Batavia turns away scare from Wheaton Warrenville South, takes regional title

All season Batavia had been building toward the Class 4A state playoffs.

The Bulldogs were slated to host a sectional, prompting their eyes to look forward to the opportunity for an epic playoff run.

Everything was falling into place, starting with an impressive rout at Benet to open the season, a strong showing in the Morton College Christmas tournament, which included a marquee win over Fremd, an overtime win against Geneva to even Brooke Carlson becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer.

By the end of the regular season, the Bulldogs captured the DuKane Conference title and earned the top seed in the Batavia sectional.

But Wheaton Warrenville South and first-year coach Kasey Gassensmith had other ideas on Friday night. Despite a sluggish showing in the regular season, the Tigers were intent on crashing the Bulldogs’ sectional party, piecing together an impressive two-way effort through three quarters.

“I feel we were kind of in our own heads,” Carlson said. “We knew we could do it. We fired ourselves up at halftime and focused on defense. We came out and got it done. They were hitting so many shots and we weren’t getting out to shooters as much as we would’ve liked. We learned that the hard way in the first half.”

Everything changed in the fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs reeled off 18 unanswered points to end a 55-36 victory in the championship game of the Bartlett regional. Carlson paced the Bulldogs with 25 points, while Natalie Warner had 11 points, Sarah Hecht chipped in five and Hallie Crane finished with four.

Carlson said the Bulldogs did a 180-degree turnaround in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter by not allowing the Tigers to score a single point in 12 straight possessions.

“After the first quarter, we knew we couldn’t be doing that,” Carlson said. “We had to pick it up. At halftime, it really flipped a switch for us because we really realized this could be our last game ever together and we don’t want that to be and we wanted to play at home one more time. We needed to focus in and lock in.”

The top-seeded Bulldogs (27-5) extended their winning streak to 11 games by beating the Tigers (17-16) for the third time this season by double digits. Batavia hosts St. Charles East on at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a Batavia sectional semifinal.

The eighth-seeded Tigers crushed ninth-seeded Glenbard East in the regional semifinals to build momentum, carrying that surge into Friday’s game. The Tigers led 24-20 at halftime after shooting 6-for-12 on 3-pointers, then managed to tie the game at 35-35 following a 3-pointer by Addy Keighron late in the third quarter.

But the Bulldogs clamped down on the defensive end, igniting a 20-1 run over the next nine minutes. Wheaton Warrenville South senior Hannah Struebing closed out her basketball career with a prolific game, finishing with 14 points. Keighron canned three 3s for nine points.

“A lot of people didn’t believe in us being the eighth seed, especially after losing to Batavia twice but we worked so hard to prepare for this moment and we came out so strong,” Struebing said.

The Bulldogs trounced the Tigers in their two regular season meetings, winning both games by double-figures, including a 12-point win on Feb. 3.

But the Tigers immediately adopted the philosophy of playing with a clean slate in their third showdown. From the opening tip, the Tigers came out aggressive, played physical, were diving to the floor for loose balls and sealed off the boards.

“I think the last few practices and last week they have locked in and had narrow eyes,” Gassensmith said. “It came down to pure belief. Batavia has been a name this season that has been daunting. We fought and followed our game plan to a tie, but in the end, we just ran out of gas. At the end of the day, I’m very proud of our season. I think our girls gave Batavia a fight. I’m proud of them.”

The Bulldogs were shell-shocked in the first quarter, shooting several airballs, committing unforced turnovers for a battle-tested and veteran team and not getting back on defense. The Tigers canned four 3-pointers in a two-plus minute segment, highlighted by back-to-back 3s from Struebing, to seize a 24-18 lead.

“I wasn’t surprised because we had it in us,” Struebing said. “We have a lot of younger players starting to get comfortable on the court. We had nothing to lose and we’re a new team in the playoffs. We had a lot of fire.”

Carlson accounted for 15 of her team’s 20 first-half points.

Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said his halftime speech centered on playing tough defense and regaining control of the game.

“I just told them to settle down a bit,” Jensen said. “It kind of felt we were down 15, but we were down four points. Two possessions we can tie it or have the lead. The girls got going a bit. We had some girls hit some big shots…Our defense just took it to another level in the second half. We had some clutch buckets. The pressure these girls can put on opposing teams starts to wear a little bit…You can tell the group of seniors weren’t going to let us go down tonight.”

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