FORT RECOVERY – The setting was about as Midwestern America as you can get for this time of year.
The gymnasium was filled to near capacity. The area barbershop chorus was in the house to sing the national anthem.
Not only was this a Midwestern Athletic Conference contest but a showdown between state-ranked No. 6 Versailles of Division III and No. 7 Fort Recovery of Division IV.
After much sweat and struggle over 32 minutes, the Tigers of Versailles, powered by a 20-9 fourth quarter advantage, defeated the Indians 55-48 Friday evening for their first victory in Fort Recovery since 2004.
The top two scoring offenses of the MAC did not look that special in the first quarter. The emotion of the moment definitely affected both teams as each could only muster 10 points each during the first eight minutes. There was plenty of action, and the defensive intensity shown by both squads was at a high level.
The second period saw the teams continue to keep a close hold upon the other, neither letting their opponent get very far away. Fort Recovery managed to scratch out a 3-point lead at the half at 25-22.
A strong effort by the Tigers’ AJ Ahrens, who scored 12 first half points, kept Versailles in the contest. Versailles also got critical minutes off the bench from senior Sam Barga and junior Cole Niekamp.
The third quarter began in much the same fashion as the game had gone to that point with the teams trading baskets. Versailles managed to gain a 35-33 margin with 1:17 remaining in the period.
The Indians connected on a triple to retake the lead at 36-35 with around 20 seconds left and immediately turned the Tigers over to regain possession.
Just before the buzzer sounded, Fort Recovery again hit from behind the arc to give the Indians a 39-35 lead going into the final eight minutes, and it looked as if momentum had swung to the home team’s side.
The momentum swing would be short lived. Versailles would open the period on a 9-1 run to give the Tigers a 44-40 lead and did most of it with leading scorer Justin Ahrens on the bench. Justin Ahrens, who had been averaging nearly 24 points per game, had been held to just 5 on the evening thus far.
When talking about his leading scorer Coach Travis Swank said, “How many assists did he (Justin Ahrens) have in the end? He got a lot of extra passes to those kids. We’ve got a lot of other kids that can score. When people are concentrating on him, he was able to find them. He didn’t do it early, but he did it when it counted.
“Alex (Wendel) did a heck of a job … ran the team the way it should be run … got us into stuff,” Coach Swank continued. “This is a hard place to play. He does what a point guard is supposed to do.”
The Tigers sealed the game by outscoring the Indians 7-2 in the final 1:27, highlighted by a Justin Ahrens dunk to close out the scoring.
AJ Ahrens led all scorers with 18 for the Tigers, and Keaton McEldowney contributed 16. Caleb Martin paced Fort Recovery with 13, and Payton Jutte added 11.
The Ahrens controlled the boards for Versailles with Justin Ahrens having nine rebounds and AJ Ahrens seven. Justin Ahrens led the Tigers with six assists. Wendel had five assists but had zero turnovers.
A big key to the Tiger victory was their second half field goal shooting, which was 61 percent while holding Fort Recovery to 35 percent.
Versailles is now in sole possession of first place in the MAC with a 5-0 record and sits at 12-1 overall. Fort Recovery is now 3-1 in the league and 9-2 overall.