A gritty effort and some unexpected contributions helped the Versailles Tigers claim an impressive road win over Coldwater.
Coldwater – Coldwater head coach Mike Bruns teaches advanced placement math, and calculus…heady stuff…and has for 30 years.
And Friday, prior to the Cavaliers’ key MAC matchup with Versailles for either shares of the league lead, or outright bragging rights, Bruns attempted to share with me, a writer, how the laws of probabilities can be of benefit when you try to outline strategy in coaching.
Seriously, he’s very good, and very committed to his profession – his theories. But in Biblical terms he was casting his pearls before swine, I explained, as I struggled to learn fractions and decimals as a high schooler…and my dad was a math teacher!
He laughed, but little did he know…that two hours later his theories of probability would be pitched out the window as Versailles staged a second half comeback to win 61-52…and hand Bruns and the Cavaliers their first league loss of the season.
And it was the most unlikely candidate in the Tigers’ lineup that punked Bruns’ theories on the relativity of probabilities. Go figure, eh? More about that in a moment.
Coming off two impressive shooting performances in the past week with wins over Ft. Recovery and Marion Local, Coldwater entered the game with a 10-4 mark and all the momentum in the world.
Versailles, at 12-5, had had their ups and downs. When they’ve been good, they’ve been very good. On other nights…it’s been a head scratcher!
Friday, it was Coldwater’s turn to scratch…and claw. The Cavaliers were sloppy at times, particularly at the outset, and played to a 12-12 standstill at the end of the first quarter.
They were little better in the second, despite center Andy Brunet’s 14 first-half points, despite running up a 9-point advantage before Versailles’ Justin Ahrens shot the Tigers back into the game and cut the Cavalier lead to four at halftime, 26-22.
“I told our kids that I was pretty happy with them scoring 26 points,” said Versailles coach Scott McEldowney. “We weren’t making shots, but we were still in the game.”
Credit Coldwater for being such a hospitable host. And as the old adage goes, if you let a good team hang around long enough…pretty soon the shots will begin to fall.
Ahrens hit a three. His brother, A.J. Ahrens, hit a shot from the paint. Justin hit another three; teammate Brett McEldowney hit one, then another…and suddenly the Tigers had a six-point lead.
But Coldwater fought back, closed the deficit with shots of their own, and shifted defensive focus to shut down Justin Ahrens. It left the door open for a shift in the game, in confidence, and a lift from which Versailles never came down.
Late in the quarter guard Alex Wendel noticed that Coldwater was overplaying Ahrens, who had 15 points. Wendel instead swung the ball to junior A.J. Knapke, who had scored 6 points in the first half from the low post and the foul line; but this time Knapke was standing by himself in the deep corner without a defender as close as 15 feet. He never hesitated, launched a three-pointer, and found nothing but the bottom of the net.
Moments later, after a Coldwater turnover, Versailles ran the same play. Bruns’ defense overplayed on Ahrens, Wendel swung the ball again to Knapke…and he drained another three.
And while Coldwater would come back to tie the score, and take a one-point lead later in the final quarter, Knapke’s shots from the corner had a steadying effect on the Tigers. They never wilted, despite the roars of a partisan home crowd that grew in intensity with each shot made by Aaron Harlamert, Dylan Thobe, and Brunet.
Shots made, yes, but turnovers gave Versailles even more momentum while Coldwater squandered precious opportunity with missed free throws. And forced to foul Versailles, the Tigers made the most of their own attempts, salting the game away with 7 of 8 shooting from line in the closing minutes.
“Huge game for us,” said Tigers coach Scott McEldowney. “For the first we didn’t get rattled in a hostile environment. We settled down, no frustration, and we represented ourselves very well. I’m so proud of them for that.
“The biggest thing we changed was trying to play behind Brunet more and get him out farther from the basket. We gave up too many easy baskets because they were throwing over the top of us to him and we weren’t tall enough to stop him in the first half.”
Credit Austin Knapke and A.J. Ahrens for that, too. Undersized compared to the 6’9” Brunet, they were strong enough to muscle him out of the paint.
But in his next breath McEldowney was quick to acknowledge the shot-making of Knapke that gave his team a valuable example of fortitude.
“Austin’s been shooting it well, and we went to a little bigger lineup tonight to do a better job of screening and rebounding. It’s created some opportunities for Austin and he’s really taken advantage of it. He’s played well.”
Justin Ahrens, the one you’d expect to hurt you most with the three-point shot, was all smiles at the contribution of his teammate Knapke.
“It’s a team game,” said Ahrens. “My teammates set me up, and I set them up. But they left him (Knapke) alone in the corner. I don’t think they thought he would make those shots. That was a huge lift for us and for his confidence.”
The last guy out of the locker room, Knapke was shy to the point of turning inside out to talk about his contribution when it mattered the most. The probabilities may not be so good for him going on to a career in communications.
“I’m pretty sure they looked at me as a big man that can’t shoot…that’s going to take the ball to the basket,” he said modestly. “I’ve made those shots before and I don’t think they were aware of my shooting skills. It was a big boost to my confidence.”
And a big boost to the Versailles scorebook, which was appropriately balanced behind Justin Ahrens’ game-high 21 points.
Knapke finished with a season-high 14 points. Brett McEldowney rode his pair of made threes to 12 points. A.J. Ahrens tossed in 7, and Wendel, Keaton McEldowney, and Connor Custenborder combined for 7 more.
For Coldwater, who drops now to 10-5, Brunet finished with a team-high 20, while Aaron Harlamert added 18 on the strength of his four made three-pointers. Dylan Thobe finished with 8…Neal Muhlenkamp with 6.
As for the outcome, Mike Bruns had no problem in assessing his team’s failure to maximize on their own opportunities.
“Too many mistakes, too many turnovers,” he said, frankly. “We had the lead at halftime and we didn’t play well. I feel we had the best team tonight, but we didn’t play the best. We had the 17 turnovers, we didn’t shoot as well as we did against Ft. Recovery and Marion, and we were just a little flat and inefficient tonight.
“They made those big, key buckets there in the third quarter. We put all the attention on Justin Ahrens and they sneak McEldowney and (Knapke) open and they hit those open threes.”
Reminded of our pre-game conversation, he smiled. “We have to learn from this, probability-wise, I guess. It just didn’t go our way tonight.”
And it was that kind of night in Coldwater, a night when Austin Knapke “did the math” and became a big dog in the Versailles’ offense…a night when while leaving the school for route 118 and making my way back home, a coyote ran right down the street ahead of me, past the Southside Inn, heading south towards Versailles himself, perhaps.
Unbelievable, but a sign, maybe…an omen!
And what’s the probability of that?