The Larkin boys basketball team looks to run a clean Upstate Eight slate when the Royals host Valley Division champion Neuqua Valley in a conference crossover between first-place finishers on Friday at 7:15 p.m.
River Division champion Larkin (23-3) swept its 12 division games and won 3 contests against Valley schools. In addition to a pair of nonconference wins against South Elgin, the Royals handled Neuqua Valley (19-8, 11-1) in Naperville on Jan. 10, 72-52.
Larkin, which last played on Feb. 15, understands the effort it took to defeat the Wildcats the first time.
"Honestly, that was one of the best games we've had all year," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "It all started on the defensive end. We hunkered down and guarded them and got them out of things."
The Royals were balanced offensively in that game as demonstrated by the scoring production of starters Drew Jones (17 points), Kendale McCullum (13), Derrick Streety (13), Brayden Royse (11) and Christian Negron (10).
The game is a rematch of last year's first-place crossover in which Neuqua Valley finished off a 2-game sweep of the season series against the Royals. Returning the favor is not the underlying factor motivating the Royals, however.
"They got us twice last year but it's not really about payback," Carter said. "It's more about who Neuqua Valley is. That name carries weight because that's one of the best programs in the suburbs.
"I think our guys will be motivated just because it's their last game before regionals and they understand the necessity of playing well when we get on the court.
Crossing over: Upstate Eight Conference crossover mania begins Thursday with matchups between the respective fourth through seventh-place finishers. West Chicago (15-10, 6-6) plays at St. Charles North (16-8, 8-4) in a battle of fourth-place teams. Other matchups include Bartlett (14-13, 4-8) at Elgin (9-16, 4-8), South Elgin (13-14, 4-8) at Batavia (7-16, 2-10), which tips at 6 p.m., and East Aurora (6-19, 2-10) at Streamwood (2-26, 0-12).
Second-place finishers Waubonsie Valley (18-18, 8-4) and Geneva (21-5, 8-4) meet Friday, as do third-place finishers Metea Valley (15-11, 7-5) and St. Charles East (15-11, 8-4).
Seeking a different result: Season-ending crossovers have been unkind to Huntley since the Fox Valley Conference adopted the system for the 2011-12 season.
Four-time FVC Valley champion Huntley (18-7, 10-2) is 0-2 in crossovers against Fox Division champions, a trend it aims to stop in Friday's battle of division winners at Grayslake Central (15-9, 11-1).
Last February, visiting Crystal Lake Central hammered Huntley 54-37 in the first-place crossover game (the FVC does not officially call it a championship game). The Red Raiders stumbled in their ensuing playoff opener, a 53-43 loss to Rockford East.
In 2012, Huntley lost the first-place crossover at Grayslake Central, 52-45, but went on to win a regional title. That Huntley team finally bowed out in a sectional semifinal against Fred Van Vleet and Rockford Auburn.
Coach Marty Manning said he learned a lesson from the inaugural crossover game at Grayslake two years ago.
"I didn't mentally prepare our guys because it wasn't really a championship game," Manning said Wednesday. "I should have maybe pumped it up more so the guys played a little harder because we didn't play with the intensity needed to beat them on their home floor. I've been impressing on our guys that we need to play at a high level."
Crossing over II: Fox Valley Conference crossover action begins tonight with a matchup between fifth-place teams as Crystal Lake South (15-11, 4-8) visits Johnsburg (7-19, 4-8).
In addition to the game between Huntley and Grayslake Central, Friday's six-game schedule includes a matchup between second-place finishers Jacobs (14-13, 8-4) and Hampshire (13-13, 9-3). Also on the docket: Cary-Grove (15-11, 7-5) at Woodstock (12-14, 7-5); Prairie Ridge (16-10, 7-5) at Grayslake North (8-15, 7-5); McHenry (10-15, 3-9) at Woodstock North (6-20, 2-10); and Dundee-Crown (7-17, 3-9) at Crystal Lake Central (3-23, 2-10).
Pushed to the brink: Burlington Central will play at Richmond-Burton Friday for a chance to win a share of its second straight title in the Big Northern East, an unlikely scenario a week ago.
Central (18-7, 8-3) fell 2 games behind league-leading Richmond-Burton (19-7, 9-2) with 2 games to play by virtue of last Saturday's 56-50 loss at Marengo (18-10, 8-3). However, Central got some help from those very same Indians two days later when Marengo prevailed 54-51 in Richmond.
Central triumphed a day later at North Boone to draw back within a game of the division lead, amplifying the importance of Friday's showdown at R-B. Marengo, which has won 4 straight and 7 of 8, can make it a three-way tie for the title with a win at Harvard (11-17, 4-7) coupled with a loss by R-B.
Central defeated Richmond-Burton 70-46 on Rocket Hill on Jan. 10. Senior guard Sean Fitzgerald led the way in the game by sinking 6 of Central's 9 baskets from 3-point range.
"We have to limit our turnovers against their 1-2-2 zone and make sure we're getting good shots out of it," Central coach Brett Porto said. "Our decision making plays a strong part in our game. We have to make good decisions and get set up defensively exactly where we want to be and keep them out of rhythm."
Porto will not attend today's practice, but he has a good excuse. He and wife Lindsey are expecting their second child, a son, who will join his 20-month-old sister. Lindsey is scheduled to be induced Thursday.
"It's the first time I'm missing practice in six years," Porto said. "It's an exciting time."