ROSELLE – It was a conference win against a worthy opponent, but Lake Park’s road to success was a little bumpier than the Lancers would have liked.
Sure, Lake Park beat Batavia 46-44 to improve to 14-7 overall and 7-2 in the DuKane Conference, but the hosts sweated quite a bit after a 41-20 lead in the third quarter shrunk so much at the end that the Bulldogs had a chance to win the game with a last-second 3-pointer.
With guard Cam Cerese piling up points from the opening tip, Lake Park led 30-18 at the half and took a 21-point lead in the third quarter. Cerese tallied 27 points through three quarters and had the Lancers seemingly in control.
But Batavia (11-13, 3-6) picked up 3-pointers from Nate Nazos and CJ Valente late in the third quarter and then dominated the final quarter while closing to within 46-44. Batavia created a turnover in the final seconds that allowed Jack Ambrose to attempt a long 3 at the buzzer that would have completed a wild comeback if it had connected.
“We just lost everything we wanted to do in the fourth quarter. It just snowballed,” Lake Park coach Billy Pitcher said. “Give [Batavia] credit. A good team takes advantage of other teams’ mistakes.
“Fortunately, we played a really good first three quarters so we could have a horrible fourth quarter and still win.”
Cerese echoed his coach’s sentiments. It was impressive that he scored 30 points, but both Cerese and his teammates were held without a field goal in the fourth quarter as Batavia outscored the home team 18-4 over the final eight minutes.
“It was an ugly win,” Cerese said. “We’ve just got to close out games better. In the fourth quarter we just all have got to relax and get to business. I felt good the first three quarters, but that fourth quarter we’ve just got to finish out.”
The Bulldogs deserve some credit for the Lancers’ late struggles. They took two charges at crunchtime, created six turnovers in the fourth quarter, and Nazos caught fire at just the right time. The junior point guard was held to just one 3-pointer in the first half but finished with 19 points and a pair of steals, with a trio of 3s in the final quarter almost pulling his team all the way back.
Batavia’s season has been a lot like Friday’s game — a slow start followed up by some strong play. Coach Jim Nazos would just have preferred his team not get down so far to the Lancers before turning things on.
“We dug ourselves in a hole to start [the season], but we are getting there,” Coach Nazos said. “We’re right there with every team, and I think we’ve won six out of our last nine. We’re getting a lot better.
“We’re young and inexperienced, but they’re starting to have things [go their way]. We just can’t get down to a team like that by 20 points.”
The Lancers led 42-26 after three quarters but were held to just four free throws in the fourth quarter while Nate Nazos tallied 11 points and Valente added five of his 14 points in that final quarter.