VILLA PARK – As she finishes her high school career, Batavia's Ava Sergio is finishing better than ever.
And she knows it.
Sergio, a 6-foot-1 senior, can remember the days when she wasn't so strong at going up strong.
"I used to miss bunnies really bad," said Sergio, a Winona State recruit. "I think I've mastered how to compose my body in the air instead of just falling."
She provided the latest sample of that Monday.
When Sergio was on the court, she was dominant – scoring 15 points to power Batavia. But foul trouble, and a disputed fifth foul, proved costly in a 46-42 loss to Fenwick at the 29th Coach Kipp's Hoopfest at Willowbrook.
Sergio fouled out with 2:30 left, and Batavia (11-12) trailing 41-38, a call that prompted howls of protest from Bulldogs coach Kevin Jensen.
"Especially in a game like that, you want the stars in a shootout," Jensen said.
Sergio, and Fenwick's 6-foot freshman Elise Heneghan indeed starred in an impressive back-and-forth in the post.
Heneghan scored 19 points, including six straight in the teeth of the fourth quarter, and drew Sergio's fifth foul.
Sergio scored 10 points in the first half, boosting Batavia to a 19-16 lead. But she picked up her third foul with 3:01 left in the second quarter, and Fenwick surged ahead 23-21. Sergio was limited to 23 minutes for the game.
"I had trouble playing hard defense because they were really calling everything," Sergio said. "I had to stand straight up, I couldn't be really physical."
The foul trouble, though, hardly stunted her rhythm.
Sergio picked up right where she left off after halftime, scoring four points in the third quarter. When she gets an opponent on her hip, a basket seems automatic.
"I've learned to be aware where my defender is and use it to my advantage," Sergio said. "I've practiced going low with my legs and going straight up."
It's allowed Sergio's performance to soar.
With Colgate recruit Geddy Rerko sidelined since mid-December, Sergio has stepped up big-time. She scored a combined 53 points in back-to-back games at Montini at Christmas, and hasn't stopped since.
Jensen has a simple explanation why.
"It's a confidence thing," Jensen said. "She's confident that when she gets the ball she's going to score. There will be some that rim out, or she doesn't get a call, but I really think she's just confident."
Jensen has talked Sergio up on how good her feet are, key to any post player. She may not be terribly fast, but the feet are quick.
"She has good quick feet, and I told her to just stay down, and she believes in that," Jensen said. "She's worked on it so much so hard. Physically she's improved too, but it's her belief and her confidence. And it's different when you're a senior."
The Bulldogs, to their credit, hung in there even without Sergio.
Hailey Orman's 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter sent Batavia into the fourth ahead 32-31. Erin Golden, who scored 14 points, hit a runner with 6:02 left to give the Bulldogs their final lead, 35-33.
But Fenwick senior guard Gianni Ortiz, who scored 14 points in a career game, answered with her own clutch three to give the Friars (19-7) the lead for good.
Then Ortiz forced an enormous tie-up with 59.1 seconds left and Fenwick holding on to a three-point lead.
"Gianni very rarely scores much, and today she came up huge – and played with confidence," Fenwick coach Dave Power said. "By far the best game of her career. She was fantastic."
Batavia had one last chance in the final minute, but Heneghan stole a pass.
"It hurt [having Sergio out]," Jensen said, "but the thing is we had a lot of girls do good things still. Hailey hit a clutch three, Allison [Newberry] played great defense. Even when we went small we managed to handle their high lows. A lot of kids made great plays."
Jensen hopes to get another great player, Rerko, back in the next week, but made no promises.
"It's tricky," Jensen said. "I almost try to think about it less, not as much as I can."