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Neuqua Valley storms into title game

12/12/2012, 10:35pm CST
By Paul Johnson

Neuqua Valley got 39 points off its bench in a dominating 80-46 win over Batavia at the Oswego Holiday Classic. The victory sends the Wildcats into Saturday’s title game.

Neuqua Valley's Malia Smith drives to the basket with Batavia's Liza Fruendt defending during basketball action at the Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament in Oswego on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media

Neuqua Valley’s girls basketball team has visions of making a run to the state tournament this season.

With the way they’re playing so far, it’s hard to blame them for such lofty goals.

The Wildcats reached Saturday’s Oswego Holiday Classic finals with a dominating 80-46 win over a solid Batavia squad Wednesday to improve to a spotless 14-0 on the season.

“I’m impressed with Batavia,” Neuqua coach Mike Williams said. “They’re having a great year. I just think that right now we have a lot of kids that are starting to contribute on and off the bench. Everybody’s stepping up, that’s the biggest thing. I’m pleased, but I’m still hesitant. I don’t want to jump the gun. I’m proud of them. They have their goals set very high, so at this point, I’m just going to let them play it out.”

Neuqua’s starters wasted little time taking Batavia (8-4) out of the game. The Wildcats opened the game leading 16-2 and never looked back. All five starters scored in that opening run. But when Neuqua went to the bench, there was no dropoff.

Freshman Myia Starks led the team with 16 points off the bench, and fellow freshman Kai Moon added 11 off the pine. Collectively, Neuqua’s six bench players shot 13-of-20 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point range, and hit all 10 of their free throw attempts to account for nearly half (39) of the Wildcats’ points.

“I’m very comfortable because I believe in my team and I know if I go out there and play hard we’ll come out with a win,” said Starks, who scored 18 points Monday against Glenbard East. “It’s very exciting because we’re going for state this year. We’re just working hard in every tournament and every game.”

The Wildcats’ frenetic pace forced Batavia into 27 turnovers. But Neuqua’s players are so at ease playing that uptempo style they didn’t turn the ball over once until the 3:20 mark of the third quarter.

“It’s a result of what we do,” Williams said. “They’ve gotten comfortable with each other and know where they’re going to be at a given time. Even our post players, they’re making nice passes and not turning it over.”

Malia Smith also scored 11 points for Neuqua. Erin Bayram led Batavia with 15 points and 11 rebounds while Liza Fruendt added 14 points.

For Batavia, the loss showed the Bulldogs where they’d like to be as the season goes on.

“It’s humbling when you run into somebody that talented,” Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. “We think we can play with some really good teams. We still have a little ways to go. It seemed early like the game might have been a little big for us, at least tonight. Hopefully it won’t be in the future.”

Neuqua will face the winner of Thursday’s 7 p.m. game between Naperville Central and Oswego for the tournament title.

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