Versailles used its assets – quality and experience – to outrun Elyria to Saturday’s Division III state title game.
Columbus – It came as no surprise, really. Even Elyria Catholic coach Eric Rothgery knew it would be tough.
“You just don’t beat a team like that (Versailles) easily with the kind of athletes and experience they have,” he said following Thursday’s 63-47 Division III semi-final win by the Tigers. “They’re good, and they’re well-seasoned. They’ve been here a number of times. Their experience carried them; and we just allowed too many second chance points.”
That defined it, actually. Versailles (28-1) came back to the Final Four for a second consecutive year – their sixth in the last ten – and after a slow start offensively, put on a clinic at both ends of the court.
On offense, they had four players in double figures – Kami McEldowney (17), Danielle Winner (14), Lindsey Winner (13), and Liz Ording (10) – shot 45% from the floor, and after missing their first seven free throw attempts, they hit 18 of their next 20. Caitlin McEldowney added 3 points, Ellen Peters had 4, Hailey McEldowney rounded out their scoring with 2.
On defense, they held a strong post team to 40% shooting (17-42), but more impressively they doubled up Elyria Catholic in offensive rebounding, 14-7. Elyria, with the twin towers (and solid ones, at that) Ally and Abby Winnen (6’1″, both) in the middle, found their match in Danielle Winner, Lindsey Winner, and Elizabeth Ording.
“It isn’t often that anyone beats us on the offensive boards,” admitted Rothgery.
But often came calling on Thursday afternoon, to the tune of 34 points in the paint – and 13 points on second chance shots.
Athletes, yes. Quality, most assuredly.
But the experience factor – being cool under the bright lights of the state tournament, was perhaps the Tigers’ best, and most valued asset.
“Before the game I was a little nervous,” said Versailles senior point guard Kami McEldowney. “But being a leader on this team I knew I had to come in calm and let them know…we got this.”
She did it…in spades, seeming to enjoy the moment. She wore a smile from time to time during the 32 minutes of basketball to let everybody know…we got this!
McEldowney scored in customary fashion – slashing to the rim, she hit a three-pointer, and she converted 2 of her 3 attempts from the foul line. In addition, she dished out 4 assists.
But the most important thing she did…was draw on the experience of having won this tournament four years ago as a freshman; and the disappointment of losing by two points in last year’s final, to Gilmour Academy.
Her leadership was absorbed by teammate Lindsey Winner, who hit 4 of 6 shots from the field, 4 of 4 from the foul line, had 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal. Quietly, she had another great game to go with her performance in the regional semi-final against Purcell Marian.
It was absorbed by senior teammate Danielle Winner, who hit 5 of 11 shots from the floor, and established a Versailles presence in the paint against the Winnen sisters. She had 10 rebounds, tying Elyria’s Ally Winnen for game high.
And Liz Ording, so often overlooked as a cog in the Versailles machine, followed the lead by hitting 3 of 4 shot attempts, 4 of 6 from the line, and grabbing 4 rebounds.
Their depth, and the experience of that depth, was also a factor. Versailles had seven players with double digit minutes, and the matter of having fresh legs on the floor eventually wore down the bigger, slower Elyria.
“We’re never going to back down,” said Kami McEldowney. “We’re just as big, if not as thick as they are. And we weren’t going to give up going into the post. We wanted to run, we wanted to play with tempo, and create some foul trouble for them to get their ‘bigs’ off the floor.”
“And we had a great scout team this week,” added coach Jacki Stonebraker. “We had some guys come in and they really did a nice job. We just kept drilling in their heads…gotta’ get to the boards.”
Versailles actually trailed at the end of the first quarter, 8 to 7, but then outscored Elyria 56-39 over the final twenty four minutes. They led by five at the half, 24-19, and immediately went on a 5-point run at the start of the third quarter to increase their lead to 10. And, they were able to maintain that margin for most of the second half, despite a couple of Elyria runs, aided by the three-point shooting of guard Faith Williams, that cut the lead to single digits.
But every time they made a run McEldowney had an answer, either with points of her own…or feeding Danielle Winner to score over Ally and Abby Winnen in the post.
“She (McEldowney) is a great player, and every time we made a run at them she made a play, or they’d get second chance points that we usually don’t give up,” said Rothgery. “And against a really good team that’s going to cost you.”
Elyria Catholic leaves the tournament with a 22-6 record, but being a sophomore-laden team (they have twelve sophomores and juniors) the chances are pretty good for a return to Final Four form in 2019. Faith Williams led the Panthers with 18 points, while Ally Winnen had 13, and Abby Winnen finished with 6.
Versailles now moves on to face the winner of the day’s second Division III semi-final between Columbus Africentric and Ottawa-Glandorf, the same team they beat in 2015 for the second of their two titles under Jacki Stonebraker.
“We would be excited to play either,” said Kami McEldowney. “Especially OG. We beat ’em my freshman year and we’d like to let ’em know we can beat ’em again.”
“Two different teams,” added Stonebraker, comparing OG to Africentric. “Both are very good, and we’ll have a different plan, depending on who we play.”
But the point is…they’ll get the chance to win the MAC Conference’s 126th, or 127th team title, depending on what Minster does in the Division IV final on Saturday before they play.
But be assured. When you have the kind of experience Versailles has you want to go out a winner – Danielle, Lindsey (pardon the pun), and collectively, as champions!