PEORIA – The Geneva boys basketball team can stand behind its body of work.
Saturday’s 63-42 loss to Bolingbrook in the IHSA Class 4A third-place game devolved for Geneva on multiple levels, but the Vikings secured their place in program history long before being saluted by their fans in the waning moments and during their medal presentation.
Geneva (30-5) finished tied for most single-season wins in program history with the 1962-63 team, the last Vikings squad to advance downstate.
"I think many people didn't have us getting out of our own regional," Geneva coach Phil Ralston said. "So far us to have gotten as far as we have, I couldn't be more proud."
Geneva led, 19-15, at halftime, but floundered in the second half, with Ralston and players agreeing fatigue – perhaps mental as well as physical – played a part.
"The numbers say so," Geneva senior guard Daniel Santacaterina said. "I think we just lost ourselves a little bit. I don't think it was anything they did. … We beat ourselves a little bit. We just needed to take a deep breath and play like we usually do, but it didn't happen."
Bolingbrook assumed control in the third quarter as the Raiders' press regularly disturbed the Vikings. The Raiders outscored the Vikings in the quarter, 20-9, to take a 35-28 lead heading into the fourth.
Matters only worsened from there for Geneva. The Raiders went to the free throw line an astounding 33 times in the second half after failing to attempt a single free throw in the opening half.
"It's not that they quit or gave up. They threw everything they had into it to the end," Ralston said of his players. "Credit Bolingbrook for adding that level of pressure to us, changing up the game, and we just couldn't respond. It's a shame that we couldn't get it done, but it just happened that way."
The night took an ugly turn in the fourth quarter when junior center Loudon Vollbrecht, after missing a free throw, put his football background on display in a scrum for the offense rebound that turned nasty. He had to be restrained by teammates after being separated from the pile, and once referees sorted out the aftermath, Vollbrecht was ejected.
The ensuing technical free throws put the Raiders ahead, 45-31, with 4:38 to play in the game.
Geneva uncharacteristically went 7 for 18 from the free throw line in the game, with Vollbrecht's 0 for 5 showing at the line – and a rough second half in Friday's two-point, semifinal loss to Normal – surely contributing to the junior's surly spirits.
"Obviously I think part of it was some frustration," Ralston said. "It is what it is. We'll have to deal with that. I don't necessarily agree with the [ejection] but that's not for me to decide."
Bolingbrook (25-7) featured balanced scoring, led by Colorado State recruit Prentiss Nixon (15 points), and the Raiders outrebounded Geneva, 29-23 – a category the Vikings usually dominate.
"I challenged our guys at the beginning of the game that the easy thing to do would be just to coast through and take the first trophy for boys basketball in the history of the school," Bolingbrook coach Rob Brost said. "That would be the easy thing to do, but the right thing to do is to play right and win and get third place, and get out of here with the third place trophy. At halftime, I re-challenged them with the same thing, and to their credit, they responded like they've done all season."
With a typically subdued atmosphere in the arena for a third-place game, Ralston exhorted Geneva's bench to perk up just before the game tipped. Then, Geneva senior standout Nate Navigato gave his teammates something to cheer about, scoring nine points in the game's first 3 1/2 minutes.
For the second straight night, Navigato (15 points) was the lone Viking to score in double figures, but the Raiders defended Geneva's all-time scoring leader well after his sizzling start. He was among a batch of regulars subbed out in the late stages, and watched the final moments with a towel draped over his head.
Vollbrecht scored eight points to go with seven rebounds and senior guard Pace Temple added six points for a Geneva squad that eliminated five opponents with more than 20 wins on its path to Peoria.