ELMHURST – A tough in-conference loss to St. Charles North prior to the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic may have done Batavia more good than harm, at least in the interim.
While it hurt obviously in the standings, it forced the Bulldogs to re-group heading into a tournament they have made two consolation bracket appearances in past years. Following the Bulldogs' 60-46 triumph over Highland Park on Wednesday night, they're now in uncharted waters.
"This is as far as we've ever gotten [on the championship bracket] side," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said.
Batavia (9-2) advanced to play Naperville North in Thursday's quarterfinal at York.
The Bulldogs' continued best performance at the Tosh didn't come easily, but senior guard Eric Peterson displayed his usual high-level two-way play to keep an upstart Highland Park squad at arms' length.
Peterson, typically guarding the Giants' best scorer, Ziv Tal, frustrated the creative guard inside and outside, which forced others to pick up the scoring load. He also scored a team-high 17 points for Batavia.
"We knew [Tal] could shoot and drive, so a big part of it was just me staying focused the entire time, staying in front of him [and] not letting him get other looks," Peterson said.
Highland Park's Daniel Michelon led all scorers with 19 points, and Tal had seven. Following Peterson, Riley Cooper and Kyle LeFevre both popped in 13 points apiece and Blake Carlson chipped in eight points for Batavia.
Highland Park (5-5) jumped out to a pair of six-point leads in the second quarter, but LeFevre and Peterson flashed the hot hand in a hurry. LeFevre knocked down a pair of threes and a jumper, while Peterson hit a pair of free throws to inch the Bulldogs trailing by one, 25-24 at the half.
"Props to [Batavia's] defense," Tal said. "They were beating us up pretty well, and when things start to go not your way – in the first half they were going our way, in the second half, they [weren't]. Credit to them for playing unbelievable defense, and they got the result they wanted."
After trading threes to open the half, Batavia re-gained the lead. Blake Carlson's offensive rebound and score made it 29-28, and the Bulldogs did not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.
Highland Park's Jonny Koenig made a three to open the fourth quarter, but Peterson fired one right back to keep the six-point lead. Later on, Michelon converted on a pair of layups, plus the foul to give the Giants a chance down three at 47-44. But Cooper connected on a three and free throws down the stretch to preserve what he feels is the Bulldogs' best showing this season.
"As a team, I think that's our best game all year," Cooper said. "We don't play selfish. We look for open looks, we just have great team chemistry."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated a player's scoring results. The story has been updated to reflect the change