CLAYTON — West Liberty-Salem kept it close in the first half Saturday afternoon, but in the second half it was all Versailles. The Tigers beat West Liberty 74-50 to claim Division III sectional championship.
Versailles was tied 10-10 with West Liberty-Salem at the end of the first quarter and held a slim 34-28 lead entering halftime but outscored the Champaign County team 40-22 in the final two quarters to win by 24 points.
“They’ve got 17 wins on the year. They’ve got seven seniors,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said of West Liberty-Salem. “You know they played well. They play very disciplined. They’ve got some kids that can score the ball. They’re a physical type of team. So we knew we were going to be in for a battle this whole game.
“… I liked how we responded there after halftime. We didn’t really change up anything really, but we threw in a little bit of our zone at them a little bit — I think that kind of confused them just a tad — but for the most part we just played hard and executed a little bit better, and that’s what it comes down to.”
One of the keys to Versailles’ success in the second half was slowing down Trevor Burden. The 6-foot 4-inch senior scored 15 points in the first half for West Liberty-Salem but only scored two in the second half.
“He made a lot of tough shots in the first half,” Swank said. “I really think even though he was making them, our principles were still working: body him up, making him work really hard. I think he got a little tired with his shots in the second half, and they weren’t falling; a lot of them were short.”
Instead of allowing Burden to get set up under the rim, Versailles pushed the tempo during the second half, which helped increase the lead to 55-41 in the third quarter. A strong defensive effort was key to getting his team going in the second half, Swank said.
“We got easy baskets because of our defense really is what it came down to,” he said. “Didn’t give them as many clean looks. We wanted to make sure we pushed tempo as best as we can. And when you get easy looks your defense sometimes starts to pick up as well. We were getting a lot of layups, a lot of transition looks, you know Justin (Ahrens) hit that big 3 in transition so that was all predicated off of our defense, and we need that the rest of the way going forward.”
After scoring two points in the opening quarter, Ahrens got hot the rest of the game and finished the day with a game-high 32 points. AJ Ahrens added 16 points for the Tigers while Keaton McEldowney scored 11.
Burden led West Liberty-Salem with 17 points while James Loffing scored 11.
Versailles now advances to play in the district finals against Cincinnati Madeira on Wednesday at the University of Dayton.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us here in the next game,” Swank said. “I know we’re playing Madeira. They’ve got a nice big (Jack Cravaack) in there so hopefully our seniors can help lead us to another victory down at UD.
“The big kid is going to go play football at Purdue next year, is their leading scorer. They’ve got other guys that can really shoot the ball, a couple other big kids, a nice guard as well that’s really athletic and can get to the rim.”
Now that Versailles is through the sectional tournament and battling for a spot in the sweet 16, all of the opponents will be tough, Swank said.
“I don’t think there’s any favorites anymore once you get to districts – I really don’t,” he said. “Maybe on paper we might be or whoever else might be but I think those are all quality teams, and you’re going to face quality opponents so throw out the records, throw out whatever you want, just go out there and play ball.”