By Rob Kiser
COLUMBUS — Versailles senior Danielle Winner’s message was clear.
And if the math came a little slow, that’s understandable.
She was coming off playing 24-hard minutes and recording a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in Versailles 63-47 win over Elyria Catholic in the Division III state semfinals at the Schottenstein Center on the OSU campus.
“We want to go out as state champions,” Winner said as she glanced over at fellow senior Kami McEldowney, who nodded in agreement, in the press conference after the Tigers win. “And we are ….”
As she paused, Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker helped her out.
“32 minutes,” Stonebraker said with a smile.
“Yes,” Winner said. “We are 32 minutes from making that happen.”
But, the Tigers know that will not come easy.
Versailles, 28-1, will play Africentric 26-3 for the state title at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Nubians have been state champions five times and own a victory over Mason, who played in the D-I semifinals Friday and their only losses to Ohio teams were to Division I Wayne and Newark.
In Friday’s 50-37 win over Ottawa-Glandorf in the other D-III semifinal, 6-foot junior Jordan Horston had 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.
Alexia Smith, a 5-9 sophomore, had 13 points and five rebounds; 5-9 sophomore Nyam Thornton scored 10 points; 5-11 freshman Maliyah Johnson grabbed seven rebounds and 5-7 junior Tearra Cook had six boards.
“Ottawa-Glandforf and Africentric are two completely different teams,” Stonebraker said before the two teams played. “It will be a completely different game plan, depending on who we play. Africentric is just so long and athletic.”
Speaking of Rebounds: Despite facing a taller Elyria Catholic team, Versailles finished with a 39-24 rebounds edge, including 21-9 in the second half as 6-2 sisters Danielle Winner and Lindsey Winner combined for 18 rebounds and 5-8 senior Ellen Peters added eight more.
“We talked about rebounding at halftime,” Danielle Winner said. “Coach (Jacki Stonebraker) told us we had to do a better job boxing out.”
Maybe the biggest story was offensive rebounds — Versailles had 14 to Elyria Catholic’s seven, which led to a 13-6 advantage in second chance points.
Lindsey Winner had four, Danielle Winner had three and Peters grabbed two.
Winning Paint Job: The Tigers also had a 34-24 scoring advantage in the paint, with Versailles three post players (Danielle Winner, Lindsey Winner, Elizabeth Ording) scoring 14, 13 and 10 points respectively.
“Just because they were taller, doesn’t mean you don’t go inside,” senior point guard Kami McEldowney said. “They may have been thicker, but we were stronger.”
Turning It Around: It was a bizarre start from the foul line for the Tigers.
Coming off making 23 of 26 in the regional final win over Waynesville, Versailles missed its first seven attempts from the line — then proceeded to make 19 of 20 after that, including 17 of 18 in the second half.
Ording and Lindsey Winner were all 4-for-4 after the break, while Kami McEldowney, Peters, Danielle Winner and Hailey McEldowney were all 2-for-2. Caitlin McEldowney was 1-for-2.
“The odds were in our favor,” Stonebraker said with a laugh after the 0-for-7 start.
Nothing To Worry About: When Kami McEldowney picked up her third foul early in the third quarter, a lot of Versailles fans were holding their breath — and understandably so.
The point guard — who didn’t get another foul — finished the game seven-for-12 from the floor, 2-for-3 from the line, scored 17 points, dished out four assists and had just one turnover in 27 minutes of playing time.
“That (the fouls) are just the way the game goes,” McEldowney said. “If I had (missed time with fouls), my teammates would have picked me up. I had confidence in them.”
Still, McEldowney’s presence is a difference maker.
“I thought Kami (McEldowney) did a great job tonight with stepping back to create shots,” Stonebraker said.
One Word: Kami McEldowney summed up in one word what playing in a third state championship game in four years means.
“Undescribable,” McEldowney said with a big smile. “And we are going for it (the state title).”
And you don’t need to do any math to figure that out.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.