DAYTON – Versailles erased a 17-point deficit Wednesday night but just couldn’t get over the hump as the Tigers’ season ended with a 57-51 loss to Madeira in the district finals of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
Madeira led by 11 points at halftime and expanded its lead to 17 in the middle of the third quarter before Versailles made a furious comeback. The Tigers tied the game midway through the fourth quarter and had opportunities to take the lead late but came up just short.
“I’m a big believer things are meant to be,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said, “and you know we were meant to come back tonight, but I guess we weren’t meant to finish it off.”
Versailles, which never led in Wednesday’s contest at the University of Dayton, had to play from behind almost the entire night.
Madeira was able to take the lead early with its strong play at the rim. Jack Cravaack in particular wreaked havoc on the inside as he led the Mustangs with 13 points and five rebounds in the first half.
“He hit a lot of tough shots, too, though,” Swank said of Jack Cravaack, who is committed to play tight end for the Purdue University football team. “A lot of times AJ (Ahrens) or Justin (Ahrens) had a hand up. He’s big and strong, and he finished around the rim. Hit every free throw. I think he’s shooting under 60 percent from the free throw line. Tonight was just his night.”
While Madeira attacked the rim, Versailles was continually shooting from the outside in the early stages of the game. Twelve of the Tigers’ 19 shots in the first half came from behind the 3-point line with Justin Ahrens and Michael Stammen making two each.
Madeira’s tough defense, which paid extra attention to Ohio State University commit Justin Ahrens, along with Versailles’ failure to execute offensively hurt the Tigers, Swank said.
“They chased, they held, they did everything and threw the kitchen sink at him,” Swank said. “You know, I thought he was being guarded pretty tightly, a little bit too tightly at times, but you can’t let that happen. We’ve just got to screen better. We had a lot of screens set up for him, and we got run off of them.”
With Versailles’ offense struggling to find a rhythm, the Tigers found themselves trailing 16-13 at the end of the first quarter and 32-21 at halftime.
The second half didn’t start any better for Versailles as Madeira began the third quarter on a 10-4 run to push its lead to a game-high 17 points. But in the final three minutes of the period the Tigers became more aggressive and went on a 10-0 run to pull within 7 points, 42-35.
“I think it was more of our defensive pressure just picked up,” Swank said. “We got a lot of stuff off our defense, frustrated them. We rebounded better with our pressure as well on the defensive end and looked to attack a little bit more. We didn’t settle as much. Early on we settled and shot a lot of 3s. The middle was wide open; we just didn’t exploit it like we should have.”
Within striking distance entering the fourth quarter, Versailles’ energy picked up and the Tigers seemingly had all the momentum. Less than four minutes into the period they tied the game at 48-48 with a 3-pointer from Justin Ahrens.
Madeira made a pair of shots to go back up by 4 points, but Versailles kept it close with a basket by AJ Ahrens and then a free throw from Justin Ahrens.
Down 52-51 with less than a minute to go, Versailles couldn’t get a shot to fall, though. After a free throw by Madeira made it a 2-point game, Versailles again came up short on the offensive end.
Madeira then added a basket and two more free throws in the final 16 seconds to pull out a 6-point victory and end Versailles’ season.
“We ran out of time,” Swank said. “I wish we could put another quarter up on the clock and maybe things would be different. But we dug ourselves into too big of a hole, and the consequence of doing that is you lose a game here tonight.”
AJ Ahrens finished Wednesday’s contest with a team-leading 15 points. Also for Versailles, Justin Ahrens scored 13 points, Stammen scored 12, Keaton McEldowney scored 6, Noah Richard scored 3, and Evan Hiestand scored 2.
Cravaack led Madeira with a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds. Also for the Mustangs, Adam Wieczorek scored 14 points, Kyle Johnson scored 13, Eric Hoeffel scored 6, and Mark Manfredi scored 2.
Wednesday’s loss marked the end of the season for Versailles, which finished 21-5. It also marked the end of the high school basketball careers of Versailles seniors AJ Ahrens, Justin Ahrens, Kyle Jones, Keaton McEldowney and Noah Richard.
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.