St. Charles North coach Sean Masconcup came into Friday night's game at Upstate Eight River leader Batavia with a game plan he came up with watching Kevin Durant play -- which is all you need to know about the senior season Liza Fruendt is having.
Masoncup's plan, "Special, special!" as he repeatedly hollered at his players, had Ashling Davern guarding Fruendt everywhere she went in a diamond-and-1. And if Fruendt ever shook free from Davern, another defender or two would pick up Fruendt and either force the ball out of her hands or make her take a contested shot.
The strategy couldn't have worked much better. A week after scoring 51 points in a win at Geneva, the North Stars "held" Fruendt to 20 points -- 6 below her season average -- and nearly pulled off a shocker.
The North Stars built a 49-44 lead with six minutes left. Batavia, though, had the answer, a quick 8-0 burst to regain the lead for good on its way to a 63-57 win in as intense and at times chippy of a girls basketball game as you will see.
"We had to scratch and claw," Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. "That's (diamond-and-1) what you are going to see as you play good teams and they say 'We are going to shut you down.'"
While Fruendt made all 6 of her free throws she struggled from the field, missing her first 8 field goal attempts before hitting a jumper at the close of the first quarter for a 13-12 lead. The North Stars held her to 6 points in the first half.
"I watched when Texas A&M beat Kevin Durant (at Texas), they did the same type of thing and she's the same type of player," Masconcup said. "She's so stinking quick, she's so strong for a girl and she's got the quickest release I've ever seen including boys. That thing just goes. We knew we had to limit her. We knew we would get a shot if we could limit her."
St. Charles North (10-11, 5-4) certainly had its shot. Batavia (16-6, 8-0) never led by more than 8 points, that coming at 28-20 late in the second quarter.
But Fruendt picked up her third foul moments later, and the North Stars closed the half on a 9-2 run with Fruendt on the bench to pull within 30-29 at halftime.
Both coaches worked the officials hard in the first half, Masconcup asking for push-offs when Fruendt drove and moving screens on Batavia, and Jensen not happy with the physical way the North Stars were defending Fruendt.
Neither coach said anywhere near as much to the refs in the second half.
"We got a little warning," Jensen explained. "I just told the guy I'll try to be respectful but don't snap back at me. There was a lot of contact both ways. There was some stuff they let go and some stuff they were calling.
"For everything I wanted called, Sean wanted other things called. I'm figuring by the end it evened out but I was on the winning side. (Maybe) If I was on the losing side I wouldn't feel that way."
The game was tied three times in the third quarter. Batavia never trailed but also couldn't get any distance. Fruendt connected on her first 3-pointer to open a 43-38 lead, but Davern, Nichole Davidson and Liz McNally combined for 5 free throws to keep the North Stars within 44-43 going to the fourth quarter.
Davidson, who gave Batavia fits all night, got to the line again to open the fourth quarter. Her 2 free throws -- the junior finished 10 of 12 at the line after missing her first two -- put the North Stars ahead for the first time since the first quarter at 45-44.
Morgan Rosencrants and Davidson followed with two more baskets inside, and the North Stars had the momentum and a 49-44 lead with six minutes left.
Bayram started Batavia's comeback with a long baseline jumper. Fruendt followed with one of her 4 steals for a breakaway layup, then it was Baryam's turn for a steal on the next possession that also led to a Fruendt layup and a 50-49 lead.
"For us seniors we had to look everyone in the eye and say 'stay calm, stay focused,'" Bayram said. "That was the two things that would win the game. We just had to play tough 'D' and the offense would take care of itself."
Hannah Frazier made a pair of free throws with 4:10 left to make it 52-49. After Rosencrants scored, Fruendt stepped back and drained a long dagger of a 3-pointer for a 55-51 lead.
The North Stars never got closer than 4 points the rest of the game despite a clutch steal and three-point play on a layup from Rosencrants. Seven fourth-quarter turnovers proved too much to overcome.
"A couple turnovers and this game is a different game," Masconcup said. "I'm excited for the last month of the season. They have heart. They really have heart. Ashling really played hard and I thought the rest of the team played great basketball. They gave everything they had and that's all I can ask for."
Davern credited her teammates for their help on Fruendt.
"My goal was basically to make it as hard as possible to get a shot off," Davern said. "The biggest thing was we knew we had to take Liza out of the game because of her previous games and her previous success. But mainly it was a team effort. I was able to play as hard as I was because I knew my teammates had my back and they would be on my help side the entire time. I'm so proud of how everyone played even though we came up short in the end. Everyone gave it their all and we all played together and I couldn't be proud of my team."
St. Charles North's strategy was aided by Batavia missing starting guard Bethany Orman (concussion) who helps the team's ball movement and shooting when there is so much attention on Fruendt.
Freshman Mackenzie Foster started in her place, and another freshman Stephanie Rodriguez played a lot of key minutes off the bench while finishing with 6 points, 6 rebounds and 2 big free throws with Batavia clinging to a 4-point lead and a minute left.
"She's a competitor," Jensen said of Rodriguez, called up to varsity last week "She plays top-level soccer. She's a very good basketball player. I knew the moment wouldn't be too big for her."
Sophomore Katie Weber also had a breakaway layup off a steal for Batavia, who got 16 points and 11 rebounds from Frazier and 15 points from Bayram.
"A lot of the game we played to their pace but I think in the fourth quarter we played to our pace and that's why we won the game," Fruendt said.
"It's (the North Stars' defense) something I've never experienced before. You have someone completely on you and once I get a step ahead and try to turn the corner to go to the basket they immediately made sure our transition was not going to happen. And that's where I get a lot of my points from is easy transition and turning the corner on people. Credit to them, they scouted that, but we had everybody else step up and it was a good team win."
Davidson led all scorers with 26 points and Rosencrants added 12 points, 10 rebounds and 5 steals.
"I thought we worked as hard as them if not harder," Masconcup said. "I thought we did a great job containing her (Fruendt). We're making extra passes. We're attacking defensive rebounds. I was proud of the girls. I told them we need to compete and we need to be the hardest working team in the gym and I thought we did both those things."