When the girls D-III tournament brackets were announced a few weeks ago, a lot of “experts” predicted a regional final between Versailles and Anna in a couple of weeks, with a berth in the state tournament hanging in the balance.
Someone forgot to tell the Miami East Vikings.
After Versailles ran its winning streak to 10 with a dominating win over Middletown Madison, Miami East frustrated the top seeded Rockets for three quarters before hanging on for a 53-46 win.
“I have so much respect for Anna,” said a smiling Miami East head coach Bruce Vanover. “We told the kids before the game it’s our time. We are playing one game at a time, and the girls believe that it is our time. We didn’t talk about anything but today and living in the moment. The kids came out and really grew up today. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
It’s the 8th win in 9 games for the 17-8 Vikings, while the loss continued a puzzling slide by the Rockets. After an 18-1 start, Anna dropped 3 of its final 6 games to finish 21-4.
The Vikings outscored the Rockets 31-17 over the second and third quarters for a 44-28 lead with one quarter remaining. The Rockets offense finally awoke and went on an 18-3 tear, fueled by a full-court press that resulted in several Miami East turnovers.
When Avery Bensman hit her second three of the quarter to cap the run, the Rockets were within 47-46, and the big Anna crowd was on its feet.
That turned out to be the last thing the Rockets fans had to cheer about.
Anna missed a three on its next possession that would have given the Rockets their first lead since the first quarter, and Megan Kinnison, Kyndall Hellyer,and Morgan Haney scored on back to back to back possessions to give Miami East the stunning upset.
“I told the kids at halftime,” explained Vanover. “They are not going away. They are too good. I knew they would make a run. We were up 16 and then we were up 1. But the girls didn’t panic, and we made some plays down the stretch.
The Vikings normally start a freshman and three sophomores, and youth was indeed served. Freshman Haney led the Vikings with 16 points, sophomore Haley Howard had 8, Sophomore Kyndall Hellyer added 8 and had a huge block in the final 2 minutes, and sophomore Bailey Miller added 6 off the bench.
Macey Huelskamp scored 15 to lead the Rockets, while Bensman and Nicole Barhorst closed out their careers with 11 each.
“We weren’t hitting any shots,” said a dis-heartened Anna coach Doug Martin. “Give them credit. The played pretty good defense today. It’s just wasn’t meant to be. They were the better team today.
“We used so much energy to get back in the game in the fourth quarter, down the stretch, we just made too many mistakes.”
The Rockets took 19 more shots than the Vikings, but shot just 31%. Vanover said the idea was to frustrate the Rockets.
“We usually play a deny man to man defense, but today we wanted to pack it in. We wanted to force them to shoot outside and then out-rebound them (The Vikings had a 33-16 advantage on the boards). We wanted to make them get tired of passing the ball and take bad shots. With the exception of 4 or 5 minutes in the fourth quarter, that’s what happened.”
Meanwhile, the Versailles Tigers appear to be hitting their peak at the right time. If that’s true, the rest of D-III should be afraid, very afraid.
The Tigers won their last 13 games in winning their second state title last season. After a 9-6 start this season, Jacki Stonebrakers’ team is at full speed after flattening Middletown Madison 64-41.
The Tigers got the transition game going in the second quarter and hung a 26-7 shiner on the Mohawks, some of whom were so tired they could barely get to the locker-room at halftime.
“Our transition game was really good today,” said Stonebraker. “We have been working on that the past couple of days because I felt we had to get them out of their 2-2-1 press. We needed to get out and go before they could set up.”
Trailing 41-18, the ‘Hawks did make one last run, cutting the margin to 51-34 after here quarters. Versailles then scored 9 of the first ten points of the fourth quarter to squash what little hope Madison had left.
“The second quarter has been our quarter the past couple of games,” Stonebraker continued. “People contributing off the bench has really helped that. We can go 5 or 6 deep off the bench and still have a quality varsity team on the floor.”
While the transition game was key, it was the three point shot that got the Tigers the lead.
“Kami (McEldowney) and Kristin (Langston) hit those threes early and that loosened up their zone, made them come out further. Those shots really helped what we did in the second quarter.”
Versailles had 10 players score, led by Kami McEldowney and Danielle Winner with 13 each. Lauren monnin added 10 for the Tigers.
Kelli Bush led the Mohawks, who finisged 15-10, with 19 points.
The Tigers do not even faintly resemble the Versailles team that lost to Fort Loramie in early January. Stonebraker said maturity is the key.
“It just takes some underclassmen time to grow up. I really believe that. We have five seniors and they do a great job leading this team. We have some underclassmen in important roles, and they have to understand that every game could be their last for this season. We just have to keep rolling and make sure we stay focused. “
The Tigers very much look like a team capable of defending its state title over the next three weeks.
“It’s a matter of building a program,” said the architect of that program. “It starts with the junior high. We have junior high coaches on the bench with us, because they are trying to learn as much as they can about what we do. Our coaches, scouting, the hours they put in, it’s work. You have to work to be successful. So we are going to keep working as hard as we can.”
Versailles and Miami East advance to the District finals next Saturday at Springfield. Game times will be announced Sunday.