FORT LORAMIE — Fort Loramie freshman Ava Sholits was a volleyball and basketball standout in middle school. She made the transition to prep play in volleyball last fall without many issues, and longtime girls basketball coach Carla Siegel expected she would have similar success on the court this winter.
Sholtis started the season with the junior varsity team. But an injury to sophomore forward Jadyn Puthoff early in the season left the Redskins short-handed in the post and caused Siegel to move Sholtis up to varsity.
“We brought her up from JV sooner than I thought we would, but maybe later than I should have,” Siegel quipped.
Even though Puthoff is healthy again, Sholtis not only remains on varsity but has become one of the team’s go-to scorers.
She had one of her best performances yet in a nonconference showdown with Versailles on Saturday. Sholtis and the undersized Redskins tripped up the Tigers in the post — and everywhere else on the court — and ran away to a 56-33 victory.
It was the first loss of the season for Versailles (8-1), which was the Division III state runner-up last season.
“I can’t say enough about the way the girls played today,” Siegel said. “Any good coach will tell you that you need to communicate on defense, especially when you’re playing a great team like Versailles. I just thought our communication was great.
“Even in the second quarter when we got in foul trouble and had three starters on the bench, our bench players came in and did a great job.”
Sholits was one of those bench players. She scored 13 points, including five in the second quarter.
“She had a great summer for us, but I just felt she needed some time on the JV team to learn some things,” Siegel said. “… Ever since she’s been up, she fits in nicely. I can’t say enough about the upperclassmen and how they have accepted her as a player on our team.
“She has grasped everything fast and is so coachable. We’re in practice and I tell her one thing to change, and she changes it and does it the rest of the time. I don’t even think she’s close to hitting her peak yet.”
Sholtis, who is 5-foot-9, helped Fort Loramie (7-1) fluster Versailles’ offense throughout the game. The Tigers struggled to find shots, even with a taller, experienced lineup. Versailles has three post players taller than 5-11, while the Redskins don’t have a player over 5-11.
“I think one of the things that’s getting better with our defense is our rotations,” Siegel said. “We have the length and get a lot of deflections and create a lot of problems there.”
The deflections and blocks helped Fort Loramie’s transition offense work well. The Redskins also successfully scored in the paint four times while drawing a foul in the process for an and-one opportunity.
“One of my concerns coming into today was how fast (Versailles) was,” Siegel said. “When we got some breakaway layups in the first half and in the fourth quarter, I found out that maybe we’re a pretty fast team, too.”
Versailles made 2-of-17 shot attempts in the first quarter while the Redskins made 6-of-10 on their way to taking a 14-6 lead. The Redskins then scored the last nine points of the second to take a 14-point halftime lead.
“They’re a very solid defensive team,” Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “We picked up a lot of good things today that we know we can do better after this loss. I think some roles need to be defined a little bit better offensively and defensively. We’ve got to keep rolling.”
The Tigers didn’t come closer than 12 points in the second half.
“They were switching (their defenses) up a lot on us,” Stonebraker said. “In the first half they were trapping us, so we went to the locker room and said, ‘Okay, let’s do this over the traps.’ Then they stopped trapping us and went back to a little bit softer man, and then they went to a zone. So they kept us on our toes a lot and they never backed down.
“We’ve been playing teams where we can get a run on them, and a good team like Loramie is not going to back down and not going to give us anything easy.”
Fort Loramie took a 7-1 lead with 4:44 left in the second quarter on an and-one play by Marissa Meiring. Versailles pulled to within 14-8 on a basket by Caitlin McEldowney early in the second quarter, but the Redskins pulled away by scoring the last eight points of the half when the starters were in foul trouble.
Corynn Heitkamp scored a basket, then Sholtis hit a 3-pointer with 56 seconds left. Dana Rose completed an and-one play after a drive to the basket with 2.3 seconds left to boost the halftime lead to 26-12.
Rose, who finished with 12 points, is Fort Loramie’s tallest player at 5-11.
“We ask for her to be our point guard, and then we turn around and ask her to play defense on their best post player,” Siegel said. “She’s running 94 feet the entire feet the entire game and has some really strong moves. This is probably her best game of the year.”
Rose made an and-one play with 19 seconds left in the third to boost Fort Loramie’s lead to 36-16.
Versailles pulled within 44-28 after a basket by Lindsey Winner with 3:26 left. Siegel called a timeout, and Fort Loramie then went on a 6-3 run to go ahead 50-31.
The Redskins scored three baskets in the final minute — two of which came after steals — to push the final margin to 23 points.
“Towards the end in the fourth quarter, we had to play a little bit more in-your-face defense that is hard for us to play sometimes with our bigs,” Stonebraker said. “That made us have to move a little bit more and adjust a little bit more, and we weren’t ready for those quick passes.”
Meiring led Fort Loramie with 15 points and had four steals.
“Marissa Meiring just plays strong,” Siegel said. “She’s a 5-8 post player but she plays like she’s 6-2. That’s just awesome.”
McKenzie Hoelscher was another big part of Fort Loramie’s defensive effort. She had a couple of blocked shots and deflections and also finished with six points, six rebounds and six assists.
“Kenzie played great defense today and had some big blocked shots and rebounds,” Siegel said. “I just can’t say enough about the girls and how hard they played today.”
Winner led Versailles with 14 points.
The Redskins’ next game is against another Midwest Athletic Conference team. They’ll host New Knoxville (6-2) on Thursday and will then travel to Ohio Dominican to face Sugarcreek Garaway on Friday.
Versailles’ next game is against another Shelby County Athletic League team. The Tigers will host Anna (7-1) on Thursday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.