SPRINGFIELD – The Versailles girls basketball team is heading to the state final four for the fourth time in the past five years as the Tigers easily defeated Waynesville 59-32 in a regional championship game on Saturday.
“It never gets old,” said Jacki Stonebraker, who has led Tigers to the state final four seven times in her 15 years as the team’s head coach. “I look at these girls and I see all the smiles on their faces and this is just … it’s, it’s incredible. I don’t even know how to put this into words how these girls just know how to win and they know how to battle.”
During Friday’s practice, Stonebraker said, she started to worry that the girls were starting to take for granted their deep tournament runs.
“I had a heart to heart with them yesterday because I just didn’t feel the excitement in the air,” Stonebraker said, “and I’m like, ‘Are we just settling for getting to a regional? Is this ho hum? Is this everyday action?’ And I kind of got on them about it and a spark hit them. I think especially the seniors that this is it. We only have three more games left if we keep winning and once they’re done they’re done, and I think that proved it tonight and how much fire and grit that they played with.”
Versailles faced early 2-0 and 4-2 deficits against Waynesville, but it didn’t take long for the Tigers to take control. From the 4-2 deficit they went on an 8-0 run to take a lead they held the rest of the afternoon. First Elizabeth Ording made a pair of free throws that knotted the score then Kami McEldowney and Danielle Kunk both sank 3-pointers.
After trailing 12-6 at the end of the first quarter, Waynesville made a 3-pointer that made it a one-possession game early in the second quarter before Versailles pulled away. The Tigers scored 13 of the next 15 points to go up 25-11, and they held a 32-19 advantage at halftime.
Versailles’ defense was stifling in the third quarter, limiting Waynesville to just 4 points, as the Tigers increased their lead to 41-23.
Versailles then began the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run and led by as many as 30 points, 55-25, on its way to the 59-32 victory.
The win gave Versailles its second consecutive regional championship and the third in for years for the Tiger seniors.
“It’s the girls that I have,” Stonebraker said. “It’s incredible that they can just keep withstanding the pressure. We talk about pressure every year, but if you don’t have it how are you going to get better? That’s what we want to keep doing, is getting better, and you have to do that with pressure on your back. It’s the kids. The kids are from great families, and they respond. They know how to respond.”
One of the seniors, Kami McEldowney, led Versailles with a game-high 17 points on Saturday.
“She is incredible,” Stonebraker said. “She just knows the game of basketball so well. She’ll point out things to me that I don’t see. And every once in a while she’s got to ask for that play call, though, and I’m like, ‘Run what you want to run. You’re a four-year starter now. Run what you want to run.’ And she does.”
Also for the Tigers, Danielle Winner scored 11 points, Kunk scored 10, Hailey McEldowney scored 6, Kelsey Custenborder scored 4, Mallory Marshal scored 4, Ellen Peters scored 3, Caitlin McEldowney scored 2, and Ording scored 2.
Rachel Murray led Waynesville with 8 points. Also for the Spartans, Taylor Ritter scored 6 points, Aubrey Rains scored 5, Marcella Sizer scored 4, Liana Webb scored 3, Carli Brown scored 2, Lynzie Hartshorn scored 2, and Kourtney Rentz scored 2.
Versailles now advances to the state semifinals where the Tigers will play Elyria Catholic at 6 p.m. Thursday at The Ohio State University’s Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The winner of that game will play either Ottawa-Glandorf or Columbus Africentric Early College at 2 p.m. March 17 for the Division III state championship.