VERSAILLES — In a battle of No. 1 ranked teams, Versailles took control of the Midwest Athletic Conference championship race by defeating Minster 46-39 on Thursday.
The win left Versailles, who is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press’ Division III state rankings, as the only undefeated team remaining in MAC play. Minster, ranked No. 1 in Division IV, suffered its first conference loss of the season and its second loss overall.
“I wasn’t breathing too well all day today, and now I feel like I can just relax,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said.
Versailles captured Thursday’s victory by dominating the first half.
Minster led by three early in the game, but midway through the first quarter Versailles took control. Forwards Elizabeth Ording, Danielle Winner and Kelsey Custenborder led the charge to give the Tigers the lead then Kami McEldowney drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the opening quarter to put Versailles up 13-7.
It was all Versailles in the second quarter as the Tigers outscored the Wildcats 18-8, including the final nine points of the half, to increase their advantage to 31-15 by halftime.
Kami McEldowney led the Tigers with eight points in the second quarter, which included a pair of 3-pointers. Custenborder also came up big for Versailles, scoring six points in the first half off the bench.
“I don’t know what we would have done without her tonight,” Stonebraker said of Custenborder. “She played some excellent basketball. And it just comes off hustle plays, backside rebounds and just having a grit for the ball, and that’s what she did tonight. You know, she was a great spark off the bench for us.”
Along with finding a great rhythm on offense, defensively Versailles smothered Minster throughout the first half, allowing just three Wildcats to score – Taylor Kogge, Courtney Prenger and Demaris Wolf.
“The second quarter was huge,” Stonebraker said. “I don’t think we’ve shot the ball better than that. I don’t think we’ve played better basketball than in the second quarter on both ends of the court. We were just dominating, and we went into the locker room and I could see the fire in their eyes and just the intensity. And I said, ‘It can’t drop. You’ve got to keep winning. You’ve got to keep winning these quarters.’ And by the looks of the second half it wasn’t as pretty, but we put a lot of effort into that first and second quarter.”
In the third quarter Minster started to turn things around. Five Wildcats scored in the period with Alli Fischer and Ivy Wolf joining the fray. Minster was able to outscore Versailles 14-7 in the period, reducing its deficit to single digits at 38-29.
Minster continued to battle its way back into the game and with less than 70 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter had its deficit down to just five points. However, that was as close as the Wildcats would get as Versailles hung on for a 46-39 victory.
Kami McEldowney led Versailles with a game-high 15 points on Thursday while Ording scored eight. Kogge led Minster with 14 points while Prenger scored 12.
“Our main focus was stopping Prenger and not giving her anything easy,” Stonebraker said. “And I know she probably had double digits, 12, 14 points, but she had to work for every single point she had. I can’t thank the posts enough for playing as well as they did.”
Versailles improved to 17-1 overall and 7-0 in the MAC with the win. The Tigers will return to action on Tuesday when they play host to West Liberty-Salem. They will travel to New Knoxville on Feb. 1 with a chance to secure a share of the MAC championship.
“The girls know,” Stonebraker said. “We talked about it in the locker room right before. I said, ‘You can’t get too high. You can’t get too low. This is a great test for us, but there’s two more MAC games to still play.”
Minster fell to 14-2 overall and 5-1 in the MAC with the loss. The Wildcats will travel to Anna on Saturday.
Kyle Shaner is the sports editor of the Greenville Daily Advocate. Shaner can be reached at 937-569-4316 or on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate.