CLAYTON – After losing to Miami East in last year’s sectional championship game, Versailles was determined to ensure it didn’t happen again this year and came through with a 54-39 victory over Dayton Christian.
“We were here in this situation, just about the same score going into halftime as last year as Miami East, we just talked about have we grown and have we matured, and there in the third quarter I think our kids proved it right there,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said.
Dayton Christian provided a tough test for Versailles in Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament game, but after a close first half the Tigers pulled away for a 15-point victory. A mental fortitude developed in close games against teams such as Greenville, Russia and Urbana plus an all-out effort helped Versailles persevere, Swank said.
“When you know your life is on the line as far as your basketball career, you give a little bit extra,” he said. “Our kids did it tonight. We’re not promised any more from this point forward so you’ve got to make sure you go out there and earn it.”
Early on Dayton Christian matched Versailles basket for basket and then finished the opening quarter on a 5-0 run to lead 13-8.
Versailles trailed by as many as 7 points in the second quarter and was down 17-11 midway through the period when the Tigers got an emotional boost from a Justin Ahrens dunk. The junior then drained a pair of 3-pointers and his twin brother AJ Ahrens scored on a buzzer-beating put-back to give the Tigers a 21-19 lead entering halftime.
“We started to find our groove there toward the end of the second quarter,” Swank said.
In the second half Versailles was in complete control. Keaton McEldowney drilled a 3-pointer and Justin Ahrens made a quick basket to begin the third quarter, and Versailles led by two possessions or more the rest of the night. By the end of the third quarter Versailles was up by double digits, 35-24.
Versailles maintained control in the fourth quarter and increased its advantage, finishing the game with a 54-39 sectional championship victory.
“They know that if we’re going to go anywhere we’ve got to keep teams under 40,” Swank said of his team’s defense. “That’s always our goal, been the whole year, and we’re starting to do that and execute like that.”
Justin Ahrens led Versailles with a game-high 24 points. Also for the Tigers, AJ Ahrens scored 8 points, McEldowney scored 8, Connor Custenborder scored 5, Alex Wendel scored 4, Kyle Jones scored 2, Austin Knapke scored 2, and Cole Niekamp scored 1.
Matt Welker led Dayton Christian with 15 points. Also for the Warriors, Dominic Wilcox scored 11 points, JT Thornhill scored 8, Jake Erlandson scored 2, Michael Hennen scored 2, and Brantley Mills scored 1.
Versailles now advances to play North College Hill at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the University of Dayton in the district finals of the OHSAA tournament.
“It means a lot to me, but I’m more excited for the kids really,” Swank said of the district championship game. “We talked about it when we left there. It’s a net game. So I just want them to go cut down the nets and just enjoy that experience. I got to do it once as a player, and it’s an awesome experience when you do it as a player. So I just want them to experience that and get as long of a run as they can.”