SPRINGFIELD — Just call it the new “normal.”
Just don’t Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker.
“This isn’t normal,” Stonebraker said after Versailles earned its seventh trip to the Final Four in her 15 years as a coach with a 59-32 win over Waynesville Saturday in a Division III regional final at Springfield High School.
Versailles (27-1) will play Elyria Catholic (22-5) at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Schottenstein Center in Div. III state semifinals.
Stonebraker reiterated her point to her team this week.
“We were a tired team,” she said. “This was our third game in six days (with the district final being playing Monday). I was just kind of wondering if the girls were looking at this as just another game. I told them, ‘This is not normal, you have to treat this as something special’.”
But, the Tigers have a way of making it look normal and did from the start Saturday.
Their defense frustrated Waynesville (24-2) all game long.
The Spartans three double figure scorers — 5-foot-6 junior Rachel Murray, 5-5 senior Aubrey Rains and 6-0 junior Marcella Sizer — who came in combining for 42 points a game, managed just four field goals and 17 points between them.
Along with a number of big offensive rebounds, Versailles senior guard Ellen Peters, along with Caitlin McEldowney and others, chased Murray every where when she was on the floor.
“We knew we had to stop 4 (Marcella Sizer) and 21 (Rachel Murray),” Peters said. “We knew we had to take away their driving lanes.”
And the Tigers did just that.
“There was one play where Ellen (Peters) got a foul,” Stonebraker said with a smile. “You could just look at that girl’s eyes (Ellen Peters) and see the grit she plays with.”
That combined with some timely 3-pointers led Versailles to leads of 12-6 after one quarter and 32-19 at halftime.
Kami and Hailey McEldowney each hit one in the first half — and Danielle Kunk hit both of hers, making her seven of eight from the 3-point line for the regional and probably wishing the state tournament was played there.
“Well, hopefully she is not done,” Stonebraker said of Kunk. “But, she really loves this gym. And we have her for two more years.”
In a game that was physical at times and where 6-foot-2 Danielle Winner of the Tigers seemed a target for contact, the Versailles team couldn’t be flustered.
“You can’t worry about what you can’t control,” Winner said. “You just have to play through it.”
Which is part of what makes Versailles able to play whatever style you choose — uptempo, halfcourt, physical — you name it. And the Tigers stretched the lead to 41-23 after three quarters on a Kelsey Custenborder buzzer-beater that brought the Tiger crowd to its feet and cruised form there.
“We tried to push it today, but they (Waynesville) did a good job getting back on defense,” Stonebraker said. “We have the depth that we can adjust the lineup.”
And the Tigers have played in too many big games to let another team affect them.
“You just have to find the positive,” Kami McEldowney said. “Defensively, we knew we had to take away their dribbling lanes and we were able to do that.”
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with 17 points, while Danielle Winner had 11 points and five rebounds and Kunk added 10 points.
Murray led Waynesville with eight points and five rebounds, while Taylor Ritter had six points and six rebounds.
Versailles was 16-of-40 from the floor for 40 percent and 23-of-26 from the line for 88 percent.
“Finally,” Stonebraker said with a smile. “That is the best we have shot them all year.”
Waynesville was 11-of-37 from the floor for 30 percent and 8-of-11 from the line for 73 percent.
And the loudest cheer of the night — especially from the Versailles bench — came early in the fourth quarter when senior Mallory Marshal scored her first points of the game.
“Aboslutely,” Stonebraker said. “These girls love each other. They love each other every day at practice.”
And they love playing it big games.
“I couldn’t imagine not finishing my career there,” Danielle Winner said about the state tournament and the Schottenstein Center.
McEldowney, who like Winner will be playing there for the third time in four years and looking to give Versailles its fourth state championship game appearance in the last five, agreed.
“We have played there so many times,” she said with a big smile. “I can’t wait to get back over there.”
And the entire starting five was in the regular rotation on the volleyball team that won a D-III state title in the fall.
“You always want to finish your season at the highest level you can go to,” Peters said. “To do that in volleyball and basketball both is amazing. And hopefully, it will end the same way (a state championship).”
Which is quickly becoming the new normal in Versailles.