After 724 consecutive games spanning 27 seasons, someone other than Jim Roberts called the shots as Batavia's head basketball coach Wednesday night.
The Jim Nazos coaching era began on a positive note as the Bulldogs rallied for a down-to-the-wire, 47-45 victory over Kaneland in the opening round of the 37th annual Ken Peddy Windmill City Classic.
"It's a first win for everybody," said Nazos, who received numerous congratulatory hugs and handshakes from family, friends and well-wishers after the contest. "It's their senior year, their junior year -- it's all of ours first win."
After Dan Miller's baseline drive resulted in a layup that gave Kaneland a 43-42 lead with 30 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs wasted little time answering the challenge.
Senior guard Mike Rueffer, who scored 8 of his game-high 14 points in the fourth quarter, took the ensuing inbound pass and dribbled past the Knights' defense for the go-ahead layup and eventual three-point play that put Batavia up 45-43 with 26 seconds left.
"We actually drew that up in the huddle," said Rueffer. "Our post was supposed to go all the way up and clear out to give me the side to operate on. I saw the weakside guy had his head turned and I just went with it."
The Knights were unable to get off a potential game-tying shot attempt, as Rueffer came up with the loose ball and made a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 4-point advantage.
John Pruett's uncontested layup at the buzzer closed out the scoring.
"We ran a play and we didn't really run it right," said Knights coach Brian Johnson. "We got in the paint and they did a nice job of collapsing. We thought we had somebody open but we just didn't make a good pass.
"I wish we could have executed a little better down the stretch but Rueffer is a heck of a player," added Johnson. "He took control of the game at the end like a senior guard should do. He had a great fourth quarter but I liked the fight my guys had in them. Yeah, we made some mistakes but I can live with those mistakes when we play hard on the floor."
Tyler Carlson paced the Knights with 13 points, while sophomore Connor Fedderly added 9.
Batavia's Jake Pollack had 10 points before turning his ankle midway through the fourth quarter, while Zach Strittmatter added 8 points and 8 rebounds.
"We stuck with things that we were doing and didn't panic," said Nazos, whose team utilized a patient motion offense and played man-to-man defense throughout. "I thought we did a real nice job in the fourth quarter of not panicking defensively or offensively."
Kaneland misfired on 8 of its first 9 shots from the field and fell behind 9-2 after 1 quarter before outscoring the Bulldogs 19-12 in the second period to draw even at 21-21.
The score remained deadlocked at 34-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
"It's definitely a good win -- there wasn't really any one person who stood out," said Rueffer. "We wanted to get one for Coach Nazos -- his first win. That was kind of a secret for him."