play, Geneva was much sharper the second time through league play, reversing the results on both East and North.
“Everyone knows everyone else’s personnel [late in the season] so there are no surprises,” Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. “So really, if you’ve improved, then your situation should be better the second time you play them than the first.”
The North Stars (16-8, 8-4 UEC River) fielded a nontraditional rotation for most of the night, most notably playing without standout senior guard Alec Goetz (illness) for the second half.
North went deep into its large senior class throughout the first quarter as the North Stars adjusted their lineup for senior night. The Vikings pounced for a 13-5 lead at the end of the quarter.
Also upping the degree of difficulty for North, coach Tom Poulin flew into town Friday after spending the week in Florida helping take care of his ailing father.
“I got in, and then came straight here, and then all the sudden Phil’s throwing his 1-3 with a chaser and his box-and-one at you, so we had to kind of go on the fly and try to attack that, but once we got it organized, we showed we could attack those and get high-percentage shots,” Poulin said.
Geneva led, 28-14, at halftime, and especially with Goetz sidelined, it appeared the Vikings might coast to the season split with North. But North junior guard Jake Ludwig helped engineer an inspired push that brought the North Stars within three points twice during the fourth quarter, including on a three-point play by Ludwig that made it 46-43 Geneva with 4:37 to play.
But Navigato kept the North Stars at bay in crunch time, scoring 14 of his 26 points in the fourth on 4-of-4 shooting from the floor, including a trio of 3-pointers, plus three made free throws. Navigato said the Vikings made some offensive tweaks against North’s matchup zone in the late going.
“It got me open, and we had some great looks, out of bounds and just coming down the court,” Navigato said.
Goetz scored two points in the first half before spending most of the third quarter out of sight. He returned to North’s bench late in the third quarter but did not re-enter the game.
“He was really not feeling well at all, and even when he came out and said he could go in the third, his eyes weren’t saying that, so we left him there,” Poulin said.
Chris Parrilli had 14 points for the Vikings while Mike Landi added seven points and six rebounds off the bench.
Ludwig scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half for North. Senior Tyler DeMoss and junior Jack Callaghan added nine points apiece for the North Stars.
Ralston said the Vikings have won 20 games in consecutive seasons for the first time in 32 years.
“Obviously, we hope we have much further to go than this but I think for Geneva this is a big step forward for our program,” Ralston said.