Batavia senior defensive stopper Mike Rueffer spent most of his night Tuesday watching Elgin star Arie Williams hit one shot more improbable than the last on his way to a 32-point night with seven 3-point baskets.
Rueffer, however, got the last laugh.
After the Maroons missed a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left -- Elgin went 0 for 4 at the line in the final minute -- Rueffer scored on a spin move in the lane with 7 seconds remaining, then tipped away two last-ditch passes by Elgin to give Batavia a 55-54 Upstate Eight Conference River Division comeback victory.
In winning for the seventh time in its last eight games, Batavia (9-8, 3-4) overcame Elgin leads of 39-28 in the third quarter and 54-49 with 59 seconds left.
"Obviously Arie Williams is a great player who can hit a shot from anywhere," said senior forward Zach Strittmatter who led Batavia with 16 points and 9 rebounds. "We really focused in the fourth quarter on stopping him and getting our shots and getting to the basket."
The Maroons (9-8, 1-6) never trailed in the second half until Rueffer's basket in the final seconds. The Batavia point guard finished with 9 points, all in the final nine minutes of the game.
"It's definitely something I've grown accustomed to," said Rueffer of his game-winner after also sinking the winning basket in Batavia's season-opener with Kaneland and a couple this summer. "It's more of what I've grown into as a senior leader, they look to me to take those shots. They look for me to get to the rim, attack, make plays and if it's not there look for a dish."
Micah Coffey (12 points) and Jake Pollack (10) joined Strittmatter in double figures, and with 8 points from Luke Horton the Bulldogs' starters scored all 55 of their points.
Batavia held Geneva to 37 points in its previous game, a total Williams nearly matched himself.
"My sophomore year I guarded (former East Aurora all-stater Ryan) Boatright and that's about the extent of what he's got with his ballhandling skills," Rueffer said. "You never know where he's going to go. His first step is pretty much like Boatright's in my opinion. Once he's past you it's pretty hard to get back in front of him."
Elgin had not played since Dec. 29th but looked great early, especially Williams. After Batavia came out hot with a pair of 3-pointers from Pollack and Coffey to take a 13-7 lead, the Maroons scored the next nine points.
Williams was hitting from everywhere, nailing a long 3 to end the first quarter and then three in a row in the second to put Elgin up 26-24. With Batavia sending two defenders at him in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Williams fed Francisco Mari (9 points) for a 3 at the buzzer and a 29-24 halftime lead -- with Williams scoring 17 of his team's 29 points.
Williams stayed just as hot in the third quarter with 10 more points. At that point had hit 7 of his 9 shots from 3, but he did pick up three fouls in the quarter to give him four for the game.
While Williams never came out and played the final 8:45 of the game with the four fouls, he also didn't score again from the field, making 5 of 6 free throws.
Batavia kept cutting into Elgin's lead. Trailing 49-43, buckets from Strittmatter, Horton, Strittmatter and Rueffer brought the Bulldogs within 54-51.
Elgin couldn't get Williams to the line on its next two possessions, and Tanner Bednar missed 2 free throws with 51 seconds left. After Strittmatter's putback brought the Bulldogs within 54-53, Eric Sedlack missed a pair of free throws with 18.4 remaining to set up Rueffer's game-winner on a play Batavia had designed for Coffey who was denied the ball by Williams.
"If they are going to put two guys on him (Williams) other guys have to step up," Elgin coach Mike Sitter said. "Tanner and Eric have been good free-throw shooters all year."
Rueffer knocked a pass to Williams out of bounds with .6 seconds left, then broke up a lob pass at the buzzer to end the game.
"We played well on the road in the Upstate Eight, we just didn't finish the game," Sitter said. "We shot free throws great the entire game until the last couple minutes. If you can't get a stop late defensively and if you can't hit free throws you don't deserve to win games in conference. That's what it comes down to."
After making just 13 of 35 shots from the field through three quarters, Batavia made 9 of 13 in the fourth.
"The last three minutes we played flawless and we needed some breaks," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said.
"Mike is a very confident kid. He always has control of the game."
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