COLUMBUS — Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker was quick to admit it after the Tigers dispatched Elyria Catholic 63-47 in a Division III state semifinal Thursday at the Schottenstein Center.
“We didn’t play our best basketball tonight,” Stonebraker said. “We weren’t as sharp as we normally are. But, the girls found a way to get it done.”
Now Versailles is playing in its fourth state championship game in five years. The Tigers will face the Columbus Africentric-Ottawa Glandorf winner in the D-III state championship game at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
“It is indescribable,” senior point guard Kami McEldowney said with her characteristic big smile.
It took awhile for the Tigers to get started Friday.
Versailles trailed 8-4 before McEldowney hit a three at the first quarter buzzer to make it 8-7.
“I thought the two things that kept us in the game were rebounding and limiting our turnovers,” Jackie Stonebraker said. “We wanted to pressure them full court the entire game. We wanted to let them know we were there. We haven’t played a team like that. They are really big inside. So, we couldn’t go inside as much as we normally do.”
Versailles made a concerted effort to push the tempo in the second quarter.
“There is nothing more deflating after scoring a basket, than having the other team go right down to the other end and score,” Stonebraker said.
McEldowney scored off an assist from Danielle Winner, then took the ball all the way down the floor for a layup to give Versailles a 13-10 lead.
Lindsey Winner hit a jumper and McEldowney had back-to-back assists to Elizabeth Ording and Danielle Winner to make it 19-12 with 2:27 remaining in the half.
“Even though they were thicker, we were quicker,” McEldowney said. “You still have to get the ball inside.”
Which was just fine with 6-foot-2 senior Danielle Winner, who rarely has to play against girls the same size.
“I love the challenge,” Winner said. “You just have to realize, if you go at them, you can draw some fouls and get them in foul trouble.”
Lindsey Winner, who was also 6-foot-2, hit a three and Danielle Winner hit two free throws after Versailles missed its first seven to give the Tigers a 24-19 lead at the break.
“The thing we talked about at halftime was defense,” Stonebraker said. “We were letting them (Elyria Catholic) get to the middle way to easy. That is something we never do.”
Versailles quickly opened the lead to 1o in the third quarter on a basket by Ording and two by McEldowney to make it 30-20 and despite some huge threes by Faith Williams and some strong play inside from Ally Winnen, Elyria Catholic never got closer than five the rest of the way.”
Two things changed as Versailles opened a 40-30 third quarter lead and handled things from there, with McEldowney running the show from the point.
After having just an 18-15 rebounding advantage in the first half, Versailles owned the boards 21-9 in the second half.
And the Tigers — after missing their first seven free throws — made 17 of 18 in the second half.
“The odds were in our favor,” Stonebraker said with a laugh. “We hit them when we need them. And I really thought the rebounding and limiting the turnovers won us the game.”
Danielle and Lindsey Winner combined for 18 rebounds, including seven offensive.
“Lindsey had a really good game, along with Danielle,” Stonebraker said. “That’s just what we have come to expect from the Winners. They are Winners in everything they do.”
McEldowney scored 17 points and had just one turnover while running the point — and dished out four assists.
“I thought Kami really did a great job on the stepback tonight to create some shots,” Stonebraker said.
Danielle Winner had 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, Lindsey Winner had 13 points and eight rebounds and Ording had 10 points.
Williams led Elyria Catholic with 18 points, while Ally Winner had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Abby Winner pulled down seven rebounds.
“We had four in double figures,” Stonebraker said. “It really doesn’t matter who. I wasn’t even aware of who was scoring as the game was going on.”
Versailles was 21-of-47 from the floor for 45 percent, including just two of 14 from 3-point range for 14 percent. The Tigers made 19-of-27 free throws for 70 percent.
Elyria Catholic was 17-of-42 from the floor for 41 percent, including 2-of-11 from behind the arc for 18 percent. The Panthers made 11-of-19 free throws for 58 percent.
Versailles won the battle of the boards 39-24 and had just six turnovers to Elyria Catholic’s 10.
And the Tigers are not playing in a fourth state championship game in five years by accident.
“Every year, at the start of practice, we call the girls together and remind them what we are playing for,” Danielle Winner said. “That we are playing to go to Schottenstein (Center) and play for a state title.”
And you can be sure whoever the Tigers play Saturday, will get their best effort.