The Larkin boys basketball team can take a big step toward its first Upstate Eight River title in four years with a win at Batavia on Saturday.
Following Tuesday's 58-53 road victory over defending champion Geneva, the Royals enter weekend play 15-6 overall, 8-0 in the UEC River.
With four league games remaining, Larkin has a 2-game lead on St. Charles North (13-7, 6-2), followed by Batavia (18-6, 5-3) and Geneva (15-9, 5-3).
"We have a chance to go into Batavia and really put a stranglehold on the conference race," said Larkin coach Deryn Carter, whose teams won consecutive league titles in 2012-13 and 2013-14. "We've been talking to the guys about it. They understand that we've still got work to do, but we've put ourselves in good position. We just have to finish it up."
Larkin has been led by senior guard Anthony Lynch who Carter said "has just been on a tear since Christmas" and 6-foot-10 senior Jalen Shaw. Lynch is averaging 19.6 points per game, Shaw 14.
After Saturday's visit to Batavia, the Royals play next Thursday at St. Charles East (13-7, 5-4) and finish with home games against St. Charles North on Feb. 16 and Batavia on Feb. 21.
After Thursday's nonconference matchup against Rockford Lutheran (11-12), Larkin will attempt to solve the defensive riddle presented by Batavia, which has limited its last 10 opponents to 49 points per game. The Bulldogs enter Friday's home game against Streamwood (11-14, 0-8) on a 3-game slide, which followed an 8-game winning streak.
"We'll have to work to get great shots," Carter said. "Because they're so good defensively we're not going to be able to do what we normally do. We're going to have to move the ball a little more and try to get better shots than we're used to getting because they're so disciplined. They do a great job defensively, so I'm definitely worried about that side of the ball."
Carter also stressed the need to guard the 3-point line. Batavia has multiple shooting threats, led by 6-foot-5 sophomore Jayden Johnson (58 of 153), a 41-percent shooter from beyond the arc. Johnson averages a team-best 13.4 points.
Batavia is just as wary of Lynch, Shaw, 3-point sniper Pierre Black and agile point guard Kindrel Morris.
"I think this is the best team they've had and they've had some good teams," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said of the Royals. "They looked really good against Geneva. They have a lot of guys and they share the ball really well. They work the ball as a team, which is why they have no losses in conference yet.
"But they also have guys who can make their own plays at key times: Lynch and Shaw and Pierre Black consistently make shots. And the point guard (Kindrel) Morris is just solid and doesn't make many mistakes. He plays hard and finds guys."
Tough schedule: Larkin's 6 losses have come at the hands of elite competition: Whitney Young, Rockford Jefferson, Uplift, Fenwick, New Trier and Willowbrook. Those teams own a combined record of 103-31 and four sit atop the standings in their respective conferences.
The Royals have one nonconference game left against an elite team. They host Conant (16-6) on Tuesday, Feb. 13. The Cougars won the 32-team Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York in December by beating Brother Rice 54-53 in double overtime.
Third from the top: Burlington Central guard Zach Schutta is third on the school's all-time scoring list, but that's about to change.
The 6-foot-1 senior scored 26 points Tuesday in a 91-46 win over Woodstock North as Central improved to 20-2 overall, 7-0 in the Kishwaukee River Conference.
"Zach has been playing at a different level," Rockets coach Brett Porto said Wednesday.
Entering Thursday's league game at Richmond-Burton (12-11, 4-2), Schutta had scored 415 points this season to raise his four-year varsity total to 1,483. He needed 40 points to become the school's all-time leading scorer.
If Schutta keeps to his 18.9 ppg average, he will pass 2012 graduate Ray Hunnicutt's school record of 1,522 career points in a Feb. 13 home game against Marengo.
Porto credited Schutta and fellow seniors Dejsani Beamon, Michael Kalusa and Will Hough for putting the Rockets in position to win the KRC.
"We have a few seniors who are really leading this team," Porto said. "From game to game they are giving a lot of effort, and that's a good way to be playing this time of year."
Man in the middle: West Aurora coach Brian Johnson had high praise for 6-foot-5 senior forward Jared Crutcher following a 78-66 nonconference victory over Willowbrook (19-4) at Batavia's Night of Hoops last Saturday.
Crutcher finished with 27 points and 16 rebounds. It was the third straight game the Loras College commit was the top scorer for the Blackhawks, who have won eight straight heading into Friday's Upstate Eight Valley game at West Chicago.
"He's playing really, really, really well," Johnson said. "He just alters so many plays and then he's finishing around the bucket, (getting) offensive rebounds, blocked shots, defensive rebounds.
"He's playing at an all-state level, that's for sure. If people slept on him at the college level, they missed out because Loras snagged a good one."