By Rob Kiser
SPRINGFIELD — In Versailles girls basketball team’s first four tournament games, the Lady Tigers had an average victory margin of 23.5 points — and the closest game had been a 53-35 win over Northeastern.
In the Division III regional semifinals Wednesday night at Springfield High School, Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker knew that was going to change — and that her team was prepared for it.
She was right on both counts.
After West Liberty-Salem, 22-4, had closed to within 38-37 with just over four minutes remaining, Versailles finished the game on a 8-0 run for a 46-37 victory.
Versailles, 21-6, will play Marion Pleasant, a 48-20 winner over Bethel-Tate in the first game Wednesday, in the regional title game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I always have said, ‘You can’t control who you play in the tournament — but you can control who you play in your first 22 games. We were down 16 points against Tri-Village this year (before coming back and winning). We wouldn’t have won this game if it had been played in December.”
And after Lauren Monnin set the tone early — and often — guard Kami McEldowney came up with the two biggest baskets of the game down the stretch.
Versailles led by as many as nine in the second half, before Gabby Hollar hit a three for WLS to make it 38-37.
McEldowney drove the lane and got a layup just under the outstretched arm of 6-foot-4 Jamie Peterson to make it 40-37.
“Whatever is open, that is what I am going to look for,” McEldowney said.
After WLS called timeout with 2:47 to go, the Champaign County Tigers missed the front end of a one-and-one.
At the other end, Versailles 6-foot-1 post Danielle Winner spotted McEldowney break free as she cut to the basket and she converted it to make it 42-37 with 2:00 to go.
“Those are two young players, but they make some big plays,” Stonebraker said about the sophomores.
It was not by coincidence.
“During the timeout, I told Danielle (Winner), I am going hard to the basket, look for me,” McEldowney said. “Once you get on a roll, things keep going.”
Fittingly it was Monnin, who finished with a game-high 19 points, that scored in the final minute to put the game away — and that it was the Tigers defense that turned the game by holding WLS scoreless for more than four minutes to end the game.
“I knew we were going to go in at halftime and be able to pick up our intensity on defense (in the seocnd half),” Monnin said.
It was the 5-8 senior post who set the tone early, going right at the 6-4 Peterson.
“I knew it didn’t matter how tall she was,” Monnin said. “I wanted to come out and attack on offense. We weren’t going to be intimidated.”
Not only did she have nine points in the opening quarter, she had two assists.
“Lauren (Monnin) came out was just an animal out there,” Stonebraker said. “Danielle (Winner) did too.”
Monnin capped her first quarter with an amazing shot.
With WLS leading 13-11, Monning realized the clock was running out and put up a shot from just beyond the 3-point line. She found nothing but net to give Versailles a 14-13 lead.
“It is kind of funny, because Lauren (Monnin) is always talking about how she wants to shoot a 3-point shot in the game,” Stonebraker said. “I have never told her she couldn’t.”
Winner scored all seven of her points in the second quarter as Versailles took a 24-22 lead at halftime.
Mikalia McIntosh hit a three to give WLS a 25-24 lead to start the second half, but Versailles answered with 10 straight points.
McEldowney banked in a three, Kristin Langston hit her second three and Monnin scored twice to make it 34-25.
Hollar hit a three to close the third quarter to get WLS within 38-32 and the Champaign County Tigers continue to rally in the fourth quarter — before Versailles’ big finish.
“It is not that unusual for us to lose a seven-point lead like that,” Stonebraker said. “Kristin (Langston) hit some big shots. All the girls that came off the bench played well and even the girls that didn’t play were a big part of this.”
“It just gets more exciting every time,” she said. “I am just thankful for the coaching staff, the fans and the way they support us — the water girls on the bench, who do a great job.”
McEldowney added 10 points to Versailles’ cause, while Camille Watren grabbed six rebounds.
McIntosh had nine points and seven rebounds for WLS, while Hollar scored eight points and Peterson grabbed eight rebounds.
Versailles was 18 of 39 from the floor for 46 percent and six of nine from the line for 67 percent.
WLS was 15 of 43 from the floor for 35 percent and two of seven from the line for 29 percent.
WLS won the battle of the boards 25-21, but had 15 turnovers to Versailles’ 12.
Now Versailles plays in a third straight regional final.
“That’s why we play the schedule we do,” Stonebraker said. “That’s what gets you to the regional finals.”
And once again, no matter what situation they face —the Lady Tigers will be prepared.
West Liberty-Salem (37)
Jamie Peterson 3-0-6, Lily Yoder 2-0-5, Mikalia McIntosh 3-0-9, Madison Oelker 0-0-0, Taylor Lauck 1-2-4, Gabby Hollar 3-0-8, Kelsey Day 2-0-5. Totals: 14-2-37.
Kami McEldowney 3-3-10, Camille Watren 0-0-0, Kristin Langston 2-0-6, Danielle Winner 2-3-7, Lauren Monnin 9-0-19, Ellen Peters 2-0-4, Clair Schmitmeyer 0-0-0, Kami Ording 0-0-0. Totals: 18-6-46.
3-point field goals — WLS: Yoder, McIntosh (3), Hollard (2), Day. Versailles: McEldowney, Langston (2), Monnin.
Score By Quarters
WLS 13 22 32 37
Versailles 14 24 38 44
Records: WLS 22-4, Versailles 21-6.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.