SPRINGFIELD — Though Anna returned all its starters from last season’s 18-win campaign, the Rockets struggled in matchups against tough opponents early in the season and dropped to 6-4 after a loss to Versailles on Dec. 26.
“We were just trying to focus one game at a time after that, and the tournament really wasn’t on our minds at all,” Anna junior guard Ella Doseck said.
The Rockets are focused on the tournament now — and they’ve got plenty of others in Southwest Ohio focusing on them after Wednesday’s performance.
Anna pulled away in the fourth quarter of a Division III regional semifinal against Versailles on Wednesday at Springfield High School to earn a 45-35 victory. It’s the seventh consecutive win for the Rockets (21-6), which can secure the program’s first state berth since 2013 with a victory on Saturday in a regional final.
“We’re focused on making it through every game and getting a win and working hard,” Doseck said.
The game was a turnaround from the teams’ nonconference matchup in December in Anna. The Rockets shot 27 for 31 (55 percent) from the floor, had 12 steals and numerous deflections and kept Versailles’ tall post players from shooting much.
“We were on it on both ends of the floor,” Anna coach Jeff Maurer said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the girls’ effort. They just battled from the start of the game to the finish. You could see a look in our girls’ eyes tonight. They wanted that thing and weren’t going to lose.
“They’ve lost a lot of tough games to that club right there. Versailles is a tough team from top to bottom, and we’re just thrilled to get the W.”
Doseck and senior guard Michaela Ambos got many of the team’s steals and converted a good portion into fast-break layups. Doseck, a three-year starter and the team’s leading scorer, finished with 20 points while Ambos had eight.
“Michaela Ambos is just a little fire plug that plays her butt off on both ends of the floor,” Maurer said. “You could see a different look in Ella’s eyes today. It was like, ‘Give me the ball, let’s do this.’”
Anna senior forward Lauren Barhorst helped in the defensive effort. She led the squad with nine rebounds and three steals but finished with three points, about nine under her average.
The squad found scoring from other players, including senior forward Kiplyn Rowland, who finished with 10 points. She hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
“We know she can shoot the ball,” Maurer said of Rowland. “We’ve switched it up a little recently and have put Ella inside some to post up and have Kiplyn out on the perimeter where she can catch and shoot, and it’s been effective for her.”
Anna will face Cincinnati Purcell Marian (21-6) in a regional final on Saturday in Springfield. The Cavaliers beat Cincinnati Summit Country Day 46-44 in Wednesday’s first semifinal.
“They’re going to pressure you,” Maurer said. “They’re athletic and they get up in the full court. I’ll be honest, though. I haven’t thought too much about Purcell because it was all about getting through this one.”
That’s because the Rockets have struggled to deal with Versailles’ height in the teams’ last two matchups. Aside from the loss in December, Anna lost to Versailles by 22 points in a sectional final last year.
“It feels great (to beat them),” Doseck said. “… I think losing to them (the last two games) motivated us hard tonight. We just wanted to work hard and beat them and move on.”
Versailles 6-2 senior forward Lindsey Winner and 6-3 senior forward Brooke Stonebraker were each all-Southwest district selections but struggled on Wednesday. Winner scored 11 points and had seven rebounds and Stonebraker scored two points and had five rebounds. They averaged about a combined 23 points and 16 rebounds per game in regular season.
“We went in with a game plan that if we …could take one of those bigs and eliminate what they do, we’d have a fighting chance,” Maurer said.
Doseck said communicating on defense was the key for Anna to contain Winner and Stonebraker.
“We focused all week in practice at just talking and covering where they’re at and just making sure they didn’t have an easy shot at the basket and that they’re covered at all times,” Doseck said.
Versailles senior guard Caitlin McEldowney kept the squad in the game. She finished with 19 points, 14 of which came in the first half when she hit four 3-pointers.
“It was awesome,” Versailles coach Tracy White said of McEldowney’s performance. “… She was feeling it. She was determined. She wanted to keep us in the game and she wanted to win. Like (someone) said, heroic.”
The Tigers shot 13 for 39 (33 percent) from the floor. The squad had a 23-20 rebounding advantage.
“I didn’t think they would shut down our post like they did, but I feel like we didn’t finish as well as we normally do,” White said. “They played great defense. They’re a great team. They were physical and moved well. We just couldn’t get it to fall well.”
Versailles finishes 18-9 overall. The squad will lose six seniors to graduation, including Winner, Stonebraker and McEldowney. The team will also lose guards Hannah Barga and Danielle Kunk and forward Katelyn Marshal to graduation.
McEldowney scored five points in the last minute of the second to bring Versailles within 20-18 at halftime, then Winner opened the third with a basket to tie it.
Stonebraker made a basket to give Versailles a 24-22 lead. The Rockets later retook the lead at 26-25 but McEldowney and Kunk made baskets to put the Tigers ahead 29-26 late in the third.
Doseck made a 3 with nine seconds left to tie it 29-29 heading into the fourth and then opened the fourth with a basket with 5:41 left to give the Rockets a 31-30 lead.
The teams traded baskets, then Doseck made a shot to boost the lead to 35-32. She scored again with about 2:30 left to extend the lead to 38-34, then sophomore guard Breann Reaman made a basket with 1:46 left to push the lead to six points.
“Breann Reaman has kind of bought her time,” Maurer said. “She started out playing JV this season and has just kind of kept working, working, working and has worked her way into more playing time. She came up big today.”
Doseck made a pair of free throws with 1:08 left to push the lead to 42-34, and the squad pulled away further at the line in the final minute.
Anna scored the first seven points of the first quarter but McEldowney hit two 3s to bring Versailles within 7-6. Rowland and McEldowney traded 3s, then Ambos hit a late layup after a steal to give the Rockets a 12-9 lead.
“She’s one of the most hard-working people out there,” Doseck said of Ambos. “She’ll dive for every ball no matter what.
“… I think (the turnovers) are honestly why we won. Our bigs covered their posts really well and they were tipping passes. We wanted it so bad and were diving for every ball.”
Doseck completed a three-point play to give Anna a 17-13 lead with 4:50 left, then Rowland hit a 3 with 1:41 left to increase the lead to 20-13. McEldowney hit a 3 and made a long jumper from inside the left wing to cut the gap to two points at halftime.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.