Always a can't-miss game on the sports calendar, Batavia-Geneva is that much better when the teams are competitive.
After years of one-sided matchups with the Vikings' press making life miserable for their rival, Batavia made the leap Friday from those 30-point losses to as even of a game as you can get.
The Bulldogs led Geneva after the first, second and third quarters only to watch the Vikings come through down the stretch for a 60-56 victory Friday night in Geneva.
"We knew they have a really strong team this year so we were getting pumped up before the game," said Geneva senior Sami Pawlak, who had a double-double in her fist game back from a broken finger.
The teams battled through 22 ties or lead changes. Neither team led by more than 5 points.
"We made plays, we just couldn't quite make enough," Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. "A little tired at the end. Just a good basketball game. We couldn't quite pull it out."
Batavia junior Liza Fruendt put her team on her back at times, the only Bulldog in double figures with a game-high 26 points including a step-back 3 that tied the game for the final time at 52 with 2:26 remaining.
Geneva (5-2, 2-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division) countered with a balanced attack placing four in double figures: Pawlak (13 points, 11 rebounds), Abby Novak (12 points), and Morgan Seberger and Sidney Santos with 11 each.
Playing without point guard Michaela Loebel, Geneva looked nothing like the team that pressed and forced turnover after turnover. Batavia had just 9 in the game; instead the Vikings turned to their dominating inside game and outrebounded Batavia 45-21.
"We're so post-heavy that we should be outrebounding every team we play," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "We talked at halftime that we have to crash, crash, crash."
The Vikings trailed 42-41 entering the fourth quarter. Batavia held its final lead of the night at 44-43 on a pair of Fruendt free throws; Geneva regained the lead moments later when Pawlak found Novak on a backdoor cut.
Pawlak's bucket on a third-chance opportunity gave Geneva a 47-44 lead. Freshman Bethany Orman (9 points) answered with a game-tying 3.
Novak and Fruendt traded baskets, and after Fruendt tied the game moments later at 52 with her long 3, the Vikings went ahead to stay on yet another second-chance basket, this one by Novak.
Jensen pointed to two early fouls on Hannah Frazier and Miranda Grizaffi's trouble with fouls as two factors that hurt Batavia on the glass.
"It was tough," Jensen said. "The foul trouble hurt us. We went real small at times."
Trailing 58-54 with 19 seconds to go, Batavia nearly caught up. Fruendt made 2 free throws, then came up with a steal.
With a chance to tie Fruendt's runner rimmed out, and a putback attempt also missed. Seberger was fouled and made 1 free throw with 4.7 seconds left, then Pawlak rebounded the miss and made another free throw for the game-clinching two-possession lead.
"We were right there," Fruendt said. "We had it in our hands. It's fun though, you wouldn't trade anything for a game like that. We played our hearts out but couldn't finish it at the end."
Meadows pointed to Geneva's improved free-throw shooting (17 of 28) and only 10 turnovers (after averaging 28 in its last three games) as two keys to the win.
Geneva didn't use its traditional diamond press without Loebel, though Meadows said it will return once the Vikings have more practice time and possibly move Pawlak to the top of the press.
"Michaela is a big part of our pressure and we sure miss her but we're not going to let up, we're learning to adjust without her," said Kelly Gordon who chipped in 6 points and 7 rebounds. "The full-court pressure will be back soon. We just need to work out a few kinks."
Batavia (4-3, 1-1) took a 29-25 halftime lead, its hot shooting overcoming Geneva's rebounding and free-throw edge. The Bulldogs hit 11 of 22 shots in the first half to the Vikings' 7 of 25.
Geneva stayed close by outrebounding Batavia 22-12 and getting to the foul line 14 times to Batavia's 3.
Seberger opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, but after that it was all Batavia on the long distance shots. Fruendt and Sami Villarreal (8 points) both made a pair of 3s in the first quarter to put the Bulldogs up 17-13.
Geneva scored the first six points of the second quarter, taking an 18-17 lead on a Santos spin move in the lane for 2.
Fruendt re-entered the game and scored 5 quick points to put Batavia back up 24-20, and reserves Orman (9 points) and Grace Andrews each made a basket to give the Bulldogs a 4-point halftime lead.