SPRINGFIELD – Down by 10 points in the fourth quarter Monday night, Versailles responded with a 15-1 run that saved the Tigers’ season and earned them an Ohio High School Athletic Association district championship.
“I was worried,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “I’m not going to lie. I was worried. I can remember thinking back to ’08 when we were down by 11 in the fourth quarter against Roger Bacon. The same things were happening … we weren’t getting the ball where we needed the ball. We couldn’t hit shots. And I just said to myself, ‘Just keep going. Keep going. Keep coaching these girls. Keep being positive. That’s all we can do.’”
The Tigers did just that. Down 37-27 to Purcell Marian with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining, Danielle Winner made a basket that reduced the deficit to single digits. Then on the next two possessions Caitlin McEldowney and Lindsey Winner both came up with steals that led to fast-break layups, reducing the deficit from 10 points to 4 in just 30 seconds.
Purcell made a free throw to put the Cavaliers back up 5 points then Kami McEldowney hit a 3-pointer that made it a 2-point game. With just under six minutes to go, Lindsey Winner sank a basket that knotted the score at 38-38 and prompted Purcell to use a timeout.
Following the break, Danielle Kunk made her first shot of the night to put Versailles up 40-38 – its first lead since midway through the first quarter.
“We took that lead, and you could just see the excitement in the air,” Stonebraker said. “Our crowd did a great job helping us along.”
The final moments of the game were full of jubilation for Versailles as the Tigers pulled out a 53-48 victory, but most of the game was far less joyful for the Darke County squad.
Versailles and Purcell Marian were locked in a close battle throughout the first quarter. Versailles had a pair of 1-point leads early in the contest, but the opening quarter ended with Purcell up 11-8.
Versailles tied the game at 11-11 on a Caitlin McEldowney 3-pointer early in the second quarter, but Purcell quickly regained the lead. By the end of the half the Cavaliers were up 24-20, putting Versailles in a situation it hasn’t faced very often.
“We didn’t get shots to fall, and we didn’t rebound the basketball. That was the key,” Stonebraker said. “They were boxing us hard off the glass, and we weren’t ready for that. They did a great job hitting shots. We didn’t think they would hit that many shots from the outside, and they did. And then when they didn’t hit they got the offensive rebound.”
While the first two quarters didn’t go to plan, the third quarter was even worse for Versailles. Purcell began the period on a 7-0 run to increase its advantage to 11 points.
“That was one of the biggest droughts we’ve seen for a long time by our Lady Tigers,” Stonebraker said. “We just kept trying to keep going at the basket, and things weren’t falling.”
It took more than five minutes of game action for Versailles to score in the third quarter with a basket by Lindsey Winner. Kami McEldowney and Ellen Peters also added points late in the period, but the Tigers trailed 35-27 entering the fourth quarter.
“That was not the game plan going in, but everything worked out,” Stonebraker said. “These girls have a lot of grit. You could see it out there every time a big play happened in the fourth quarter.”
Kami McEldowney finished the night with a game-high 19 points while Lindsey Winner added 10 points, all in the second half.
“Lindsey Winner was huge. She was so huge,” Stonebraker said. “What she does out there … she’s so athletic, she goes with two hands on every rebound she can get, and she’s got that eye of the tiger. Just play with grit. She doesn’t even know she’s playing like she does.”
Also for Versailles, Danielle Winner scored 9 points, Peters scored 7, Caitlin McEldowney scored 6, and Kunk scored 2.
“We learned more in this game about ourselves than we have all year,” Stonebraker said.
Amil Ali-Shakir led Purcell Marian with 14 points. Also for the Cavaliers, Kya Dukes scored 13 points, Sha’Dai Hale scored 11, Santia Cravens scored 6, and Jaimone Jones scored 4.
With Monday’s win, Versailles now advances to the sweet 16 of the OHSAA tournament for a fifth consecutive year. The Tigers will play Williamsburg at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the regional semifinals at Springfield.
“They know how to win, and that’s what it takes at this level,” Stonebraker said of her girls.
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.