Two weeks ago St. Charles North had a golden opportunity to hand Batavia its first Upstate Eight Conference River Division loss, letting a 49-44 fourth-quarter lead slip away on the road.
The North Stars found themselves in nearly an identical situation Thursday on their home court, up 50-44 and Batavia in the middle of an ugly five-minute fourth-quarter scoreless drought.
Shea Bayram finally ended that stretch with a baseline jumper with 1:25 left, and Liza Fruendt was fouled shooting a 3-pointer on Batavia's next trip. Fruendt hit all three free throws, and the Bulldogs were within 50-49 with 52 seconds left.
This time the North Stars finished. Instead of holding the ball and waiting to be fouled, Nichole Davidson split through Batavia's defense for a layup and a 3-point lead.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over, and after the North Stars missed a 1-and-1, Davidson back-tapped the rebound. Ashling Davern sank a game-clinching free throw with 5 seconds left for a 53-49 victory.
"Early in the year I don't think we would have won that game," North Stars coach Sean Masconcup said. "Just a great overall team win, 1 through 14. They are really buying in right now. The girls just played tremendous defense. That's where it all starts."
St. Charles North (13-11, 7-4) handed Batavia (17-8, 9-2) a crushing loss in the conference race. A Bulldogs win would have clinched a share of the title with a chance to win it outright Saturday at Streamwood.
Now if Batavia and Geneva both win Saturday, they will share the River championship at 10-2. Batavia is looking for its first conference title since the 2007-08 season.
"It's our biggest accomplishment all season," said North Stars sophomore Morgan Rosencrants, who scored 18 of her game-high 20 points in the first half. "We were looking forward to this all week. We practiced and trained so hard for it and my team couldn't be more proud of each other. It definitely earned us a lot of respect especially with us being the nine seed (in Class 4A Addison Trail sectional) and them being the third seed."
Davern again drew the defensive assignment of face-guarding Fruendt wherever she went. The Missouri State-bound senior, averaging 25.5 points a game, led Batavia with 17, the second-fewest points she's scored this year.
Two of Fruendt's four lowest-scoring games have come against the North Stars who are doing everything they can to keep the ball out of her hands.
"There weren't many adjustments at all," Davern said. "It was the same plan because we knew if we executed a little better this time we'd be able to get the win. I was able to play so hard because my teammates were behind me the entire game and whenever I got caught on screens my teammates were right there to help. She's such a great player and has done so much over the course of her career. It was a competitive game out there that's for sure."
Batavia scored 17 points before Fruendt took her first shot. Erin Bayram got off to a hot start, hitting a couple long jumpers just inside the 3-point line while scoring 10 of Batavia's first 14 points.
But the senior didn't attempt another shot until the fourth quarter and didn't score again.
"We talked about after the quarter we don't want their big three to go off," Masconcup said. "They have three girls who are very good basketball players. We said make somebody else beat us."
The Bulldogs built their biggest lead at 22-15 on a corner 3 from Fruendt. As hot as Bayram was for Batavia, Rosencrants kept answering for the North Stars. She and Davidson scored their team's first 17 points.
Rosencrants tallied 8 points in a 10-0 run that gave the North Stars a 25-22 lead. Like Davidson, she picked up her second foul moments later and sat the rest of the half.
Hannah Frazier and Fruendt both picked up their third fouls in the second quarter. Fruendt's came on a charge with 8.6 seconds left, and the teams went to halftime tied at 31.
Masoncup's strategy to sit his players with two first-half fouls paid off in a 14-3 run to start the third quarter that opened a lead the North Stars held the rest of the way. Davidson scored the first 6 points of the second half as the North Stars surged to a 37-31 lead. Rosencrants had 3 of her 5 steals in the quarter.
"My philosophy is if we have the lead or we are within four I sit them (with 2 fouls)," Masconcup said. "There's no point to getting their third because then they can't play aggressive in the second half. And we're such an aggressive team the last thing I want to do is get a girl picked up her third."
Trailing 45-34, Batavia scored 10 straight -- 8 points from Frazier -- to get within 45-44 early in the fourth quarter. But Batavia then went cold -- making just 2 of 12 shots in the fourth with 6 turnovers -- and never caught up.
Batavia made just 13 of 24 free throws (54 percent) to the North Stars' 17 of 25. Take away Fruendt's 7-for-7 at the line and the Bulldogs were 6 of 17; take away Fruendt and Frazier's 6 of 10 and the rest of Batavia went 0 for 7.
The Bulldogs opened the game with a 22-point first quarter, then scored 9 points in each of the next three.
What looked to be a breeze to the conference title at 8-0 last Saturday has now hit two big bumps, first against St. Charles East and now the North Stars.
"I told the girls we've earned a little respect but that means there's a target on our backs and we have to prove we're as good as our seed or our place in conference," Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. "We've had a couple tough games. We struggled inside again with our layups."
Frazier added 12 points and 7 rebounds while Davidson scored 14 points and freshman Sami Sample added 7 off the bench for the North Stars.
Batavia will now become St. Charles North fans when the North Stars host Geneva on Saturday. St. Charles North has lost just once at home this season.
"The girls have shown through the year they can play with anybody," said Masconcup, noting 9 of their of 11 losses are to Top 25 teams. "Our big thing is we defend our home court. We've got a big challenge with Geneva. They are huge and they kicked our tails last time. We're on a roll, we are really hitting our stride and I wouldn't want to play us."