By Kyle Shaner
ANNA – A physical and emotional game ended in jubilation for Versailles on Wednesday as Justin Ahrens sank a buzzer beater to defeat Anna 67-65.
Versailles had to play without its top two scorers – Justin Ahrens and AJ Ahrens – for most of the first half against Anna as the twin brothers both picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. The Tigers’ bench was able to keep them in the game, though, giving Justin Ahrens a chance to sink the winning shot at the end of the fourth quarter.
“It was a weird game, and we had a lot of adversity to go about,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said. “We had foul trouble with the Ahrens boys, and we had a stoppage in play for the right reasons, but we rose up at the end. It didn’t look pretty. We took some bad shots there towards the end, but in the end we got it done and came out of here with a ‘W’ against a really good Anna team that I think has got a really good shot of going far in the tournament.”
Versailles entered Wednesday’s game undefeated at 6-0 while Anna was 6-1 with a 1-point loss to Shelby County Athletic League-leader Russia as the lone blemish on its resume. Anna’s gym was packed to see the showdown between two of the area’s top teams, and the Rocket fans cheered loudly any time a Versailles player was called for a foul – especially Ohio State signee Justin Ahrens.
Justin Ahrens put Versailles up 5-2 early in the game, emphatically slamming down a one-handed dunk a little more than a minute into the game that brought jeers from the Rocket fans.
Versailles increased its advantage to 10-4, but then less than four minutes into the contest Justin Ahrens picked up his second foul of the night. A minute later AJ Ahrens picked up his second foul, and both brothers sat on the bench until the final 30 seconds of the second quarter.
Anna took advantage of the Ahrens twins being on the bench as the Rockets went on a 7-0 run to claim their first lead of the night with 1:36 remaining in the opening quarter.
Michael Stammen drained a big 3-pointer late in the period to end Versailles’ four-minute scoring drought then Anna’s Wyatt Bensman made a basket to knot the score at 13-13 at the end of the quarter.
Anna built a 5-point lead midway through the second quarter, which was its biggest lead of the night, but Versailles managed to stay close with scoring from Keaton McEldowney, Evan Hiestand, Noah Richard, Stammen and Kyle Jones, ending the first half trailing by 2 points, 29-27.
Swank credited players including Richard, Hiestand and Carter May for helping keep the Tigers in the game while other players struggled with foul trouble.
“We’re not a one-man band,” Swank said. “We’re not, you know, a one-man team or two-man team. We have a lot of guys that can contribute, and you saw that here tonight.”
Back on the floor, the Ahrens brothers began to take over in the third quarter and scored Versailles’ first 14 points of the period to help the Tigers build a 41-35 lead. Anna managed to pull within 2 points late in the quarter, but McEldowney drained a buzzer-beating shot at the end of the quarter to put Versailles up 47-43 entering the final eight minutes.
Versailles maintained its advantage for most of the fourth quarter. The Tigers led 61-56 with 2:28 remaining when a medical emergency with a fan forced a stoppage in play that lasted approximately 20 minutes.
After the break, Justin Ahrens made a shot that put the Tigers up 7 points, but the Rockets kept battling. Bensman and Griffin Doseck led a 9-2 Anna run as the Rockets tied the game at 65-65 with just 19 seconds remaining.
With the game on the line, Versailles put the ball in Justin Ahrens’ hands. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Tiger senior made a move to his right, pump faked and hit the game winner from just inside the 3-point line before being mobbed by his teammates.
Justin Ahrens led Versailles with a game-high 29 points on Wednesday. Also for the Tigers, Jones scored 9 points, McEldowney scored 9, AJ Ahrens scored 6, Stammen scored 6, Hiestand scored 4, and Richard scored 4.
Bensman led Anna with 29 points, matching Justin Ahrens for the most in the game. Also for the Rockets, Bart Bixler scored 11 points, Doseck scored 9, Riley Huelskamp scored 6, Joel Cathcart scored 4, Mason Platfoot scored 4, and Austin Fogt scored 2.
Anna fell to 6-2 with Wednesday’s loss while Versailles improved to 7-0. The Tigers will return to action on Friday when they play host to Miami East.