St. Charles North defenders often encroached on Hannah Frazier’s working space in the post during the Batavia girls basketball team’s regular-season finale Thursday.
Some Bulldogs opponents can duplicate that strategy for a quarter or more. Others execute it for longer, although few successfully bear down for the balance of a game.
At any rate, Batavia knows other teams are mindful of Frazier’s prowess and dare anyone else to beat them. Since joining the starting lineup during Batavia’s first meeting with North in January, junior forward Jess Koch has responded as a much-needed secondary scoring option.
Now she’s intent on matching that effort in the Class 4A postseason, which begins for Batavia (15-14) with Tuesday’s IHSA Class 4A Addison Trail Regional semifinal against South Elgin (18-9).
“I feel lots more confident, and I think I’ve been playing better since coach [played] me more,” Koch said. “I just go in and do my thing.”
For Koch, that equates to shuttling back and forth between the perimeter and her midrange game.
Entering Thursday, she led Batavia with a 32.7 shooting percentage from 3-point range while averaging 5.08 points a game, a figure that resided in the middle of the race for the Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer behind Frazier (21.9), a junior.
Point guard Bethany Orman (5.88) and forward Shea Bayram (4.68), also juniors, have vied with Koch for the runner-up distinction. Unlike Koch, both are returning starters.
Bayram also is the younger sister of 2014 Batavia graduate Erin Bayram, a Boston University freshman and the best friend and former longtime running mate of four-year Bulldogs standout Liza Fruendt, now at Missouri State.
Erin Bayram and Fruendt still figure prominently on the Bulldogs’ team website design, making it easy for Koch and Co. to channel their memories, too.
“I knew some people had to step up, because this year we lost two dominant players, and someone had to do it,” Koch said. “I just got in the right mindset and told myself I can do it.”
Koch scored a career-high 18 points in a Jan. 24 victory at Streamwood, then was strong again less than two weeks later, contributing 17 points in a home win against Larkin.
Both the Sabres and Royals struggled during the regular season, but Bulldogs coach Kevin Jensen knows Koch has proven herself throughout a challenging schedule behind a two-way mindset.
“She’s a scorer, and we needed more of that,” Jensen said. “And she’s picked up her defense to where if she’s in, she’s not going to hurt us anywhere. She’s done a great job lately.”
More competitive practices have helped boost Koch’s confidence and resolve.
Sixteen Batavia players dress, a high during Jensen’s four seasons.
“When we’re doing 5-on-5 stuff, we can go as hard as we can and then we can sub in girls, we can switch up during the rotation,” Bayram said.
For the past five weeks, Koch has been elated to be part of Batavia’s starting five.
No matter the duration of Batavia’s postseason run, she doesn’t plan on relinquishing her spot.
Koch remains equally confident in her teammates, whether their roles come as scorer, stopper or somewhere in between.
“We’re just going to practice hard and then play our hearts out in the regional game,” she said.
Best first-round matchup: Batavia vs. South Elgin at 4A Addison Trail Regional, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The teams didn’t meet in an Upstate Eight Conference crossover but crossed scouting paths during the Montini Christmas tournament. The Storm’s backcourt is stocked with Kellehers who can score. Delaney Kelleher is a 5-foot-10 senior; Mackenzie Kelleher is a 6-1 sophomore.
Best potential regional final: St. Charles East vs. St. Charles North at 4A St. Charles North Regional. Yup, the Saints earn first-mention rights here as the better seed – No. 4 to No. 5 – even though the North Stars held serve on their home floor when the teams met last month in Upstate Eight Conference River Division play. East won at home in December as the teams split the regular-season series. The school that takes the potential rubber match Friday would advance to the Geneva Sectional, needing an additional win to set up a possible clash with the host Vikings for the sectional crown.
Best bet to win a regional: Geneva at 4A Lake Park Regional. The Vikings return three starters from last season’s Class 4A fourth-place finish – sophomore center Grace Loberg and seniors Janie McCloughan (forward) and Abby Novak (wing) – and spent much of the regular season cultivating their depth. Another winter of injury woes forced the issue. Seeded second in their own sectional, the Vikings healed down the stretch, closing out the schedule against struggling U-46 foes while bracing for a hopeful run into March.
Potential dark horse: St. Francis. Coach Mike Phillips’ club, the sixth seed in the 3A Orr Sectional and part of the Nazareth Academy Regional, flirted with 20 regular-season wins behind a young, versatile rotation. Energetic freshman forward Antwainette Walker adds plenty of intrigue and was well-tested in the season’s first three months, including memorable tangles with Aurora Christian rebounding ace Natasha Brown.