GENEVA – Nobody knows how to lie in the weeds like the Batavia boys tennis team.
For the third straight year, the Bulldogs overcame a point differential entering the Upstate Eight Conference River Tournament to emerge as conference champions, narrowly inching past St. Charles East and St. Charles North on Saturday to post the three-peat.
Batavia lost to both East and North in conference dual meets.
"We see this every year," Bulldogs coach Brad Nelson said. "We see a team that in the regular season, they dominate somebody, and then you come out in the tournament and it's totally different. It happens in all sports. You have to be ready to play all the time and you have to believe, even if you lose, that you can go out there and get it done, and our guys believed it, and we've been believing it for three years now."
Batavia will finish with either 67 or 68 team points as a third-place match between Batavia and Larkin at No. 2 singles – a potential casualty of the tournament being condensed to one, longer day because of Friday's postponement – might be made up Monday due to a prom-related conflict for Batavia. St. Charles East (66) finished a tight second and St. Charles North (65) – unbeaten in UEC River dual meets during the regular season – landed in third. Geneva, which hosted doubles play while North hosted singles, finished fourth in the seven-team event with 47 points.
Batavia won championships at No. 3 singles, No. 1 doubles and No. 3 doubles despite entering the tournament with no top seeds in any of the seven brackets.
Batavia's No. 1 doubles team of senior Ryan Sterling and junior Adam Maris (28-3) absorbed a sound beating from St. Charles North's Grant Spellman and Aaron Amburgey during their dual meet but Sterling and Maris regrouped in resounding fashion to top North's duo for the No. 1 doubles title, 6-3, 6-3.
"What we saw especially in our [regular season] match and then when we were off so quick we got to see some of our other teammates, every North doubles team pinched the middle, so we were like 'Alright, we'll just go down the line,' " Maris said. " … If we couldn't hit the ball down the line we'd have been in trouble but we were able to hit them, and it seemed to get them off their game a little bit."
Sterling was blunt in taking accountability for the dual meet loss to North.
"Last time we played them, my returns were trash," Sterling said. "This time, I thought I brought a better return to the whole match and I was able to bring them down the line. … And I think this time we had a lot better lobs because last time we kept hitting them short. And we were moving back so they couldn't hit their volleys at our feet."
Batavia's other doubles title came at No. 3 courtesy of a pair of sophomores – Emerson Hinzy and Andrew Nelson, coach Nelson's son. They won their title match against North's Brady Goldsworthy and Peter O'Brien, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2. Hinzy and Nelson improved to 27-4 on the season as they avenged two of their four losses during the tournament, against St. Charles East and North.
The Bulldogs' lone singles conquest came at the No. 3 spot as the heavy-hitting James Carr won a three-setter against St. Charles East's Nick Stellon.
East senior Jasper Koenen improved to 20-0 on the season, rolling to the No. 1 singles championship in yielding one one game apiece in a semifinal win against North's Matt Ernst and the final versus Batavia's Tim Murat.
Quirkily enough, Koenen could become a four-time sectional champion next weekend despite winning only his first conference singles crown Saturday. Koenen lost to North's John Mittvick as a freshman, Batavia's Josh Cogan as a sophomore and missed last year's conference meet due to a conflict before going on to finish fourth in the state.
Koenen said close friends and East soccer players T.C. Hull and Cooper Macek made sure he was aware his Saints resume had a missing bullet point.
"We all have a class together and we're all good friends and the whole year they were saying 'You've got to get your conference title, we're two-time conference champs so you've got to get yours,' " Koenen said. "So this is for them. I texted them right after the match 'I won conference.' All season they motivated me and encouraged me that it was missing from my accomplishments in high school tennis so this is definitely for them because they've given me kind of a hard time for it."
North's singles title Saturday came at No. 2 as Matt Kramer held his top seed in topping crosstown opponent Matt McCarthy, 6-4, 7-5.
North also prevailed at No. 2 doubles behind seniors Mitch Riggs and Keith Hedges, who fended off a three-set challenge from Batavia's Jeff Lorden and Josh Boyle.
"It actually means a lot," Riggs said. "I've actually lost in the conference tournament to Batavia my sophomore and my junior years so this year I was not going to let that happen again. I was determined to come out here and win for my first time."
The No. 4 doubles championship went to East's Stefan Cvarkovic and Chris Horn, who rallied from a first-set loss to beat North's Luke Dunteman and Trevor Kurtzhals, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.