Batavia shakes off slow first half, storms back to beat St. Charles East
Some players might not see the spotlight or benefit from headlines generated over the course of a varsity season, but that doesn't minimize the impact they can bring to those that do.
On Batavia's senior night, the Bulldogs trotted out varsity reserves in Joey Barbush, Jackson Kelso and Grant Wardynski to complement Jack Ambrose and JP Chaney for the all-senior starting five.
While Ambrose, again, proved to be the marquee player in the key moment during Batavia's 53-44 comeback win over St. Charles East, it's the behind-the-scenes work from those like Barbush and others that he said prepares him to rise to those types of occasions he so often has this season.
"They're great players. They're great hard workers. They work hard in practice and they push us every day," Ambrose said following his 20-point, eight-rebound performance that pushed the Bulldogs over .500 for the first time this season. "All three of them. They might not get the minutes that they want. They're obviously pretty bummed about that, but they play really good JV minutes. They're just really good players."
"Grant and Joey, they're great defensive players," Ambrose continued. "They're always pushing me, trying to steal the ball from me and trying to make me better. When I'm driving, they might give me a little foul here and there, but they want me to get tougher."
Ambrose brought that toughness element right through the Saints' defense late in the fourth quarter.
With the Saints leading by one with 4:03 remaining, a handoff by Chaney to Nate Nazos for a 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs the 40-38 lead. Ambrose followed up with a 3-pointer of his own, blocked a shot at the other end and then connected on a tough layup, plus the ensuing free throw on the foul, for an eight-point lead with 2:56 left.
Saints guard Steven Call's two free throws stopped the barrage, but Ambrose answered with a layup after missing his own 3-pointer. Jacob Aseltine followed with a layup of his own to push the Batavia lead to 10 with over a minute left to effectively preserve the win for Batavia, who had trailed by as many as 13 points in the first quarter and 11 at halftime.
"In the first half, we were getting shots. You just got to keep taking the looks. The way [the Saints] play, they play hard, they're doubling and playing with so much confidence right now, too. They're a very good team. I think they're going to win a regional," Batavia coach Jim Nazos said. " ... The difference, I thought, we started hitting the offensive boards a lot more. We got second [and third] shots. I thought we handled the ball well."
"We just kept grinding it out the whole game," added junior guard Nate Nazos, who had 10 points and four rebounds. "You got to stay in it and keep going. And, just keep looking for shots. Eventually, they'll fall."
Batavia (15-14, 7-6) has transformed itself from a team that was fighting to stay relevant in the DuKane Conference out of the Christmas break at 5-11 to now winning the tough games they fell short in often just a month and a half ago.
Case in point is the Bulldogs' win 47-43 win over three-time conference champion, Wheaton Warrenville South, last Wednesday.
"I still think we're improving and we're doing all of those things," coach Nazos said. "To see kind of where we were at one point in the season ... we were tight. Just seeing a group that just sticks with it; seniors that stick with it and keep going, keep fighting, eventually it turns. Sometimes, you just got to wait that stuff out."
The Saints (12-16, 6-7) continue to weather the highs and lows of a given week as conference play wraps up. Two days after defeating Geneva in a gritty finish, St. Charles East was left on the short end this time around.
Drew Clarke and Call each had 10 points for the Saints.
"That's what we talked about: [rebounding]," St. Charles East coach Pat Woods said. "[Batavia] I think had 14 offensive rebounds and they had 11 points off [those]. To me, that's the difference in the game. I also didn't think we got to the free-throw line enough and when we got to the line, we didn't convert. So we're not far off. I love the energy we play with. We play with a lot of pride. We're just focused on getting better for two weeks from now [in the postseason]."