It took a while to unwind, but the final eight minutes of #3 Versailles vs. #4 Minster gave a packed house a lot to yell about.
Minster – It was anticipated. Two state-ranked teams in girls basketball from the same league, the MAC. There were probably going to be a few people show up.
In fact, A LOT of people showed up in Minster Thursday night to see Associated Press poll #3 ranked Versailles (Division III) and #4 Minster (Division IV) duke it out for league bragging rights. It had to be good, right?
Uh, well…it depends on your perspective, and whether you like a lot of orange and black. Minster eventually won the game 59-51, but the beginning was anything but anticipated. It took a while, in fact. But when it eventually got good at the end…it was GREAT!
Versailles did nothing to help their cause with a horrible start. Any thoughts of a dream matchup between two of the state’s best looked more like a nightmare.
The Tigers simply couldn’t shoot the ball. Shot after show clanked, rolled around the rim and off, or got blocked by Minster’s interior defense.
To make the nightmare complete, they couldn’t connect from the foul line, either. They got there twelve times in the first half…and made four of the twelve attempts, just 33%. In truth, the only thing dreamy about the Tigers’ start was Kami McEldowney’s 6 first quarter points. They were lucky trail at the end of it, 18-10.
In contrast, Minster was getting up and down the floor, getting the same point-blank opportunities at the rim as Versailles. The difference was…sophomore Courtney Prenger, Rosie Westerbeck, Ali Borgerding, Alli Fischer and Lindsey Goetgerman were cashing in.
And more, in a rarity of rarities, the Wildcats were beating Versailles down the court in transition, converting turnovers into points while building a steady lead. Frustration for Versailles, and fouls began to mount for both teams. But by halftime Minster had to feel pretty good about a 33-21 advantage.
“You could feel the energy we had,” said Minster coach Mike Wiss. “You could feel it as we built the lead. We were playing a great team, we had some things going our way, making shots and playing good defense, and doing it in front of a big crowd. It isn’t often you see a crowd like this (for girls basketball).”
And that energy multiplied in the third quarter as Minster got right back into frustration mode, making Versailles rush, play out of rhythm, and again…they beat them up and down the floor in transition.
The lead swelled to 15, then 18 at one point by the end of the third quarter.
But as Wiss admits, Versailles is a good team. They deserve their #3 AP ranking, and you know that what goes around will eventually come around. The shots that didn’t fall in the first three quarters for McEldowney, Lindsey Winner, Liz Ording, Camille Watren and Danielle Winner were eventually going to find a way. And they did.
Buoyed by McEldowney’s three point shooting at the outset of the fourth, the Tigers whittled away at the deficit.
Energized themselves with some made shots and a frenetic full-court press, the momentum swung. The lead dwindled to 10, then 7, 5, and at one point with five minutes left in the game, a pair of Ellen Peters free throws actually cut the lead to 3 points, 46-43.
But at that point Minster called a timeout and settled themselves. They went inside to Prenger, a tall sophomore with a feathery touch and she began to bang away against Winner and Ording in the paint. They built the lead back to 5, then 7, and try as they might, Versailles could never get closer.
Even with the clock stopped and the Tigers at the foul line, their shooting woes continued. They would finish just 14 of 26 for the night…61%.
“It was a combination of things,” said Jacki Stonebraker afterwards. “But free throws…where do you start with free throws? And missed bunnies around the rim. I thought they did a nice job inside. That hurt us all night, and then they made some big shots from outside, as well. It came down to a transition game and we tried to press and put pressure on the ball. But their bigger guards were bigger than our little guards, they could see down the court, and they just beat us.”
It wasn’t that simple, actually, or matter of fact. To get within three points with five minutes left, Versailles staged one of season’s best comeback attempts. And had it not been for their inability to cash in at the line throughout the game the outcome could well have been different.
But one got the impression that down by so much for so long…they simply didn’t have enough gas left in the tank at the end.
“That always goes through my mind,” Stonebraker added. “I was running subs in and out of the game, and it’s game 18 of the season, but our conditioning should have been there.”
The comeback included a heroic effort by McEldowney, who finished with a game-high 23 points, but probably brooded on the bus home about her team’s twelve missed free throws.
Courtney Prenger turned out to be the antidote for her team. At the 46-43 point of the game, she put her head down and went to work, scoring 7 of her team’s 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“Courtney started for us as a freshman last year, and she’s still a work in progress,” said Wiss. “But when she got tired in the fourth quarter she was still able to focus on the things we work on in practice every day. She was able to finish at the rim, where they (Versailles) couldn’t.”
Prenger finished with a team-high 15 points, but had plenty of help from Fischer (5), Roetgerman (5), Westerbeck (13), Borgerding (5) and Taylor Kogge (7).
Their lone loss (now 14-1) came last weekend against Ottoville, and in Wiss’s perspective, it was an experience not unlike that which Versailles went through Thursday.
“It was probably a good thing for us,” added Wiss. “It might have opened our eyes because this was the most energy we’ve played with for four quarters all year.”
And for Courtney Prenger, an example of how experience, coupled with hard work, and the help of your teammates, can come back to pay dividends.
“We worked really hard in practice this week,” said the ‘Cats young soph. “This was a good team win. When they came back like they did we had to attack. That’s what I did – that’s what our team did. We work on those post moves constantly in practice, that and footwork, and tonight it helped me get to the rim and finish.”
Good teams need an “Ottoville” now and then. And chances are Versailles will work on a few things of their own between now and their next game – possibly from the free throw line.
They learned the hard way Thursday. It can make even a great game, and a great comeback…even better.