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In a game of streaks, it didn’t appear at the time that Mike Rueffer’s basket would be crucial.
Rueffer converted a three-point play at the end of the third quarter that gave Batavia a lead it would not relinquish as the Bulldogs outlasted Plainfield East 61-52 in the opening round of the Class 4A Batavia Regional.
For their troubles, the 17th-seeded Bulldogs move on to face Oswego, top seed in the Bolingbrook Sectional, Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The Bengals, seeded 16th, played from behind all evening but tied the score at 39-all on a three-pointer by Myles Ward with 24 seconds left in the third period.
That’s when Rueffer made his presence felt. The guard had yet to score, but took the ball to the hole, scored and made the ensuing free throw to give Batavia a 42-39 lead after three quarters.
From that point, Mike Carlson fueled an additional 6-0 run with a basket on a beautiful bounce pass by Tucker Knox and a pair of free throws. Those were Carlson’s only points of the game, though he did have nine rebounds.
Plainfield East managed to close the gap to 49-44 on a three-point play by Nick Novak (team-high 16 points). But Rueffer had the answer, scoring on a pretty spin move and a drive to widen the lead to 53-44.
From that point, the Bulldogs’ free-throw shooting took over. Micah Coffey hit four free throws as Batavia iced the game by hitting its final eight foul shots. In fact, the Bulldogs won the game at the line by hitting 18-of-26 from the stripe, while the Bengals struggled to a 4-of-11 effort from the foul
“I think our composure was really a key for us tonight,” said Batavia coach Jim Nazos, whose team committed only 10 turnovers and played solid defense. “We’ve been a mature team all season, which has allowed us to come back in a lot of games and hold our own when we’ve been ahead.”
Batavia (12-14) took a while to get going, but then got red hot. Jake Pollack (game-high 17 points) hit the first of his three three-pointers, followed by long ones by Jeremy Schoessling and another by Pollack. The Bulldogs connected on all seven of their three-pointers in the first half.
But the Bengals (12-16) came back from a 24-9 deficit behind Novak’s treys and long ones by Kentwan Steptore (10 points) and Aaron Jordan, pulling within 29-25 at the half.
Joshua Smith chipped in 11 points for Plainfield East.