COLUMBUS – For a second consecutive season Versailles fell just one win short of its goal, losing 53-47 to Columbus Africentric Early College in the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state championship game.
Versailles trailed for most of Saturday’s game at The Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus but erased a double-digit deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter. The Tigers couldn’t quite pull it out, though, as they finished as the state runner-up to the Nubians.
“These girls, they’re tough cookies,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said of her team. “They’re not going to break. I don’t know what the score was at the time – this arena it’s hard to figure out what the score is when you’re coaching a game – but I felt like it was double digits, and they looked at me and they just said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. We’ve got this. Let’s keep going.’ And they did.”
Versailles led for just 3:35 out of the 32 minutes in Saturday’s state championship game while Africentric led for 25:10. The Tigers had leads of 2-0 and 4-2 in the opening minutes of the contest but then didn’t lead again until the fourth quarter.
After leading 15-8 at the end of the first quarter and 30-21 at halftime, Africentric led by 11 points in the opening seconds of the second half. But Versailles wasn’t deterred and began its comeback attempt.
Versailles cut its deficit to 7 points then Kami McEldowney got a steal, stepped back and drained a 3-pointer that reduced to the Africentric lead to 42-38 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter – bringing the loudest cheers from the Versailles fans since the opening minutes of the game.
Another 3-pointer by Kami McEldowney and a basket by Lindsey Winner had the deficit down to a single point, 38-37, before Africentric got a pair of baskets to lead 42-37 entering the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter began with Lindsey Winner taking over inside as the Versailles sophomore scored the first 6 points of the period to put the Tigers up 43-42 with five minutes to go.
Africentric used a timeout to regroup and then forced a pair of Versailles turnovers that led to points for the Nubians.
“Turnovers were a little high for us for the game, but I really do feel that we had to keep pushing the ball,” Stonebraker said. “We had to keep attacking them because every time we wouldn’t attack it looked worse so the attack mode had to stay there, and that’s what we were trying to do.”
Versailles kept the game within reach with a free throw from Danielle Winner then with just 37 seconds remaining Caitlin McEldowney drained a 3-pointer that pulled the Tigers within 2 points, 49-47.
“These girls don’t back down,” Stonebraker said. “They play with all their heart and intensity.”
However, that was as close as Versailles would get down the stretch as Africentric scored the game’s final 4 points to win 53-47 and claim the Division III state championship.
Versailles won the rebounding battle 36-30 in Saturday’s game, but many other key stats were in Africentric’s favor.
The Nubians forced 17 Versailles turnovers while only committing nine themselves and outscored Versailles 26-7 off turnovers.
“You can try to prepare for that all you want, but until you face it it’s a totally different ballgame,” Stonebraker said of Africentric’s size and athleticism.
Africentric also outscored Versailles 36-20 in the paint and had 14 second-chance points to Versailles’ 3. Versailles was just 7-of-16 from the free throw line while Africentric went 11-of-15.
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with 16 points in Saturday’s loss. Also for the Tigers, Lindsey Winner scored 8 points, Caitlin McEldowney scored 7, Danielle Winner scored 7, Elizabeth Ording scored 5, and Ellen Peters scored 2.
Alexia Smith led Africentric with a game-high 22 points. Also for the Nubians, Jordan Horston scored 13 points, Nyam Thornton scored 9, Maliyah Johnson scored 3, Iyanna Hairston scored 2, Kazhmere Smith-Hopgood scored 2, and Sakima Walker scored 2.
Versailles finished the season with a 28-2 overall record. The season ended with the Tigers’ third state runner-up finish in the past five years, a span that also includes a state championship in 2015.
The loss also marked the end of the high school basketball careers for five Versailles seniors – Mallory Marshal, Hailey McEldowney, Kami McEldowney, Ellen Peters and Danielle Winner – a group that won 101 varsity basketball games in their high school careers.
“It’s pretty incredible what they’ve done in their career, not just basketball-wise but athletically across the board – softball, basketball, volleyball, track and cross country,” Stonebraker said. “They’re great, great athletes.”
The senior group won one state championship and also had two state runner-up finishes in their high school basketball careers, memories they’ll have the rest of their lives.
“It wouldn’t have traded it for the world,” Danielle Winner said. “These girls, they mean everything to me. Even though I have one sister on the team, they’re all my sisters.”