BATAVIA – Batavia coach Kevin Jensen knew someone would have to step up.
With Wisconsin recruit Tessa Towers and Dubuque commit Claire Nazos both sidelined in concussion protocol for the second game in as many days, the Bulldogs were, without a doubt, going to rely heavily on sophomore point guard Brooke Carlson as they hosted Burlington Central Saturday afternoon.
While Carlson led the way for most of the afternoon, the Bulldogs got a huge spark late from Ava Ahrens and Nicole McLaughlin as Batavia held off a late Rockets rally in a 53-52 nonconference victory.
With the Rockets defense all focused on Carlson, the sophomore guard found Ahrens in the corner for 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to turn a two-point Batavia advantage into a five-point lead with 2:34 to go.
“I think every single player on the court today brought the energy we needed,” said Carlson, who finished with a game-high 24 points despite not attempting a shot from the field in the fourth quarter. “We knew we all had to step up and for [Ava] to make those shots was such a big boost. I’m so happy for her.”
“I think they weren’t really focused on me,” said Ahrens, who missed most of her freshman season with an injury. “I knew when I caught those passes and had the open look, I knew this was my chance and was able to knock them down. Someone had to make a play and I just let it fly.”
Batavia (8-2) led from start to finish Saturday afternoon until Burlington Central’s Rylie DuVal knocked down a 3-pointer with 1:31 to go that leveled the game at 49 apiece.
The shorthanded Bulldogs didn’t flinch. Carlson pushed the ball up the court and it eventually got into the hands of McLaughlin on the baseline, and she finished a layup through contact for a 3-point play.
“We were never perfectly in sync today,” Jensen said. “We knew we were going to lean on Brooke a little more. Our focus was to try and be sound on defense. We know we can count on sound defense, no matter who is in the game, that you can give yourself a chance to win and get transition looks with sound defense.
“We weren’t as comfortable running [offensive] sets today with the lineups we went with and I thought pushing the ball up the court there and getting a big bucket from Nicole was evidence of that.”
Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half, Burlington Central (4-3) continued to battle.
The Rockets forced eight Batavia turnovers in the third quarter to cut a seven-point halftime deficit to just four. They had possession down by three in the final seconds, but the Bulldogs committed a foul as to not allow Burlington Central a 3-point field goal attempt.
DuVal made both free throws with three seconds to go, despite appearing to miss the second on purpose in hopes of an offensive rebound as time ran out on a valiant comeback attempt.
“I think the big thing we’ve been trying to stress is to stay off of that rollercoaster,” Rockets coach Collin Kalamatas said. “You can’t get too high when you make a shot or too low when you make a mistake. I think today we did an excellent job to stay in the game and keep fighting. One [different] bounce and things could have gone our way, but definitely happy with the fight and poise down the stretch.”
Becca Carani led the Rockets with 15 points while center Taylor Charles flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.
No other Bulldog joined Carlson in double figures as Ahrens contributed nine points on her three made 3-pointers.
“She’s been working so hard in practice,” McLaughlin said of Ahrens. “Seeing her be able to hit those 3s in a varsity game… I honestly couldn’t be happier for her. It makes us all super excited and we needed every bit of it today.”