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Article updated: 2/1/2014 11:03 PM
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Larkin clinches share of UEC River title
 

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Larkin clinches share of UEC River title
 

Larkin completed the St. Charles sweep Saturday night, and in the process the Royals claimed a River repeat.

With their 62-55 win at St. Charles North on Saturday -- after beating St. Charles East 64-55 on Thursday -- the Royals clinched at least a share of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship.

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Larkin was fairly subdued on the court following the win, but the celebration got going once the Royals got to their locker room.

"Back-to-back doing that two years, where this program was five years ago when we all came together, I don't ever want them to take that for granted," Royals coach Deryn Carter said. "We get really low when we lose but then you have to get really high when you win. I just wanted to make sure our guys knew the magnitude of what they did for our school, our program, winning back-to-back conference championships."

Senior Kendale McCullum led all scorers with 20 points. A three-year varsity player, McCullum can remember a time not so long ago that wasn't so bright.

"It means a lot knowing my freshman year we started 4-26 and then we got better each year," McCullum said. "So it feels good knowing we are bringing Larkin back."

The Royals followed that 4-26 season with a 16-14 record McCullum's sophomore year, then 23-7 last year to win the River, and now 18-3 overall so far this winter and 9-0 in conference.

"We're all very proud of ourselves," said freshman Christian Negron, who posted his second straight double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and an exclamation point tip-dunk with a minute left.

"Both (St. Charles) teams are really good. It means a lot to come out and win on the road. We have a lot of good teams in our conference, Geneva, both the St. Charles teams, Batavia. It's a really competitive conference so to win it is just a huge accomplishment."

St. Charles North (12-7, 6-3) held its only two leads in the first quarter, the final time at 10-8 when Jack Callaghan took one of his 5 steals the other way for lay-in.

McCullum followed with an assist to Negron to tie the game, then took a feed from Derrick Streety and swished a 3-pointer and finished with a Euro-step layup as the Royals took a 17-13 lead after one quarter.

Brayden Royse sparked Larkin's 17-7 advantage in the second quarter with three late 3-pointers, including one that beat the buzzer on a pick-and-pop play with Streety, to push the Royals' halftime lead to 34-20.

"He's been shooting better in practice than in a game, but everyone on our team knows he can shoot it," Carter said of Royse's career-high three 3s. "Once he gets it going he's as good of a shooter as we've got. He stepped up big."

Leaving Royse so open capped a quarter full of defensive mistakes for the North Stars that carried to poor shot selection on the offensive end (2-for-12 shooting).

"That stretch was the difference in my mind," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said. "That hurt. Out of everyone on that team that's kind of who you would like shooting, even though he's a quality basketball player, but we'd like him shooting contested shots."

Already down 14 points, the third quarter got off to a rough start for the North Stars when they were hit with a technical foul for dunking during the warm-ups before the second half. Andrew Jones made both free throws, then McCullum tossed an alley-oop that Negron slammed home for a 38-20 lead.

The North Stars fought back, starting on the defensive end forcing 6 third-quarter turnovers. Jake Ludwig, in foul trouble and held scoreless in the first half, and Alec Goetz both scored 6 points in the third quarter.

A 14-2 run brought the North Stars within 40-34. McCullum scored 8 straight Larkin points, and Taylor Boley had a putback as the clock hit 0:00 to keep the Royals up 50-40 after three.

Erik Miller grabbed one rebound after another in the fourth, and the North Stars kept clawing closer. Miller scored on a third-chance basket, and followed by assisting Comden Cotter for a 3-pointer to trim Larkin's lead to 55-49 with 2:10 remaining.

The North Stars got within 5 points twice, and also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could have made it a 4-point game. Negron's dunk and just enough Larkin free throws (6 of 10 in the final 3:06) provided the Royals enough of a cushion, as the North Stars' poor second quarter proved too much to overcome.

"That second quarter, me personally I know I took some bad shots, we were playing street ball," Miller said. "We weren't playing as a team. That second half, if we play like that the whole game, we're unstoppable. We just need to come out faster and stay consistent. You can't dig yourself a whole against Larkin."

Miller and Goetz both scored 14 points to lead the North Stars, and Miller also hustled his way to a game-high 12 rebounds.

"Playing Larkin, I've had a lot of injuries against them," Miller said. "I would say I have a grudge against them, and they are winning conference. I felt I needed to step up, get some boards, do whatever we needed to help the team win, play a little harder."

Streety also reached double figures with 10 points for the Royals, who made 17 of 24 free throws to the North Stars' 5 of 8, and also shot better from the field (47.6 percent to 42.1).

"That says a lot about them," Poulin said of winning at each St. Charles school. "That says a lot about their coaches to have them prepared because that's not easy to beat both of us in three days. That tells you how good they are. There's a reason they are ranked in the state."

Larkin can make it an outright championship by winning any of its three River games.

"We've got three home games, we've got to win one, but our guys, you can see it in their eyes, they want to win all three," Carter said.

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