MARIA STEIN – Versailles lost its third consecutive game on Monday, falling 52-47 at Marion Local to essentially end the Tigers’ hopes at defending their Midwest Athletic Conference championship.
Versailles began the season with wins in 16 of its first 17 games before running into a brutal three-game stretch over the course of seven days. First the Tigers lost 74-69 to Division I Vandalia-Butler on Feb. 6 then they lost 46-44 at state-ranked St. Henry on Friday. On Monday Versailles’ skid reached three games with a loss at state-ranked Marion Local.
“We’ve got to find a way to win these,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said. “I’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do better as a team at just finding ways to win these close ones. As we talked about, though, in the locker room, a lot of good opponents that we’re playing here right now so there’s nothing wrong about playing that type of competition. We just need to make sure we execute and finish better.”
Versailles, ranked sixth in the Division III state rankings, fell to 16-4 overall and 6-2 in the MAC with Monday’s loss. Marion Local, ranked 11th in the Division IV state rankings, improved to 15-3 overall and 7-0 in the MAC. The Flyers are the lone team undefeated in MAC play and can clinch the league title with wins against New Knoxville and Coldwater.
Marion Local utilized a defense on Monday that St. Henry employed to defeat Versailles – a box and one. The Flyers constantly had a player guarding Ohio State University commit Justin Ahrens while their other four players played a zone defense.
“I told the guys if we don’t get better at box and one that probably the defense you’re going to see the rest of the year,” Swank said. “We’ve got to make sure we can operate in it or any type of zone a little bit better.”
The defense frustrated Versailles’ offense with only Kyle Jones and Keaton McEldowney managing to score points in the opening quarter. The Tigers’ slow start helped the Flyers build a 16-10 lead in the first quarter.
“Kind of the common denominator of what’s been going on in these three games is we’ve had kind of slow starts, which is unlike us,” Swank said. “Usually we start off really quick.”
Versailles’ offense found a little more success in the second quarter, and the Tigers cut into their deficit. With 3:09 remaining in the half Justin Ahrens was fouled while draining a 3-pointer, resulting in a 4-point play that tied the score at 18-18.
A couple minutes later Jones hit a 3-pointer, giving Versailles its first lead of the night at 23-21 with just over a minute remaining in the half.
“He was aggressive early,” Swank said of Jones, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half. “Knocked down some big key shots for us. You know was our offense there for a while. He’s so quick. He’s still coming off his injury, and you can tell he’s still not quite there 100 percent.”
In the final minute of the opening half, Marion Local’s Ryan Bruns scored 4 points to give the Flyers a 25-23 lead at halftime. The 6-foot 6-inch Bruns scored 10 of his 18 points on the night in the first half.
“The Bruns kid is just going to continue to get better,” Swank said. “He’s long, he’s athletic, and he does a lot of nice things on the court.”
Marion Local continued to lead until late in the third quarter. With less than two minutes remaining in the period Justin Ahrens made his second 3-pointer of the game to tie the score at 33-33. Less than a minute later McEldowney hit a 3-pointer that put the Tigers up 36-33.
“The kid is all over everywhere,” Swank said of McEldowney, who finished the night with 12 points. “I mean he’s one of the shortest guys on the court, and I don’t know how many offensive rebounds he got for us tonight. Plays tremendously hard. You know never gives up at all. Continues to do all those little things that we need. And he’s going to be successful in life because he just listens and puts his head down and goes to work a lot of times.”
Versailles led 38-35 at the end of the third quarter and maintained its lead for most of the fourth quarter. But with just over three minutes remaining Nick Tangeman scored to knot the score at 43-43.
Then with a little more than two minutes left in the game the Flyers retook the lead with a basket by Tyler Mescher, who finished the night with a game-high 23 points.
“Mescher is such a wide body that he misses shots, but then he’s right there,” Swank said. “He doesn’t leave the ground very much, and when our guys leave the ground to go up with him and he misses, he’s the guy that usually gets the rebound because we’re out of position, and that’s how he gets a lot of points.”
Michael Stammen scored to tie the score once more at 45-45, but in the final 90 seconds Marion Local outscored Versailles 7-2 to pull out a 5-point victory.
“I thought our effort was tremendous here again tonight,” Swank said. “Can’t fault our kids for how hard they played. They gave everything that they had, but we just couldn’t quite come up with a victory here at the end.”
Jones and McEldowney led Versailles with 12 points each on Monday. Also for the Tigers, Justin Ahrens scored 7 points, Noah Richard scored 7, AJ Ahrens scored 4, Carter May scored 3, and Stammen scored 2.
Mescher led Marion Local with his 23 points while Bruns added 18. Also for the Flyers, Tangeman scored 6 points, and Tyler Prenger scored 5.
Versailles will conclude MAC play on Friday at Coldwater then will play host to Greenville on Saturday in its regular season finale.