ELMHURST– There is something about overtime games that brings out the best in Batavia senior Riley Cooper.
That’s especially true when the opponent is Wheaton North.
Cooper, who tossed the game-winning touchdown pass in Batavia’s 21-14 overtime win over Lake Zurich in the Class 7A state championship game, was at it again on the hardwood Saturday.
The 5-foot-10 point guard scored four of his 14 points in overtime to lead the Bulldogs to a 62-60 victory over Wheaton North in the third place game of York’s 44th annual Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
Batavia (11-3) thus earned its highest finish ever in the tournament. The Bulldogs had never before reached the semifinals until they upset previously unbeaten Naperville North on Dec. 28.
“It means a lot to the team getting as far as we did,” Cooper said. “Beating a team like Naperville North was a great team win.
“I think we played well and got better and better as the tournament went on. Our chemistry really grew throughout this tournament.”
The chemistry was already solid, having been forged on the football field. Thirteen Bulldogs play both sports and have, as Cooper pointed out, beaten Wheaton North in both.
“Second round of the (football) playoffs we played Wheaton North and we beat them pretty much the same, in overtime (20-17),” Cooper said. “We love playing for each other and with each other.”
Indeed, Batavia bounced back from a semifinal loss to Brother Rice with an impressive team effort.
Senior guard Eric Peterson, who caught a pair of touchdown passes from Cooper in the football state championship game – and the game-winner against Wheaton North – tallied 13 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, including three free throws which gave the Bulldogs a 57-55 lead late in regulation.
Sophomore forward Jayden Johnson added 16 points, but overtime was Cooper’s time. He sank two free throws to put Batavia ahead to stay and followed with a driving layup to make it 61-57 with 1:21 left.
“I kind of just put it on myself,” Cooper said. “Eric was great for us all night being a scorer, Jayden played well and so did the team, but I was just driving into the lane getting to the line where we excel. I was just looking to make plays for my team.”
Cooper has done so with stunning frequency this season, his first as a varsity starter.
“He has come as far as anybody in one year from last year at this point to this year,” Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. “It is his overall mentality.
“We always start of the summer looking to see who takes what (role) and he grabbed that point guard spot with both hands and he did very well. He handles it.
“People sometime think they can pressure him, but he gets it out and gets it to people in good spots. He might not be flashy about it but he just gets the job done.”
The Bulldogs got it done even though the Falcons (6-7) got a massive effort from 6-7 center Josh Sorenson, who poured in a game-high 27 points. Sorenson sunk 8-of-9 shots from the floor and all nine of his free-throw attempts before fouling out with 52 seconds left in regulation.
“Outside of Sorenson, we did a pretty good job of getting out to all their shooters,”said Cooper, who also had four steals and four rebounds. “I think our overall intensity was much higher because it was a game that we wanted after a loss last night.”
Nazos has learned to expect an intense effort from Cooper, who does not plan to play sports in college.
“He treats his sports like it’s the world,” Nazos said. “He doesn’t cheat them.”