ANNA — It didn’t take long for Versailles’ girls basketball team to play in close situations and gain experience that could prove beneficial in making another long tournament run in two months.
With many players having bigger roles this season, that experience isn’t unwelcome according to first-year coach Tracy White.
The Tigers fought off a tough defensive challenge from Anna in a nonconference game on Thursday and picked up their third win of the season by four points or less in a 43-39 victory. It’s the fourth game Versailles (7-3, 2-1 Midwest Athletic Conference) has played with a margin of four or less.
“We have a lot of competitors on our team and we’ve faced a lot of adversity,” White said. “We practice game situations. We’ve had some lulls, but we’ve worked on regaining the momentum.”
Both squads had lulls on Thursday. Versailles led for most of the first half and increased its lead to nine points midway through the third, then didn’t score for over six minutes.
The Rockets were inconsistent on the offensive end as well — including in the fourth quarter when they scored two field goals.
Aside from missing shots, the teams struggled to find shots. Long offensive possessions were the norm, as were unforced turnovers.
“It’s a good win when you play the game we played and you’re still able to pull out a win,” White said. “If we controlled the ball and limited our turnovers, that game’s a different game. But when you’re still able to win these games, that’s a big (positive) for us.”
The Tigers are without six players from last year’s 21-win squad that finished as regional runner-up. The team has three returning starters in guards Caitlin McEldowney and Hannah Barga and forward Lindsey Winner. Most of the rest of the returnees played sparingly off the bench last year.
White took over as the program’s coach last summer for longtime coach Jacki Stonebraker, who resigned after becoming the high school’s principal.
Despite the relative inexperience for the program (which has won regional titles four times since 2014), there haven’t been many struggles.
Most of the struggles came right before a 12-day holiday break. The Tigers, which will play at rival Russia on Saturday, lost 48-45 to Marion Local on Dec. 12 and followed two days later with a 10-point loss at Lima Bath.
“I feel like we’re getting better every day,” White said. “We were able to work on some things over that break and work on our kinks. They’re really starting to work together as a team and look fun at times.”
It was the second consecutive loss for Anna (6-4, 5-1 Shelby County Athletic League) and the team’s third in four games.
The losses have all come to stout opponents. Aside from a lopsided loss at Fort Loramie last Saturday, the squad was defeated by five points at New Knoxville on Dec. 16.
The tough stretch of games will continue on Saturday when the Rockets travel to defending Div. III state runner-up Waynesville, which is off to a 5-4 start.
“I told the girls in the locker room that we play tough teams because that’s going to prepare us for tournament,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “We’ve just got to put this one behind us, learn from our mistakes and move forward.”
Anna has all its starters back from last year’s 18-5 squad but has mostly new bench players.
The biggest problem for the squad is finding consistent scoring. Junior guard Ella Doseck and senior forward Lauren Barhorst have proven reliable like they were last year, but baskets from other players haven’t been coming regularly.
“They’re developing,” Maurer said. “Everybody’s working every day to try and find their roles. We’re looking to try to find some more depth, but it’s slowly starting to come around. …We’re looking for that third and fourth consistent scorer. Some of the girls have stepped up in spots which is good, but we go through stretches where we do struggle to score.”
Anna had early scoring problems on Thursday but Doseck scored on a layup and then made another after a steal to bring the Rockets within 7-6 with 4:16 left in the first.
Kayli Brewer hit a 3 with 1:03 left in the first to tie it 11-11, then hit a 3 from the right wing with 7:03 left in the second to give Anna a 14-13 lead.
Caitlin McEldowney made a 3 with 4:56 left to put the Tigers ahead 18-16, and the squad extended its lead to 24-19 by halftime.
Lindsey Winner made two baskets to increase the lead to 28-19 in the first three minutes of the third quarter but the squad didn’t score again until the fourth. Lauren Barhorst made two baskets and a pair of free throws and Doseck made one basket to help narrow the gap to 28-27 heading into the final quarter.
Doseck made a free throw to tie it with 7:40 left in the fourth, but Kate Griesdorn scored after making a steal with 6:40 left to start a 7-0 run. McEldowney hit a 3 and Danielle Kunk followed with a jumper to give the squad a 35-28 lead with 5:16 left.
“It’s a game of runs, and who ever can stop the run for the opposing team and get the momentum back (is in a good position),” White said. “Whoever can come out of that and get stops on defense and force turnovers gets the momentum back.”
Most of the rest of the game’s points came at the free-throw line. Doseck made a layup with 10 seconds left to bring Anna within 43-39, and Versailles then committed an offensive foul to give Anna the ball back. The Rockets missed a 3 on the next possession and didn’t get another shot off.
Winner, a 6-2 senior, led the Tigers with 13 points. Kunk finished with nine and McEldowney finished with eight.
White credited Anna for neutralizing Winner and 6-3 senior forward Brooke Stonebraker for most of the game.
“We were expecting that and they did take away the inside game maybe more than we would have liked,” White said. “Our movement on offense got a little bit stagnant, but they have a great defense. You just have to fight against it and find the gaps when you can.”
Doseck led the Rockets with 23 points while Barhorst scored 10.
“We had too many turnovers, especially at the start of the third quarter,” Maurer said. “We had a lot of possessions where we came away with nothing because of that, and you can’t do that against a good team like Versailles and expect to come out on top.
“I was proud of the way the girls fought down to the end. There’s no quit in them. …Versailles is a well-coached and really good basketball team, and I thought it was a battle between two good teams.”