By Rob Kiser
SPRINGFIELD — The whoosh of air that sailed through the Springfield High School gym as the time ran off the clock in the Versailles girls basketball teams’s 53-48 win over Purcell-Marian in Monday’s D-III district championship game was a collective sigh of relief from Tiger fans.
And understandably so as the D-III state poll champions rallied from 10 points down in the final 7:30 for the win.
With the win, Versailles improves to 25-1 and will play 24-1 Williamsburg in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Springfield. Purcell-Marian closes the season at 18-8.
“It didn’t look good did it?” Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “I looked down the bench (late in the third quarter) and said, ‘We need a miracle’. But, it was a miracle. It was just the grit and desire these kids have. It isn’t like we haven’t been in this situation before. These kids just know what to do in those situations.”
And it was two sophomores who sparked the turnaround.
First, Caitlin McEldowney took the ball away from Purcell-Marian following an inbounds pass.
“Somebody just needed to do something,” McEldowney said. “We just needed one play. Really, it was a team effort.”
Ten seconds later, Lindsey Winner stepped in front of a pass and dribbled down the floor for another layup to make 37-33 at the 7:17 mark.
“I had to do it for my teammates,” Winner said about playing one of her best games. “You could just feel it — our whole team was fired up after those two plays.”
Stonebraker said with was just a matter of letting her team do what it does best.
“Sometimes, I think we hold them back too much,” Stonebraker said. “The way they played in the fourth quarter is the way they like to play. Caitlin (McEldowney) said let’s go 100 (full-court pressure) — let’s get after them and I said lets do it because what I had been telling them obviously wasn’t working.”
After a Purcell-Marian free throw, Kami McEldowney buried a three and Lindsey Winner hit a 10-foot jumper and just like that, the game was tied at 38 with 5:49 to go.
Following a Cavaliers timeout, the rally continued.
Danielle Kunk scored off a Caitlin McEldowney assist to give Versailles its first lead since 8-7 in the first quarter and Lindsey Winner followed with another basket to make it 42-38.
“Lindsey (Winner) is just a phenomenal athlete,” Stonebraker said. “And you saw that tonight.”
Then, Kami McEldowney did what she does — taking her game to another level when it matters most.
McEldowney — who scored 13 points in the fourth quarter — hit another three to make the lead 45-40, then hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Also during that fourth quarter run, Ellen Peters had several key offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.
“I love those moments,” Kami McEldowney said. “Ever since my freshman year at state. I look forward to that challenge. My sister Caitlin (McEldowney) hada big steal that just turned the game around and fired all of us up.”
And Stonebraker has seen Kami McEldowney do it before in the clutch.
“She has the eye of the Tiger,” Stonebraker said. “She is a different player in the fourth quarter.”
After Versailles had started the tournament with three running clock games, it was stunning to see what was going on in the first three quarters.
When Kami McEldowney and Peters hit back-to-back threes to get Versailles within 21-20 late in the first half, it looked like the Tigers were ready to take control.
But, Santia Cravens hit a three to put the Cavaliers up 24-20 at half and Versailles would not score again until a basket by Lindsey Winner off an assist from Hailey McEldowney with 2:50 to go in the third quarter.
By then, Versailles trailed 31-20 and was still looking at a double-digit deficit early in the fourth quarter.
“We talked between quarters,” Kami McEldowney said. “I just said whoever wants it the most is going to be district champion.”
And from the time they trailed Purcell-Marian 37-27 early in the fourth quarter, Versailles had a 26-11 advantage the rest of the way.
“We were down against Roger Bacon 11 in the fourth quarter once in a district final,” Stonebraker said. “These girls just know what they have to do.”
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with 19 points, while Lindsey Winner had 10 points and six rebounds.
Danielle Winner had nine points and eight rebounds, while Peters added seven points and five rebounds and Caitlin McEldowney scored six.
Amil Ali-Shakir led Purcell-Marian with 14 points.
Kya Dukes scored 13 and Sha’Dia Hale added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Versailles was 18 of 47 from the floor for 38 percent and 12 of 19 from the line for 63 percent.
Purcell-Marian was 17 of 39 from the floor for 44 percent and 10 of 15 from the line for 67 percent.
The Tigers won the battle of the boards 29-22 and both teams had 11 turnovers.
And now Tiger fans can breathe easy and get ready for another trip to Springfield — after a comeback fitting of champions.
Kami McEldowney 3-10-19, Caitlin McEldowney 2-1-6, Ellen Peters 3-0-7, Elizabeth Ording 0-0-0, Danielle Winner 4-1-9, Lindsey Winner 5-0-10, Danielle Kunk 1-0-2, Hailey McEldowney 0-0-0, Kelsey Custenborder 0-0-0. Totals: 18-12-53.
Amil Ali-Shakir 5-3-14, Kya Dukes 4-4-13, Santia Cravens 2-1-6, Sha’Dai Hale 4-2-11, Jaimone Jones 2-0-4, Bianca Madaris 0-0-0, Ta’Maiya Stanley 0-0-0. Totals: 17-10-48.
3-point field goals — Versailles: K. McEldowney (3), C. McEldowney, Peters. Purcell-Marian: Ali-Shakir, Dukes, Cravens, Hale.
Score By Quarters
Versailles 8 20 27 53
Purcell-Marian 11 24 35 48
Records: Versailles 25-1, Purcell-Marian 18-8.