VERSAILLES – The Versailles boys basketball team clinched its second consecutive outright Midwest Athletic Conference championship on Friday by defeating St. Henry 61-36.
The victory improved the Tigers to 18-1 overall and 8-0 in the MAC. They still have one conference game against Coldwater remaining, but every other MAC team has at least two league losses, allowing Versailles to celebrate early.
“It feels great,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “It’s one of the goals that you come into the year, is try to control the conference. Our kids have done a really good job of facing different teams in our conference and different styles, and tonight was a good example of that as far as what they threw at us defensively. We had a lot of kids step up and played really well.”
St. Henry threw a lot of defensive looks at Versailles, but the Tigers responded with Connor Custenborder, Keaton McEldowney and Alex Wendel all having season-high scoring nights.
“I figured (St. Henry coach Eric Rosenbeck) was going to try to throw the kitchen sink at us,” Swank said. “We knew that he was going to do a lot of different things and didn’t quite know exactly what, but you’ve got to make adjustments on the fly, and when you have good experienced kids like we did on our team it helps me a whole heck of a lot.”
While Swank was happy to see the strong offensive effort that included Versailles making more than half of its shots, he was even happier with his team holding St. Henry to just 36 points.
“I’m more pleased though with our defensive effort,” the first-year Versailles head coach said. “We locked down tonight finally. We haven’t done that a whole heck of a lot this year. Tonight we got out on them, and their shooters hit a couple 3s, but for the most part we did a good job of defending the ball. As I talked about earlier, keeping them out of the paint and everything like that and we closed out their shooters really well. We held a team that shoots a lot of 3s under 40 points here tonight.”
Versailles got off to a great start, scoring the first 13 points of the night and holding St. Henry scoreless for almost five full minutes of game action. Wendel, McEldowney, Justin Ahrens and Custenborder all scored in the opening minutes to give the Tigers a lead they held the rest of the contest.
St. Henry was able to recover and scored the final 6 points of the opening period. The visitors continued their strong play with a 7-2 run to begin the second quarter, cutting Versailles’ lead to just 2 points at 15-13.
From there Versailles regrouped, though, and was in control the rest of the game. After scoring just 2 points in the first four minutes of the second quarter, Versailles scored 13 in the next four minutes and built its lead back to double digits entering halftime, 28-17.
The Tigers increased their lead to 40-28 in the third quarter and really poured in on in the fourth, pulling away for a 25-point victory.
McEldowney and Wendel led Versailles on Friday, each scoring a game-high 16 points. Also for the Tigers, Custenborder scored 11 points, Justin Ahrens scored 10, AJ Ahrens scored 4, Austin Knapke scored 2, and Noah Richard scored 2.
While Justin Ahrens was held to less than half his normal offensive output, he pulled down 11 rebounds and helped set up his teammates for scoring opportunities.
“He was just grabbing every single rebound there, especially in the second half,” Swank said. “He was a monster there in the second half. Really, really made us get easy ones on the other end because he can see the floor so well.”
Tyler Schlarman led St. Henry with 9 points, Blake Hoyng scored 6, Ryan Luttmer scored 5, Ryan Bruening scored 4, Parker Link scored 4, Devin Huelskamp scored 2, Caden Niekamp scored 2, Zach Niekamp scored 2, and Mitch Schwieterman scored 2.
St. Henry dropped to 12-7 overall and 3-4 in the MAC with Friday’s loss while Versailles improved to 18-1 and 8-0 in the MAC. The Tigers will travel to Urbana on Saturday before closing out the regular season next weekend with games against Coldwater and Greenville.
Versailles, which now has won four boys basketball MAC championships since joining the league in 2001, will play for its second undefeated MAC season in school history next week against Coldwater. The Tigers accomplished the feat during the 2003-04 season when they went 27-1 overall and finished as the Division III state runner up to St. Henry.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.