ROSELLE – Nicole McLaughlin hardly appeared to break a sweat.
With an understandable amount of defensive attention on the Batavia combo of sophomore guard Brooke Carlson and senior forward Tessa Towers, McLaughlin — the Bulldogs’ senior guard — can still find her spots to make an impact in whatever way she can.
“I’m pretty sure if we went and logged it, Nicole probably logged the most minutes of anybody tonight,” Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said following Batavia’s 59-46 victory over Lake Park in their DuKane Conference opening slate on Wednesday. “Between the third and fourth [quarter], I’m like, ‘Are you OK? I haven’t subbed you,’ and she’s like, ‘I’m fine; stop asking.’ ”
It’s Batavia’s first victory over the Lancers since the conference officially banded together in 2018.
McLaughlin, who had eight points, credits the bench energy for part of that spark.
“I just think the energy from the bench today was awesome,” McLaughlin said. “We came here with a chip [on our] shoulders. [Jensen] was saying that he hasn’t beaten Lake Park yet, so we’re kind of coming in here like, ‘We got this.’ It’s easy to play a lot of minutes when you have a bench like that and teammates like that.”
McLaughlin, at 5-foot-7, might not match the height of Towers at 6-foot-5, but she can still finagle her way in for rebounds, grabbing five.
“She doesn’t have a height advantage over anybody, but she’s one of our best offensive rebounders,” Jensen said. “She had a couple drives into the hoop ... she’s good with her balance and with her feet. She creates good leverage and can finish on a layup.
“It’s not that she’s beating somebody with speed, but she has a good first step, and then she can use her body well to shield the defense and scoop that layup in there.”
Batavia (5-1, 1-0) took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. Lake Park (5-1, 0-1) whittled it down to six after Grace Cord’s second 3-pointer of the quarter, but the combination of Towers (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Carlson (20 points, eight rebounds) proved to be a bit too much for the Lancers down the stretch.
Lake Park was led by junior Michela Barbanente’s 20 points and 12 rebounds, while senior Sara Balli had 13 points. Cord had 11 points and three rebounds.
“She does a ton. It’s hard to get her off the floor,” Lancers coach Brian Rupp said of Barbanente. “It’s a nice boost with our Big Three, we call them: Ellie [Helm], Gabby [Burgess] and Sara. To have her in that four spot; to do all these little things when it’s not going right for us is a giant advantage to us going forward. Every coach that I’ve talked to that’s seen us play this year, they’re all asking about No. 1. ‘Where did she come from?’
“In a role where Towers had to guard her at some point, she has zero fear with that stuff. She brought us up to a spot. We got up to, I think, [six] once they made that [defensive] change, so yeah, she’s been great all year. She’s a double-double kid for us.”
Cord is another one of the Lancers’ four juniors who has settled in nicely to varsity minutes.
“We’ve got, what, four juniors in the starting lineup? And Grace just kind of took over that third quarter for a bit where she was like, ‘Enough, I’ve got to hit some shots,’ " Rupp said. “Teams are going to take away as much as they possibly can with Sara, Gabby, Ellie — they did a good job on Ellie today — if she gets to step up, and Michela gets to step up on these days, hopefully our defense holds up and that’s our game plan to win.
Jake is a full-time sports reporter writing primarily for the Kane County Chronicle covering preps. His collective work is featured across several Shaw markets and platforms, including Friday Night Drive and Bears Insider. Jake began full-time in 2017.