Twenty-two down, seven to go.
Geneva has a few more hurdles to an undefeated regular season -- including Larkin on Friday and trips to Batavia, St. Charles North and Quincy. But the Vikings rose to the challenge once again Saturday night to cross off one of the toughest tests remaining on its schedule, winning 58-47 at St. Charles East.
On the Saints' Hall of Fame night, the Vikings fell behind by 8 points in the second quarter and were locked in a tie game early in the fourth, 38-38. Geneva executed to near perfection over the final seven minutes, outscoring St. Charles East 20-9 to extend the best start in school history.
"This is one of the most unflappable groups I've coached," Vikings coach Phil Ralston said.
Matthew Johnston got the game-deciding run started for No. 2 Geneva (22-0, 7-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference River), sinking a pair of free throws for a 40-38 lead with 7:08 left. The Vikings once again excelled at the line, making 16 of 19.
Johnston then found Mitch Mascari for a 3-point basket in transition, and Cole Navigato sank 2 free throws for a 45-38 lead.
Justin Hardy's dunk and a basket by Nate Ortiz drew No. 12 St. Charles East (12-6, 4-2) within 45-42 with 4:18 remaining.
Johnston once again beat his man off the dribble on a hard drive to the basket, and when help came he dished to Navigato for a conventional 3-point play to put Geneva back up by 6 points.
"We saw they were going under the screens and I knew I could attack that well so I said coach, 'Let's run this and someone has to be open,'" Johnston said. "All Cole needs is a little bit of room to score."
The Vikings continued to pull away over the final minutes. Jack McDonald drove for a layup and assisted Navigato for a basket, and the Vikings did the rest of their damage at the free-throw line.
In addition to shooting 84 percent at the line, the fundamentally sound Vikings turned the ball over only 5 times and outrebounded the Saints 31-21.
"That was a good, tough win," Dom Navigato said. "We did a good job of getting open and meeting our passes. We wanted to limit Hardy taking open shots and make him take contested 2s."
The Saints got off to a good start. When Hardy drove through the lane for a two-hand jam, St. Charles East led 14-9 late in the first quarter, an advantage that grew to 23-15 midway through the second on Hardy's 3.
Geneva responded with a 9-0 run to end the half. Cole Navigato was fouled with .2 seconds on the clock and made both free throws for a 24-23 halftime lead.
The lead changed hands six times early in the third quarter. Zach Mitchell's spin move put the Saints up 27-26, then a few possessions later McDonald had a quick spinning drive of his own that gave Geneva a 30-29 lead.
"Our emphasis was to really attack them inside especially because they were switching so many of our ball screen actions," Ralston said. "We felt we had to attack their mismatches and our kids did a much better job in the second half of recognizing that and trying to attack that."
Cole Navigato scored 18 points, Johnston had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists, Dom Navigato scored 12 points and McDonald had 11.
Hardy scored 17 points with 7 rebounds and Mitchell added 10 points. St. Charles East shot 39 percent (16 of 41) from the field.
The Saints played without Jack Zylke, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn labrum.
"I thought we played well, I just think we have to play better," St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods said.
"They run their stuff well. It's tough team to catch up on if you get down a bucket or two. I thought we had some finishes that we didn't do a good job of. In a game of this magnitude, little mistakes prove to be costly."