Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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It took two overtimes to do it in a wild and wooly affair, but New Bremen made a case for itself as an unranked Division IV team that deserves some respect come tournament time with a 61-58 win Friday over Division III No. 1 Versailles.

New Bremen, OH – New Bremen is a very good Division IV boys basketball team, only prior to Friday night no one really believed that.

That tune will change come Saturday morning after the Cardinals’ thrilling, double-overtime, 61-58 win over previously unbeaten Versailles, the state’s No. 1-ranked team in Division III.  New Bremen is unranked, now 13-3, and proved to the doubters (or to those not paying attention) that it’s going to be a factor in next month’s OHSAA tournament.

And if the score wasn’t indication enough, consider the hardships along the way.

New Bremen shot poorly from three-point range, and had little or no choice.  Versailles came out playing zone, choked off the paint, and said…beat us from behind the arc.  Unofficially, the Cardinals hit four of 12 attempts.

They also struggled mightily from the free throw line, that point on the floor where you stand 15 feet from the rim and get to shoot with no one guarding you.  Hence, the term…’free’ throw.  They finished 15-of-29 (51.7%) and still won the game.  That never happens when you play double-overtime games and leave 14 points at the foul line.

They lost their most dynamic player when David Homan fouled out in the first overtime.  Homan finished with a game-high 19 points, but tortured Versailles all night on both ends of the court — attacking the rim on offense and affecting a pair of steals from the Tigers’ backcourt that turned into transition points. Homan also hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with four seconds remaining in the first half to give the Cardinals a 28-19 halftime lead.

Physical…New Bremen’s Reece Busse takes a charge from Versailles’ Ben Ruhenkamp in the first half.

And yet, in a dramatic last five minutes of overtime as Homan was forced to watch from the bench,  his teammates — Reece Busse, Trevor Bergman, Nick Alig, Nathan Rindler, and Aaron Thieman — held on, competed and won the game.

“I’m very proud of them,”  said Homan afterwards.  “We all have our different strengths, I’d do anything for them, and they’d do anything for me.  I was upset when I fouled out, but I knew my teammates could get it done.”

Homan and company took advantage of a lethargic start by Versailles to jump out to a quick 8-2 lead and a 16-9 first quarter lead, thanks to some three-point shooting from Ben Wells and Aaron Thieman.  In support, Reece Busse and Homan each hit a pair of shots at the rim.

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Versailles had some sloppy, uncharacteristic possessions, and struggled to get the ball inside to 6-8 junior Connor Stonebraker.  In addition, the Tigers got no points from starters Ben Ruhenkamp and Jaydon Litten in the first quarter. Stonebraker, Litten and Ruhenkamp combined scored just six points before the break.  Plus, guard Noah McEldowney would pick up his third foul midway through the second quarter and had to sit.  Adding to their struggle, trailing 25-19 as the half approached its end, Homan hit the three-pointer that gave the Cardinals a confidence-building, nine-point lead going to the locker room.

New Bremen’s Aaron Thieman and Versailles’ Jaydon Litten compete for the basketball.

“We didn’t take care of the ball and they made some shots when they had to,”  said Litten afterwards.  “We had our chances.  They gave us way too many opportunities and let us back in the game.  We just couldn’t take advantage of it.”

That continued in the third quarter, although Versailles would ignite to have its best quarter of the game (18 pts), as Ruhenkamp (7), Litten (4) and Stonebraker (4) suddenly warmed to the task.  They outscored New Bremen 18-12, but Homan kept charging through the middle of the Versailles’ zone, attacking the rim or getting to the foul line. And in the second half, the foul line began to be a problem.

“We were 15-of-30 and I missed my fair share,”  Homan explained.  “It’s different from practice.  You’ve got the crowd, things are going through your mind and your hands are sweating.  But they win or lose you games, and we’ve got to work on that.”

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Little by little. Versailles crept closer, but every time it drew within three points, Homan, Alig, Thieman, Busse or Rindler would somehow make a shot to push the margin back to five points.  Had Bremen hit some free throws, the lead would have been double digits.  The one guy who wasn’t having trouble at the line was Versailles’ Noah McEldowney, who got there seven times in the second half and made six of them.

New Bremen led, 40-37, entering the fourth quarter, but Versailles kept nipping away until Reece Busse went to the line with 35 seconds left and the score 48-47.  Busse had two shots to push the envelope, but split the pair to give Bremen a 49-47 lead.

Tough to score in the paint…and Versailles’ Connor Stonebraker made it tough, stopping the shot attempt of Aaron Thieman.

