Sanders sparks Batavia in win over St. Charles North
A.J. Sanders didn't start Batavia's regular season finale against St. Charles North on Wednesday night.
But he did play a big role in helping the host Bulldogs finish off a 71-65 senior night victory.
Sanders, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, scored all of his 10 points in the second half, including back-to-back 3-pointers in the third quarter and four points in the game's final minute.
With the win, Batavia avenged a 49-47 loss last month and finished in a tie for third place with the North Stars in the DuKane Conference.
"My role on the team is pretty much (to be) our defensive player," Sanders said. "I know I can score on offense and many teams don't normally know that I can score.
"I use that, so when they leave me open like that as much as they did, I just take my shots. And when they go in, I keep shooting more and more."
That's just fine with starting senior guard Trent Tousana, who drained four 3-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points.
"He comes off the bench and brings a ton of energy on defense," Tousana said. "Lately he's been shooting threes and making them, so he's got tons of confidence in his shot.
"We always tell him to shoot when he's open, and tonight it shows he's put extra time in."
Sanders' time to shine came in the third quarter. The Bulldogs (20-10, 8-6) were clinging to a 42-41 lead when Sanders took a pass from Ethan Ivan and buried a 3-pointer at the 2:24 mark.
On Batavia's next possession, St. Charles North senior Max Love stole the ball at midcourt and raced in alone. Love tried to dunk but missed, and Sanders came down with the rebound.
Sanders then raced up the right side before pulling up and sinking another open 3-pointer to extend the lead to 48-41.
There were still 10 minutes of action left, but the North Stars (15-14, 8-6) never got closer than five points after that.
"He missed his chance and I was like, 'It's game over, you shouldn't have missed that,'" Sanders said. "I just took advantage of it and came down and hit the three to give us a bigger lead."
Sanders said he didn't hesitate when the opening presented itself.
"As much space as they gave me, of course I was taking that three," Sanders said. "There was no way I wasn't."
The Bulldogs made the most of their open shots, sinking 12 3-pointers on 25 attempts. That was way too many for St. Charles North coach Tom Poulin.
"We didn't defend like we normally do," Poulin said. "We're giving up low 40s.
"We held them to 47 the first time we played them, so to give up 71, I don't know the last time we gave up 70 to anyone."
The last time the North Stars surrendered 70 was four years ago to the day, in a 71-56 loss to Moline.
They didn't go down without a fight, sinking nine 3-pointers. Love and Ethan Marlowe each scored 20 points, while Justin Hugues added 10.
But the Bulldogs offset that thanks to the play of Tousana, who also had a game-high four steals, and Ivan, who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Charlie Saul added nine points and four assists and center Austin Ambrose contributed eight points and 11 boards.
Tousana was on fire early, scoring 14 points in the first half. All four of his treys came from near-NBA range, including one that gave Batavia a 30-27 halftime lead.
"I like to shoot them deep, because then if the defense likes to guard out, it's easy to blow past them," Tousana said. "The past couple games I wasn't really feeling my shot, so instead of lifting at school, I just shot hoops instead.
"I was just trying to get my confidence up before the game because the last couple games I didn't shoot too well."
There was nothing wrong with Sanders' confidence when the North Stars cut a 13-point deficit to 65-58. He answered with a driving layup and later two free throws.
"It just gives us big motivation," Sanders said of the win. "We knew this was a revenge game for us, so we knew we'd have to come in here and take over and show our first-round opponent what they got coming."