Charles' debut with Burlington C. a smashing success in win over Batavia
Taylor Charles says she felt like a freshman again.
Charles, a heralded junior transfer from Montini, had all of seven official practices with Burlington Central in the lead-up to her first varsity game action in 11 months.
"I was super excited to play; obviously this was my first game. I felt like a freshman again," Charles said.
Charles hardly played like one, scoring 20 points and grabbing 18 rebounds to power Burlington Central past Batavia 63-60 in Saturday's opener for both teams of the pandemic-delayed season.
"I love this team so much, so I'll do whatever I can to just contribute to the team and I'm trying to play my role on the team," Charles said. "The debut, it was what it was, I was just doing my part."
Charles looks like she could blossom into quite a dynamic duo with Rockets' senior point guard Elana Wells. Burlington Central coach Collin Kalamatas has observed that relationship "kind of skyrocket" off the court in the last number of weeks together.
"They hang out all the time together and they're super close," Kalamatas said. "They work hard together. The way our team is set up, we can't really always get them together on the practice floor, too, they're so intense competing against each other."
Once Tip-Off came, the adrenaline came roaring through for Wells, who added 17 points despite battling foul trouble.
"We've been waiting so long for this. I think we played really good for our first game," Wells said. "With the seven practices, I think we prepared the best we could to our ability for this game. But, I think that as we move on, we'll definitely get better."
Down 10 points at the half, Batavia pulled to within 49-48 after two free throws from Batavia junior forward Tessa Towers. But one Wells' free throw and a pair of Avery Anderson 3-pointers bumped the lead to eight with 2:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. With about a minute left, Claire Nazos hit her second 3-pointer of the quarter to pull Batavia within three at 61-58.
Wells subsequently missed a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left, as did Batavia's Nicole McLaughlin 12 seconds later, but Towers powered a putback through on the second attempt to pull within a point. Wells' layup with 10 seconds left clinched the opening night victory.
Batavia freshman point guard Brooke Carlson scored the Bulldogs' first 3 points of the evening and finished with 17 points and 3 rebounds.
"It felt good just to play, be with my hometown ... wear the jersey and everything," Carlson said.
"She did an outstanding job," Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said of Carlson. "I think she can handle a lot on her shoulders, but at the same time, I want to be cognizant ... a kid's age matters. Elana Wells, it matters that she's a senior. She came up with some big plays at the end. Those things matter. Taylor Charles being a junior, those things matter."
"[Carlson] can take a lot on her shoulders," Jensen continued. "But, I think she's also learning and seeing how much there is [talent-wise] on this team. She can do some dynamite things, but we also have so many pieces around her that are capable of doing lots of things. She's really got a nice knack of setting people up."
Towers turned in 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Nazos and McLaughlin each had 6 points and 3 rebounds, while Alyssa Sarik had 4 points and 3 rebounds to round out the Bulldogs.
Anderson had 8 points and 7 rebounds for Burlington Central, while Lena Kyriazis chipped in 7 points. Lauren Knief had 6 points.
"Usually, the night before your first game, there's that anticipation that's been building and the excitement," Kalamatas said. "Last night, I went to bed. I laid there and the emotions were so different. It was more like just a breath of fresh air to get here. For more reasons than one, but being able to see these girls compete together -- a lot of them kind of meshing together for the first time -- we need some time to get some things working together. But, tonight was a good step in the right direction."