DAYTON — It took a while, but Versailles busted out of the box in the second half of a Division III district final at UD Arena on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they couldn’t complete a comeback try.
Versailles figured out Cincinnati Madeira’s box-and-one and rallied from a 17-point deficit but struggled to make shots in the final two minutes. The Mustangs scored the last five points to pull away to a 57-51 win, which puts them in a regional semifinal.
Versailles trailed 32-21 at halftime, and Madeira’s lead grew to 40-23 with 3:34 left in the third. The Tigers finished the quarter on a 12-2 run and tied the game midway through the fourth.
They couldn’t come any closer, though, as they missed several shots over the last few minutes.
“Tied it up and had a couple of looks to go up, and we were down two had a wide open look at a 3 and just couldn’t knock it down,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “We had chances at the free-throw line and couldn’t hit it.
“We just couldn’t quite get over the hump. I’m a believer in things are meant to be. We were meant to come back but I guess weren’t meant to finish it off.”
AJ Ahrens led Versailles (21-5) with 15 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Justin Ahrens finished with 13 and Michael Stammen finished with 12.
Both Ahrens are seniors, as are Kyle Jones, Keaton McEldowney and Noah Richard. The group made district finals three out of the last four years and won a district title last year.
Justin Ahrens, an Ohio State recruit, set school and Midwest Athletic Conference all-time scoring records this season.
“The Versailles community has seen him,” Swank said. “Hopefully there’s another kid with the ball, shooting the ball, trying to be like him. They’ve seen the best (Versailles) has ever had. There’s a reason why he’s going to Ohio State.
“He’s a tireless worker. There’s not too many kids I’ve seen in my playing career and coaching career that I’ve seen stay in the gym after games and get up a bunch of shots. That’s what he does constantly. He wants to be good, he wants to be great.”
Versailles rallied fast from its 17-point deficit. The Tigers scored the last nine points of the third, but Jack Cravaack made a three-point play to push Madeira’s lead to 45-35 with 7:15 left in the fourth.
Stammen hit a 3-pointer and AJ Ahrens made a basket off the glass in the next minute to bring the Tigers within five. Richard completed a three-point play with 4:24 left to bring Versailles within 48-45, then Justin Ahrens made a 3-pointer from the right wing with 4:08 left to tie the score.
“I think it was more of our defensive pressure picked up,” Swank said of the rally. “We got a lot of stuff off our defense and frustrated them. We rebounded better with our pressure on the defensive end and we didn’t settle as much. Early on, we settled and shot a lot of 3s. The middle was wide open, we just didn’t explode it like we should have.”
After Ahrens’ tying shot, both teams missed shots on their next two possessions. Madeira (18-7) missed a couple of free throws as well, but Cravaack made a basket off the glass 2:44 left and Adam Wieczorek made a basket with 1:48 left to give the Mustangs a four-point lead.
Justin Ahrens made a basket with 1:32 left and made 1-of-2 free throws with 48 seconds left to cut Madeira’s lead to one.
The Mustangs added a free throw to go up by two, then Wieczorek made a basket with 16 seconds left to push the lead to 55-51. Justin Ahrens missed a 3 from the right corner with about five seconds left, and the Tigers were forced to foul.
“I wish we could put another quarter up, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Swank said. “Consequences of doing that, you lose a game here tonight. …We just didn’t have enough ammo left to finish it off.”
Versailles shot 19 for 41 (46.3 percent) from the field while Madeira shot 21 for 35 (60 percent). The teams each had 21 rebounds, while Versailles had 12 turnovers to the Mustangs’ nine.
Cravaack, a 6-foot-5 senior center, led Madeira with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
“He hit a lot of tough shots,” Swank said. “A lot of times AJ and Justin had a hand up, but he’s big and strong and finished around the rim. Hit his free throws, and he’s shooting under 60 percent for the season.”
Wieczorek added 14 points for the Mustangs while Kyle Johnson scored 13.
Madeira jumped out to an early 9-3 lead but Versailles went on an 8-2 run to tie it 11-11 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
Eric Hoeffel and Johnson hit consecutive baskets before the end of the quarter to give the Mustangs a 16-11 lead. After Versailles scored before the end of the first to pull within three, Madeira started the second on a big run.
Mark Manfredi opened the second with a basket off the glass, then Cravaack made two free throws and completed a three-point play with 6:04 left to put the Mustangs up 23-13.
Madeira pushed its run to 11-0 before Evan Hiestand made a basket with 3:32 left to break an over five-minute scoreless streak by Versailles. Cravaack scored two baskets off the glass in the next minute to push the lead to 31-15.
Justin Ahrens and Stammen hit consecutive 3-pointers for the Tigers before the end of the quarter to help cut the halftime deficit to 32-21.
Versailles had seven turnovers in the first half, which led to 13 points by Madeira.
The Tigers were bottled up for most of the first half by a box-and-one defense, though Justin Ahrens managed nine points.
“It was more a box and a 1-3-1,” Swank said. “They kept guys on the bottom, so it wasn’t a true box. They chased, they held, and threw the kitchen sink at him. (Ahrens) did his best and was being guarded tightly, too tightly at times. We can’t let that happen, just have to screen better.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.