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Call it a learning experience.
Geneva led defending Class 3A state champion Peoria Central by 9 points with 7:14 to play, and by 5 with 3:03 left only to lose 54-49 in the second day of play at the 47th annual East Aurora Holiday Boys Basketball Tournament on Thursday.
Peoria Central capitalized on 5 Vikings turnovers and a trio of missed 3-pointers in the waning minutes to upend a Vikings squad seemingly in control.
"We're right where we wanted to be and we just didn't get it done," said Geneva coach Phil Ralston. "They threw everything including the kitchen sink and our kids just didn't respond very well.
"We had a couple shots that could have gone in. I'm not saying they were bad shots but they didn't go down for us. Then we had two or three really bad turnovers. You can't do that when you're playing good competition and expect to win ballgames — even when you have a nine-point lead."
Edging out from a 39-37 lead after three quarters, Geneva used a three-point play by sophomore forward Nate Navigato, and 4 straight points by junior guard Chris Parrilli to lead 46-37.
Peoria Central (3-6) countered with a mini-run of its own to scramble within 46-45 but Geneva (11-3) sank 3 combined free throws by Pat McCaffrey and Connor Chapman to gain a 49-45 advantage with 3:03 remaining.
A drive by Peoria's Eric Johnson and subsequent steals for layups by Colby Duckworth and Johnson gave the Lions the 51-49 lead with 1:04 to play.
Neither Navigato nor Parrilli were able to connect on 3-pointers in the last minute. Grabbing a defensive rebound and getting fouled, 310-pound Lions center Josh Augusta — who rubbed elbows with the 260-pound Chapman — finished it at the foul line.
"We had the door closed on them," said Navigato, whose 20 points tied Peoria Central senior Myles Boone for game honors. Parrilli scored 11 and both McCaffrey and Jason D'Amico scored 5 points apiece.
"We were that close for us shooting free throws and pulling away. But we made a couple mistakes, turnovers, and they capitalized on it and they got right back in it," said Navigato, who added a team-high 6 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Till those last several minutes Geneva succeeded in frustrating the defending East Aurora champions. Trailing 11-10 after a quarter and 25-21 at halftime, Lions coach Dan Ruffin admonished his players' lack of execution after committing 10 turnovers and making just 5 field goals.
"We made a couple plays and that got it over the hump. We stayed close," Ruffin said. "We didn't know what was going to happen. It was a funny game."
Funny was in the eye of the beholder.
"We had them right where we wanted them," Ralston said. "They were in foul trouble, (we) had a big lead. You can't do that to teams like Peoria Central where you just give them freebies at the other end. And that's what we did."