Versailles struggled to close, and the Celina Bulldogs took full advantage, scoring the winning bucket in the final seconds of Friday’s non-conference matchup to hand the Tigers an early-season loss.
By Rob Hemmelgarn for Press Pros
Versailles, OH – Both the Versailles Tigers and Celina Bulldogs enjoyed football seasons with deep playoff runs which culminated into the Division VI state championship and Division III state semi-finals, respectively.
And for much of their meeting last night on the hardwood it resembled two teams which obviously were not that far removed from the football season. Missed shots, untimely fouls, and failure to drum up tons of rhythmn on either end of the floor, can still be excusable at this point in the season, but ultimately all Celina needed was a fourth quarter of opportune buckets and impressive defense to trump everything and edge Versailles on their home floor by a 42-41 final.
“This time of year is always really interesting with Christmas break coming and then a whole lot of games in a short period of time,” smiled Celina head coach Adam Johns. “With this group, though, we have six back from last year and despite a couple of them going through some sickness this week, one thing I know is that they are going to compete and grind it out. Tonight they did exactly that. They are some of the most competitive high school kids I have ever met.”
There was not much significance for the visitors through the first three periods, especially after they stared at an eight-point deficit, thanks to Versailles sophomore Ethan Wilker’s bunny on the dish from classmate Drake Ahrens. The bucket pushed the Tigers in front 37-29 within the first few seconds of the start of the fourth quarter.
From there it appeared as all that were left were the formalities for Versailles head coach Travis Swank and his crew. Just then, though, Celina’s Braylon Gabes decided to do what he had done all football season as both the Western Buckeye League’s Offensive AND Defensive Player of the Year – take over.
It began with a pair of quick buckets in transition by the senior and then he followed up with a couple of free throws. Add in a drive and reverse layup a few minutes later from Gabes, and all of a sudden what seemingly not that long ago had been a comfortable ten-point lead for Versailles, was now a 37-37 battle.
“Braylon is always going to draw a lot of attention,” Johns pointed out. “When he doesn’t sit back and settle for jump shots, he becomes a much better basketball player and that showed tonight.”
As the non-conference tilt suddenly evolved into a chess match, the free throw line and timeouts became everyone’s best friend for the final three minutes. Celina senior Jake Knapke drained a free throw at the 1:53 mark to give his team their first lead since midway through the second quarter at 40-39, and with 36 seconds on the clock, Caleb Gabes had a chance to give his team a little more breathing room with two free throws. Unfortunately he missed both, but his team still maintained their one-point edge.
On their ensuing possession, Wilker slivered through the Celina defense with a smooth lay up to put his team in the driver’s seat 41-40 with 23 ticks reflecting off of the scoreboard. “I feel defensively we played very well tonight, but on the offensive end we got kind of stagnant,” Swank explained.
“We didn’t have a lot of movement or screening, so we are going to need to play better. Hopefully we can learn from this – it’s early in the season and we are trying to figure things out – we will go back to the drawing board and get better from tonight.”
Unfazed and locked in, the Bulldogs regained possession and with five seconds left, Caleb Gabes redeemed himself with a driving layup to slide his team back in front, 42-41.
Versailles immediately called timeout and then Celina followed up with the same thought process in order to discuss the final play. The Tigers embraced their final opportunity as senior AJ Griesdorn received the inbound pass and rifled the ball to junior Jace Watren, who uncorked the potential game-winner. The shot fell short and with it, so did Versailles’ opportunity at moving to 3-0, as Celina secured the one-point win – their first over the Tigers since 2021, by a final of 42-41.
With the triumph, Celina moved to 2-2 on the year, while the Tigers slipped to 2-1.
“We didn’t play well in our loss on Tuesday, especially in the first half, so to come in here tonight at get the win is huge for us,” Johns commented. “I don’t care who we play – if it is a MAC team or in the WBL – it’s never easy on the road and I am proud of the kids tonight.”