Litten promptly came down the floor, hit a floater from the lane to finally pull Versailles even at 49-49.  Still, with 10 seconds left, Homan got to the lane, headed for the rim and an open layup to win at the buzzer…only Connor Stonebraker met him at the rim with a clean block to deny.  Versailles had four seconds to get the ball inbounds, to Stonebraker at midcourt, but time expired before he could get off a shot.

The first overtime was more of the same, missed opportunities at the line and a couple of untimely turnovers.  Litten hit a pair of free throws to give Versailles its first lead, 53-51.

Homan then split a pair of fouls to cut the score to 53-52, and on the ensuing possession Versailles turned it over and Busse scored to give New Bremen a 54-53 lead.

Eli McEldowney then split a pair of fouls at the other end to tie it at 54-54.

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Homan came back to the other end, was fouled, and had two shots.  He missed the first, hit the second…55-54.  Then, he fouled Litten in the backcourt and had to sit with his fifth foul.  With a chance to go ahead with 24 seconds left, Litten split the pair to tie the game at 55-55 as overtime expired.

The second overtime was a near carbon copy, turnovers and trips to the line unfulfilled, with Trevor Bergman scoring first to give New Bremen a two-point lead.  Versailles would tie, then suffer a turnover which Reece Busse turned into points, 59-57. Eli McEldowney then split a pair of fouls to make the score 59-58.  By now every time someone went to the line for either team the crowd groaned, fearing the worst.  But with 1:39 remaining New Bremen held the ball, taking more than a minute off the clock, and Bergman was again fouled with a chance to ice the game…or at least force Versailles to hit a three to tie.

New Bremen’s David Homan kept the heat on Versailles’ defense by attacking the basket.

He hit the first, and missed the second, giving Versailles a chance at the other end.  Litten missed, Bergman came out with the ball, was fouled, had two shots, and again hit the first and missed the second….61-58.

Now, with less than 15 seconds remaining, Versailles’ last hope found its way to Connor Stonebraker, who missed a three-point attempt from the wing as time expired.

“It was a great, competitive MAC basketball game,”  said Versailles coach Travis Swank.  “We had a lot of adversity throughout, with Stonebraker going down with a nagging ankle issue…and two of our starters getting in foul trouble.  But our guys came off the bench, stepped up, and kept us in the game.  Our zone saved us for a little bit, but we had some turnovers in key situations, some misses at the free throw line, and we just didn’t make enough plays at the end to win.”

Noah McEldowney quietly amassed 16 points to lead Versailles in scoring, while Litten had an excellent second half to finish with 14.  Ben Ruhenkamp added 9, Stonebraker finished with 11, and Eli McEldowney and Cole Hamilton each had 4.

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For New Bremen, Homan’s 19 led all scorers.  Busse finished with 14, Bergman and Nathan Rindler each had eight, Aaron Thieman had six and Nick Alig and Ben Wells each had three points.

It was a huge win for New Bremen, in front of a packed house, with the No. 1-ranked team as competition and conference bragging rights at stake.  It was, in fact…New Bremen coach Cory Stephens’ first win, ever, over a top-ranked team.

Jaydon Litten’s runner from the paint finally drew Versailles even in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

“It was a great team effort,”  said Stephens, quietly.  “Every kid in the program, whether they played, or were a scout guy in practice, helped us get this win tonight.  We brought back a lot of experience this year, and anyone can step up at a given time to make a play and help you win.”

Free throws?

“We practice, practice, practice, and we chart everything so the kids can see that we have to work on it,”  he added.  “We won a game tonight shooting just over 50%, but a lot times that’s not the case.  We always coach that it’s about the next play and not the last, and at any time you have to be ready to take a shot.  If you worry about the last shot you missed the ball’s going to find you again…when you have to make a play.”

He was proud of his team, as he should be.  They had survived a brutally physical contest to beat a No. 1 team, improved to 13-3, and probably opened some eyes…even those who’ve become accustomed to the roller-coaster world of MAC sports.

“We played through some adversity, and that goes back to our eight seniors,”  said Stephens.  “When David fouled out they stepped up and were the leaders on the floor.  We needed them, and they got everyone on the same page.

“Now we have to carry this over to Ridgemont tomorrow, and one game at a time after that – Marion Local, Berlin Hiland, New Knoxville, Arcanum, and Fort Recovery.  We take it one game at a time. This is good, but tomorrow we’ve got to come to work.”

Tomorrow they can come to work with some headlines.  It’s not often you beat a No. 1-ranked team the quality of Versailles, as Stephens now knows.

It’s not often you get a chance to make a case for yourself with such a win.  And if you do get that chance…be prepared for double-overtime.

With the game on the line New Bremen’s Trevor Bergman stood at the foul line with a chance to ice it.

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