COLUMBUS — Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker knew what her Tigers were going to be up against Saturday against Columbus Africentric in the Division III state championship game at the Schottenstein Center.
But — as Stonebraker would admit — knowing it and trying to prepare for it are two different things.
“You can try to prepare it for it all you want, but until you faced that athleticism and length, you can’t really know (what it is like),” Stonebraker said after Versailles’ 53-47 loss to close the season at 28-2.
Africentric won its sixth state title and finished at 27-3.
Versailles struggled in the opening half adjusting its game against the Nubians long arms and speed. Versailles trailed 30-19 late in the second quarter and 32-21 early in the second half.
“I thought we started to find ourselves in the second quarter,” Stonebraker said. “That’s what I told them at halftime.”
And even after getting down 32-21 at the start of the third quarter, the Tigers never lost their confidence or belief.
“When you are coaching, it is really hard to find a score in this arena, but I believe we were down double digits,” Stonebraker said. “The girls looked at me and said, ‘Lets go, we can do this’. And I said, ‘OK’.”
And it was senior guard Kami McEldowney that seemed to will the Tigers right back into the game.
It stated with a free throw with 7:35 to play in the quarter to make it 32-22.
Then, it was a 3-pointer with 6:54 to play — followed by two more from the senior guard. In between, Danielle Winner scored on a Caitlin McEldowney assist and Elizabeth Ording had a tip in — and Versailles was within 38-35 with 2:33 to go in the quarter.
Lindsey Winner hit a jumper to make it 38-37 and with the Nubians leading 40-37, Kami McEldowney had a 3-pointer waived off by an offensive foul.
“It is what you have to do,” Kami McEldowney said. “We weren’t going to quit.”
Even after Alexia Smith and Sakima Walker scored to make it 42-37 going to the fourth quarter, Versailles didn’t lose its momentum.
Lindsey Winner, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, scored six straight points to start the fourth quarter — the last off a Caitlin McEldowney assist.
And with 5:06 remaining, Versailles led 43-42.
“We were able to come all the way back and take the lead,” Stonebraker said.
A Jordan Horston jumper gave Africentric the lead back with 4:15 to go 44-43 and Smith scored on a layup with four minutes to go to make it 46-43.
Danielle Winner hit a free throw with 3:33 to go to cut the deficit to 46-44.
Versailles had two possessions under the two-minute mark, but a turnover and missed shot led to Africentric putting the game away in the final minute.
“They have long arms,” Stonebraker said. “We ran some backdoor cuts that unfortunately didn’t work out today.”
With the Tigers trailing by five, Caitlin McEldowney hit a three with 37 seconds remaining to make it 49-47, but Versailles would not score again.
“We had a higher number of turnovers than we normally do,” Stonebraker said. “And the free throws — that has been a nemesis for us all season. We have found a way around it, but that is something we just need to get better at.”
Kami McEldowney led the Tigers with 16 points, while Lindsey Winner had eight points and nine rebounds.
Danielle Winner had seven points and eight rebounds, while Ording and Caitlin McEldowney each scored seven points.
Smith led Africentric with 22 points. Horston had 13 points and eight rebounds and Nyam Thornton scored nine points.
Versailles was 18-of-45 from the floor for 40 percent, including four of 11 on 3-pointers for 36 percent. The Tigers made just seven of 16 free throws for 44 percent.
Africentric was 20-of-52 from the floor for 39 percent, including two of 10 from behind the arc for 20 percent. The Nubians made 11-of-15 free throws for 73 percent.
Versailles won the battle of the boards 36-30, but had 17 turnovers to Africentric’s nine.
“We were up on the boards at halftime,” Stonebraker said. “I told the girls to keep going, because we are dominating. There is no quit in these girls (Versailles).”
Which led to a “championship” comeback that came up just short.