COLUMBUS – With three players taller than 6 feet, Elyria Catholic is accustomed to dominating the boards. But on Thursday Versailles dominated the boards, and that propelled the Tigers to a 63-47 win and a spot in the state final.
Versailles outrebounded Elyria Catholic 39-24 in Thursday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state semifinal girls basketball game to secure its third appearance in the Division III state championship game in the past four years.
“That’s what won us the game – rebounding in general,” Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “I felt like we beat them on the boards, and I look down here, and we beat them by 15. That number is the reason why we won this game. And low turnovers. I noticed we only had six turnovers the entire game.”
Even though Elyria Catholic provided a challenge that Versailles isn’t accustomed to with its size, the Tigers refused to concede the inside in Thursday’s game at The Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
“We were still stronger even though they were thicker,” Versailles’ senior point guard Kami McEldowney said. “We’re not just going to stop giving it into the post. That’s part of our game right there. We needed to, and I think they stepped up.”
Versailles’ top three post players – Elizabeth Ording, Danielle Winner and Lindsey Winner – combined for 37 points and 22 rebounds. Senior Danielle Winner was the leader inside with a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“It was definitely a new experience this year, but you just have to have confidence and know that if you keep going up against them you can get them in foul trouble and you can get them off the floor,” the Tiger senior said.
Elyria Catholic did run into some foul trouble with two of its three top scorers this season fouling out – Megan Scheibelhut and Ally Winnen, both of whom are taller than 6 feet.
Though Versailles came out on top in the end, the Tigers got off to a slow start in Thursday’s game, and Elyria Catholic led 8-7 at the end of the opening quarter.
The teams traded the lead three times in the first two minutes of the second quarter before Versailles started to pull away and built a 24-19 halftime lead.
“We talked about our defense,” Stonebraker said of her halftime message to her team. “Our defense was lacking. We were letting them get to the middle of the floor way too often, stuff that we haven’t done all year. We talked about just the basics. Secondly we talked about going up to the free throw line, focusing on the rim and putting our free throws in because it wasn’t pretty in the first half.”
Versailles missed its first seven free throw attempts of the game but then turned it around and finished the night 19-of-27, making 19 of its final 20 attempts.
Elyria Catholic kept it close in the early stages of the third quarter, but Versailles finished the period on a 10-5 run to lead 40-30 entering the fourth quarter.
“Their experience probably carried them to a good extent,” Elyria Catholic coach Eric Rothgery said.
Versailles led by at least 7 points throughout the entire fourth quarter on its way to a 16-point victory.
“We didn’t play our best game today,” Stonebraker said. “It wasn’t the cleanest game that I’ve seen our ladies play, but down the stretch we got it done. We made some shots, we made our free throws at the end in the second half, and they stuck together; they kept communicating. It was a different team than we’re used to playing. We’re not used to playing against such bigs inside, and it took us out of our game a little bit, but they adjusted, and we got the W, and that’s what matters right now.”
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with a team-high 17 points on Thursday. Also for the Tigers, Danielle Winner scored 14 points, Lindsey Winner scored 13, Ording scored 10, Ellen Peters scored 4, Caitlin McEldowney scored 3, and Hailey McEldowney scored 2.
“Our team is such a team,” Stonebraker said. “They don’t care who scores points. They don’t care who gets the rebound as long as somebody does.”
Faith Williams led Elyria Catholic with a game-high 18 points. Also for the Panthers, Ally Winnen scored 13 points, Abby Winnen scored 6, Scheibelhut scored 4, Julia Allegretto scored 3, Kaylie Griffin scored 2, and Regan Schill scored 1.
Elyria Catholic’s players hoped for a better outcome, but they finished their season proud of their accomplishments and hopeful that they’ll be able to make trips to Columbus a regular occurrence like Versailles has.
“You have to play perfect to be able to beat this team,” Ally Winnen said. “They have a lot of experience.”
Versailles will play for the Division III state championship at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. After falling just 2 points short of a championship last season, the Tigers are hoping for a new ending this year.
“For Kami and I, we really want to go out on a state championship,” Danielle Winner said. “There’s only 32 minutes standing in our way.”
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.