There will be a distinct Upstate Eight Conference River Division feel to the semifinal round of the 38th annual Elgin Boys Holiday Basketball Tournament.
While Larkin and Elgin staged fourth-quarter comebacks to reach the semifinals, Batavia (5-7) fought off a late challenge from Rockford East to earn a 69-63 quarterfinal victory over the E-Rabs Thursday evening.
Winners of 3 straight games, the Bulldogs punched their own ticket to Friday's semifinals against Larkin with a 47-point second half against the E-Rabs (8-3).
Considering the fact that Batavia had topped the 50-point mark just 4 times in its 11 previous games, the 69-point total was a veritable fireworks show but a much-needed one against the fast-paced E-Rabs.
"They score in bunches," said Batavia coach Jim Nazos. "One of our goals was to eliminate the bunches. They probably scored more than we would like as a team defensively. When we broke pressure, we were able to capitalize on it. And it was different guys at different times."
Junior guard Micah Coffey scored 14 of his team-leading 16 points in the second half and made all 8 of his free-throw attempts for the second consecutive game but the Bulldogs received contributions from several others.
Playing with a broken nose, senior forward Zach Strittmatter had 13 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals.
"I broke my nose last Friday (against Streamwood)," said Strittmatter, who tried wearing a protective mask during pre-game warmups Wednesday before deciding to go without it.
"It was too hard to see out of there so I couldn't wear it," said Strittmatter, whose scoop layup gave the Bulldogs a 60-56 lead with 1:45 remaining.
The Bulldogs also got a big lift off the bench from 6-6 senior post player Mike Carlson, who added 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field to go with 7 rebounds.
"Mike played really well off the bench," said Nazos.
Carlson had a pair of offensive rebound putbacks in the final minute of the third quarter to keep things close after Rockford East's Moise Koshona's rare 4-point play gave the E-Rabs a 42-39 lead.
"Right place at the right time, I guess," said Carlson.
Seven consecutive points from senior guard Jake Pollack (8 points) to open the fourth quarter allowed the Bulldogs to grab a 46-42 advantage.
After a pair of free throws by Jeremy Schoessling made it 56-50 with 3:32 left, Rockford East scored 6 unanswered points to tie the game at 56-56 with 2:20 remaining.
Facing full-court defensive pressure, senior guard Mike Rueffer (8 points, 5 assists, 3 steals) fed Luke Horton (7 points) for the go-ahead layup just 9 seconds later.
"I thought we did a good job down the stretch of taking care of the ball," said Nazos. "They're a team that thrives on turnovers.
"The guy who was kind of unsung was Mike Rueffer taking on as many double-teams as he has," said Nazos. "He may not show up in the points but he gets the ball in the middle to Zach (Strittmatter) or somebody else to finish."
Rockford East's Isaiah Box led all scorers with 20 points, including 5 3-pointers.
"It's a great win against a great team," said Nazos. "I think they'll be a 20-win team this year."
Batavia now looks to even the score against Larkin, which handed the Bulldogs a 56-47 defeat on Dec. 8 in Elgin.
"We're looking forward to playing Larkin again," said Nazos. "They're very good and they can shoot it.