The Versailles Tigers showed their entire arsenal in an impressive win over Eastern Brown, will play Saturday for their third state title.
Columbus – In a word, it was a “clinic”. That’s how well the Versailles Tigers played Friday afternoon in their 58-34 win over Eastern Brown in the day’s second Division III semi-final game.
Their confidence in big games was on full display. Loose? They even had fun with the moment while Eastern Brown obviously struggled with the enormity of the opportunity.
On offense their ball movement was extraordinary, in large part negating the obvious size advantage held by Eastern Brown. The Warriors started three that were 6′ feet or bigger.
On defense their quickness and overall speed took away much of what Eastern Brown had done comfortably all year.
They beat the Warriors’ size advantage on the offensive boards, an example of the competitiveness that coach Jacki Stonebraker would say personifies every moment they spend on the floor – even in practice.
And in short, they were just comfortable in their own skin, to borrow from the popular commercial.
It was close at the outset, Versailles holding a 14-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, but with one ominous caveat. Camille Watren came out and immediately hit a big three-point shot (three of them, in fact) to put them “at ease”, in the words of Kami McEldowney.
Watren, McEldowney, Danielle Winner and the entire cast built upon that confidence, that “at ease” feeling immediately in the second quarter, building their lead to 13 points at one point and went to the halftime locker room with a 26-15 lead.
They held serve in the third, as Brown changed defenses, tried to push pace a bit…anything to affect a change in a game pattern that was obviously slipping away from them.
And in the fourth, with the game comfortably in hand (the Tigers led by as much 26 points), the Tigers continued their “workshop” on how to play. Even the JV subs that entered in the final minutes were still looking for an “assist”, trying to impress that everyone who plays for Versailles is taught to play the game the right way, regardless of score. In Stonebraker’s words, it was about as close to a clinic as you can get.
“I don’t even know sometimes where it comes from,” she said afterwards. “But they just seem to play well together. Everyone knows that we need every single girl on this team. From the star three-point shooter to the manager on the team, everyone knows that they’re needed, and they play like that. They don’t ever want someone to be left out. And that comes from the way we do our work in practices. Everyone’s involved and it showed today because we did do just about all of the little things you need to win.”
Inclusive? How about four players in double figures – Kami McEldowney (11), Camille Watren (14, including 3 of 5 from three-point range), Liz Ording (11), and Danielle Winner (14). A lot of had to do with sharing the basketball, and again, the Tigers put on a clinic with their ball movement on offense.
“We were ready to play,” added Stonebraker. “We knew they ran a 1-2-2, they ran a 2-3, they played some man, and we recognized it and knew what plays we needed to run to attack those defenses.”
They attacked, they played, with the confidence of playing in the season’s first scrimmage, not the state semi-final game.
“We were having fun, even walking down the hall to get to the court,” said Danielle Winner. “We were making a lot of noise.”
They handled the visual aspect of playing in a big arena, not the average high school gym. If you’ve never tried it, the depth perception you need to shoot from the perimeter is a whole different challenge. It never bothered McEldowney, Watren, who coolly hit 5 of 10 from behind the three-point line, for 50% efficiency.
“The same game, same ball, same shot as at home,” laughed McEldowney. Well actually it’s not…but they made it look that way.
The little things that Stonebraker mentioned, including rebounds, mattered greatly. The Tigers out-rebounded Brown by a margin of 30%, high for a game of such magnitude (31-20). And more importantly, a lot of their points came on offensive rebounds (19 points on 16 offensive boards).
“Hats off to them (Versailles),” said Brown coach Kevin Pickerill. “They played well. They’re a veteran team with big game experience and that showed today. The Warriors were making their fourth state appearance, but the first since 2002.
And one thing that Stonebraker did not mention – they did all this with the remnants of a flu bug that had made its way around this week. Kami McEldowney looked no worse for the wear.
Overall, they shot 46.3% from the floor (19 of 41), and hit 15 of their 20 opportunities from the foul line (75%)
Eastern Brown, by contrast, struggled with their numbers. The Warriors shot just 34% from the field (13 of 38), 3 of 12 from three point range (25%), and couldn’t get to the line to take advantage of one of their strengths. They shot 83% from the free throw line…but only got there six times.
It sets up an interesting match for Saturday’s Division III final – Versailles seeking its third title in the last decade, against a Gilmour Academy team trying to win its first. The Lancers are making just their second trip to the Final Four, all-time.
“You know, I try to tell them to enjoy this, to make the most of these opportunities,” said Stonebraker, who was never fortunate enough to experience being a state champion during her own sparkling career at Versailles.
“But to be able to perform at such high expectations is an incredible thing for 15, 16, and 17-year-olds. And anytime you can make it back to the state and to this level is an incredible thing. It takes the right combination and playing well at the right time.
“But they push each other in practice every single day. They never, ever, let down. That’s the kind of morale we have on the team, and hopefully it stays (for another day), because it’s been a good ride.”
And something worth noting, and duplicating, for other teams who aspire to copy their success. They could market films of their win on Friday. It pretty much looked…like a clinic!