Batavia girls basketball coach Kevin Jensen sent his team a very loud and clear message at halftime Saturday.
Play. Better. Defense.
"That was the discussion at halftime," Jensen said. "It was one-sided and the volume was up a little."
Jensen's players listened and, more importantly, went out and executed what their coach told them to. The Bulldogs turned things around in the second half with their defense -- and with the usual game-changing scoring of senior standout Liza Fruendt -- and then held on at the end to beat Streamwood 46-45 and claim a share of the Upstate Eight Conference River Division championship.
The Bulldogs (18-8, 10-2) officially share the division title with Geneva but by virtue of its two wins over Geneva, Batavia will host Valley Division champ Neuqua Valley next Friday night in the unofficial UEC title game. Neuqua beat Batavia 71-57 at the Montini Christmas tournament.
The conference title is Batavia's first since 2007-08.
"We finished 10-2 in what I think is a pretty solid conference," Jensen said. "Going 10-2 in any conference is something to be proud of. Now we have a week to get ready for the crossover with Neuqua."
Fruendt scored a game-high 21 points for the Bulldogs, including her team's first 11 points of the third quarter that helped the Bulldogs climb out of a 29-20 halftime hole. She also had 5 steals on the day.
"We just did what we had to do," said the Missouri State recruit, whose sister Sara was a sophomore the last time Batavia won a conference title. "The first half we played the way we lost those two (conference) games, but the second half was more like we've played when we've had success. It wasn't the prettiest way to do it but we needed that win.
"Erin (Bayram, the only other senior on the team) and I go out as conference champs and the underclass players are part of a championship team so they know now what it takes."
It wasn't so much the Bulldogs' defense in the first half as it was Streamwood's hot hand, especially that of senior guard Holly Foret. She went 4-for-6 from 3-point range, scoring 14 of her team-high 18 points in the first 16 minutes as the Sabres (11-12, 6-6) built a 29-20 lead at the break.
"They were on fire," Jensen said of the Sabres. "But our defense picked up in the second half and fortunately we were able to hold on."
Fruendt started the comeback by opening the third quarter with a layup then a quick steal in the frontcourt that she turned into a basket at the other end to draw the Bulldogs within 5, 29-24, just 44 seconds into the third quarter. After senior Hannah McGlone made 2 free throws to put Streamwood up 31-24, Fruendt hooked in a layup. hit a 3-pointer and then made 2 free throws to tie the game at 31 with 4:40 left in the period.
A Hannah Frazier basket gave Batavia a 33-31 lead but a three-point play from McGlone put the Sabres back on top 34-33. Then, with 2:40 left in the third, Batavia took the lead for good on a basket from freshman Mackenzie Foster. Batavia carried a 39-34 lead into the fourth quarter. Streamwood eventually cut the lead to 46-45 on a McGlone basket with 46 seconds left but at that point the Sabres had only committed 2 fouls in the half. They spent the rest of the game chasing Batavia around the court trying to get the Bulldogs into the bonus, which never happened. Streamwood committed its sixth foul with 10.8 seconds left to play but Fruendt avoided all defenders and dribbled out the final eight seconds.
"It scares you a little because the out-of-bounds plays can be stressful," said Jensen.
Erin Bayram added 11 points for the Bulldogs, who shot 18-for-47 for the game but were outrebounded 29-22 despite holding McGlone to 4 boards.
Junior Kiana Jeremiah added 16 points for Streamwood and McGlone had 9 but with the exception of 2 free throws from freshman Jenejha Williams, no other Streamwood player scored. The Sabres finished shooting 16 of 36 after going 11-for-18 in the first half. They also committed 10 turnovers in the fateful third quarter.
"Nobody's happy, nobody's smiling," said Streamwood coach George Rosner of his team. "They wanted this game and they wanted to win it. The third quarter got away from us. We expected (Batavia) to make a good run and if we could have made a couple layups it might have gone a different direction. But we came right back and never let them get comfortable and I'm really proud of the effort. We were right there the whole game."
The Sabres will go for Rosner's 398th career win on Monday at Addison Trail before coming home Thursday to host Metea Valley on UEC crossover night.
53-32 Batavia on Jan. 11
Batavia -- 07-08 last title