MARIA STEIN — Versailles’ hopes of defending its Midwest Athletic Conference championship essentially disappeared on Monday. Marion Local finished the game on a 7-2 run to stay in sole possession of first place in the MAC with a 52-47 win.
Versailles began the season with wins in 16 of its first 17 games but has lost three consecutive games in the last week. First the Tigers lost 74-69 to Vandalia-Butler on Feb. 6 and then lost 46-44 at state-ranked St. Henry on Friday. On Monday, Versailles’ skid reached three games with a loss at state-ranked Marion Local.
“We’ve got to find a way to win these,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “I’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do better as a team at just finding ways to win these close ones. As we talked about, though, in the locker room, a lot of good opponents that we’re playing here right now so there’s nothing wrong about playing that type of competition. We just need to make sure we execute and finish better.”
Michael Stammen scored to tie the score at 45-45, but in the final 90 seconds Marion Local outscored Versailles 7-2.
“I thought our effort was tremendous here again tonight,” Swank said. “Can’t fault our kids for how hard they played. They gave everything that they had, but we just couldn’t quite come up with a victory here at the end.”
Versailles, ranked sixth in Division III in the Associated Press state rankings, fell to 16-4 overall and 6-2 in the MAC with Monday’s loss. Marion Local, ranked 11th in the Division IV state rankings, improved to 15-3 overall and 7-0 in the MAC. The Flyers can clinch the league title with wins against New Knoxville and Coldwater.
Marion Local utilized a defense on Monday that St. Henry employed to defeat Versailles – a box and one. The Flyers constantly had a player guarding Ohio State commit Justin Ahrens while their other four players played a zone defense.
“I told the guys if we don’t get better at box and one that probably the defense you’re going to see the rest of the year,” Swank said. “We’ve got to make sure we can operate in it or any type of zone a little bit better.”
The defense frustrated Versailles’ offense with only Kyle Jones and Keaton McEldowney managing to score points in the opening quarter. The Tigers’ slow start helped the Flyers build a 16-10 lead in the first quarter.
“Kind of the common denominator of what’s been going on in these three games is we’ve had kind of slow starts, which is unlike us,” Swank said. “Usually we start off really quick.”
Versailles’ offense found a little more success in the second quarter, and the Tigers cut into their deficit. With 3:09 remaining in the half, Ahrens was fouled while draining a 3-pointer, resulting in a 4-point play that tied the score at 18-18.
A couple minutes later Jones hit a 3-pointer, giving Versailles its first lead of the night at 23-21 with just over a minute remaining in the half.
“He was aggressive early,” Swank said of Jones, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half. “Knocked down some big key shots for us. Was our offense there for a while. He’s so quick. He’s still coming off his injury, and you can tell he’s still not quite there 100 percent.”
In the final minute of the opening half, Marion Local’s Ryan Bruns scored four points to give the Flyers a 25-23 lead at halftime. The 6-foot-6 Bruns scored 10 of his 18 points on the night in the first half.
“The Bruns kid is just going to continue to get better,” Swank said. “He’s long, he’s athletic, and he does a lot of nice things on the court.”
Marion Local continued to lead until late in the third quarter. With less than two minutes remaining in the period, Ahrens made his second 3-pointer of the game to tie the score at 33-33. Less than a minute later McEldowney hit a 3-pointer that put the Tigers up 36-33.
“The kid is all over everywhere,” Swank said of McEldowney, who finished the night with 12 points. “I mean he’s one of the shortest guys on the court, and I don’t know how many offensive rebounds he got for us tonight. Plays tremendously hard. Never gives up at all. Continues to do all those little things that we need. And he’s going to be successful in life because he just listens and puts his head down and goes to work a lot of times.”
Versailles led 38-35 at the end of the third quarter and maintained its lead for most of the fourth quarter. But with just over three minutes remaining Nick Tangeman scored to knot the score at 43-43.
Then with a little more than two minutes left in the game the Flyers retook the lead with a basket by Tyler Mescher, who finished the night with a game-high 23 points.
“Mescher is such a wide body that he misses shots, but then he’s right there,” Swank said. “He doesn’t leave the ground very much, and when our guys leave the ground to go up with him and he misses, he’s the guy that usually gets the rebound because we’re out of position, and that’s how he gets a lot of points.”
Jones and McEldowney led Versailles with 12 points each on Monday. Ahrens and Noah Richard each scored seven.
Versailles will conclude MAC play on Friday at Coldwater and will host Greenville on Saturday in its regular-season finale.
Kyle Shaner | AIM Media Midwest
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316, or follow on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate.