Blue Devils’ relentless defense leads to win over Batavia

0128139095406_largeBy BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer

The Quincy High School boys basketball team didn’t lose its focus.

Facing a methodical Batavia squad, the Blue Devils leaned on relentless defense to secure a 50-42 non-conference win Saturday night at Blue Devil Gym.

“Mental toughness was the key for us,” QHS senior guard Mason Fairley said. “You have to keep your focus. We talked today about how this team likes to run around a little bit, and you have to stay disciplined the whole possession. You have to play defense the whole possession.”

The Blue Devils (4-1) also had to make the most of their offensive possessions considering their opportunities were more limited than usual based on the slow nature of the game.

Although QHS shot only 37.5 percent from the field, the Blue Devils protected the basketball and consistently made their way to the free-throw line.

QHS committed only 10 turnovers — compared to 16 for Batavia — and was 18 of 28 from the charity stripe. The Bulldogs (2-3) were 3 of 4 from the foul line.

“We knew it was going to be a grind-it-out game,” said QHS coach Sean Taylor, whose team came into the game averaging 63.5 points per game. “We chose to play it maybe a little more conservative and grind it out, and we thought our guys would rise to the challenge of guarding every possession.”

The Blue Devils did that especially well in the second half.

Batavia made only six of its 18 fourth-quarter field-goal attempts and shot just 37 percent overall.

“You just have to dig down and guard,” QHS senior guard Martin Kvitle said. “It takes a lot of team defense to beat a team like that because they’re disciplined, they’ll run backdoor (cuts) and every one of those kids could create off the dribble.”

Kvitle helped seal the win by going 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:03.

“We were shooting free throws, and they were having to shoot jump shots,” Kvitle said. “It’s nice having the lead when it’s a close game.”

Kvitle scored a game-high 21 points and was the only Blue Devil in double figures.

“(Kvitle) is as good of guard as I think we’ll play all year,” Batavia coach Jim Nazos said.

It was a Kvitle steal during the fourth quarter that led to a momentum-building play for the Blue Devils. Kvitle had a fastbreak opportunity off of his forced turnover and considered going up for a dunk. Instead, he opted to go for a layup, but his shot wouldn’t fall.

Senior guard Cole Abbey was trailing the play and elevated to flush down the missed layup with a two-handed slam that put QHS ahead 42-38 with 3:15 to play.

“Thank God he was there because he saved me a butt-chewing,” Kvitle said.

The dunk never would have happened had Abbey assumed Kvitle would make the layup. That fact wasn’t lost on Taylor.

“Last year, Cole wouldn’t have made the effort to sprint, and this year he made the effort,” Taylor said.

Abbey, who scored nine points, generated a key defensive stop near the end of the third quarter.

With about 50 seconds left in the quarter, Abbey stole the ball and had a fastbreak. He too missed the layup, but Fairley collected the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to put QHS ahead 30-29.

Batavia’s next possession also resulted in a turnover, giving QHS the final possession of the quarter, and Connor Mellon scored on a putback just before the buzzer to cap a 6-0 run that gave the Blue Devils a 32-29 lead. QHS never trailed again.

QHS’s finish to the third quarter was a stark contrast from the first and second quarters. In those quarters, Batavia held the ball for the final possession.

Micah Coffey, who led Batavia with 12 points, capped the final first-quarter possession with a 3-pointer, and Luke Horton knifed his way into the paint for a basket just before the second-quarter buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 19-18 halftime lead.

“Those (final possessions) are momentum builders,” Nazos said. “We always like to get the last one of the quarter, and we didn’t in the third (quarter).”