Geneva coach Phil Ralston and Saturday's top scorer Chris Parrilli both spoke of seeking legitimacy in their game against Neuqua Valley. The Vikings found it.
The two best teams at the 48th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament battled for a berth in Monday's tournament championship. Unlike last season when Neuqua won by 20 points on the way to the title, resilient Geneva beat the Wildcats 60-55, holding Neuqua under 60 for the first time in eight games, since Nov. 27.
Considering Hall of Fame coach and program founder Todd Sutton has led Neuqua to seven regional titles and two Elite Eight finishes in 15 seasons, Ralston accurately called it "one of those quality wins." He hopes for another in the title game, 7:15 p.m. Monday against East Aurora.
"We knew that the road (to the East Aurora championship) was going through Neuqua," Ralston said. "Not that we've won anything yet, we haven't, but we really felt that it was important that we win this game.
"It's a team that's in our sectional," he said. "I think Neuqua is one of those teams that could easily get a top-four seed. You beat a team like Neuqua, now you've given some legitimacy to your record. And that's kind of what we were looking at."
Ralston and Parrilli, who scored a game-high 24 points, both credited the scout team -- "the end of our bench," Ralston said -- with preparing the rotation to run effective offense against the Wildcats and also contain them defensively.
"They weren't allowing us to set good screens," said Neuqua Valley forward Elijah Robertson, who capped his team-high 16 points with a putback dunk that was academic, with 0.9 seconds left.
"It was real difficult to get into our offense and set screens on each other to get our shooters open. Even driving to the basket was a challenge, with their length and everything," he said.
That wasn't quite the case when Neuqua (9-3) sprang to a 12-3 lead on Demond George's pullup jumper with 3:40 left in the first quarter. In one of several key runs, Geneva (11-3) scored the next 6 points as Pace Temple, Nate Navigato and Cam Cook combined to go 6 of 6 from the foul line.
"We just knew it would come around for us," Parrilli said.
Although Geneva shot 4 for 17 in the first half the Vikings used a 12-0 run, capped by a Temple 3, to go up 23-21 at halftime. Geneva was seriously pressured but never again trailed.
"They shut us down the second quarter, we couldn't make a shot," Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said of 3-of-15 shooting in the quarter.
Jacob Eminger's floater had Neuqua within 37-35 after three quarters, but Geneva started the fourth on an 8-0 run behind a three-point play by Navigato -- limited to 11 points by Neuqua's Connor Raridon -- a layup by Parrilli and a Parrilli 3.
Geneva weathered another storm after being assessed a technical that saw Neuqua run off 6 straight points. Then with 3:38 to play George stole the ball and scored the last of his 13 points on a layup to come within 47-45.
Cook then converted a three-point play and a 3-pointer to spread the margin to 53-47. Parrilli and Navigato combined to go 6 of 6 from the line over the next two minutes to earn that quality win.
"We knew this was a big one and we knew we'd have to give it our all and they're a great team," Parrilli said. "We really buckled down this week and made sure we were prepared well and focused and executed everything perfectly."