Versailles couldn’t miss, and Minster couldn’t hit; which that pretty much sums up Friday’s MAC championship matchup in boys basketball.
Versailles – Everyone had hoped for more, better. After all, that’s always how MAC championships are framed.
It boiled down to once-beaten Versailles (15-5, 7-1 in league) against Minster (12-5, 5-2 in league) for the Friday’s outright title match. If Minster won it would have created a four-team share of the crown.
And if Versailles won it would mark the Tigers’ first outright title in 12 years…since the Kyle Gehle and Joe Shardo days.
But it didn’t turn out that way – nothing epic about this particular crown. Versailles shot lights out, and Minster never saw the light. It turned out to be a “crown” calamity. Versailles 64, Minster 27!
“I remember the last time we won it,” said Versailles senior Brett McEldowney afterwards, unable to hide his joy. “I was a little ball boy back then.”
But there was nothing little about him this time, and his first quarter start pretty much secured things before Minster’s bus had a chance to cool off in the 12 degree temps outside.
McEldowney hit a couple of early three-pointers and from that point it was like blood in a shark tank. Versailles shot out of their minds in the first half, while Minster, go figure, couldn’t break a window in the Dannon plant.
The Tigers shot 60% for the half; Minster shot 24%. Versailles went to the halftime locker room with a 30-13 lead, and for all intents, started taking dibs on who got first possession of the league trophy from commissioner Don Kemper after the game.
Literally, everything McEldowney and crew threw up seemed to go in the rim.
Conversely, Minster had one shot after another come up short, go long, or layups that teetered on the rim and fell off.
Hoping to correct some things at haltime, Wildcats’ coach Mike Lee came out for a fresh attack in the third quarter. Not so fast, as Lee Corso is want to say…Versailles hit its first shot and never looked back, outscoring the ‘Cats 24-3 in the quarter.
“Unfortunately, tonight was the continuation of a bad trend here lately,” said Lee afterwards. “Last week we got down to Coldwater 13-0 and came back. But you can’t do that on the road against a good basketball team like tonight. A team like that just gains more confidence and our kids get frustrated and we take shots we normally don’t take. The lead went from ten to twenty in a heartbeat.
“I thought we had corrected a few things for the third quarter but it just went from bad to worse.”
It might have been Lee’s most frustrating defeat in his years at Minster. He didn’t say, and no one asked.
But for Scott McEldowney and the Tigers it was a thing of energy and joy.
Justin Ahrens led all scorers with 15. Keaton McEldowney had 13. Brett McEldowney, one of two seniors on the team, had 11. A.J. Ahrens added 9. Jared Niekamp, the other senior, contributed 3, Austin Knapke, 2, Connor Custenborder had 4, Evan Heistand had 2, and Noah Richard wrapped it up with 5 of his own. Ironically, Alex Wendel, he of the big shot to beat St. Henry a month ago, was the only starter that didn’t score.
“It just wasn’t their night shooting it, I guess,” said Brett McEldowney. “And we were all feeling it. It’s shocking in a way, but it also feels good to go out in a game like this and take care of business the way we did. “
“I think our energy was a difference tonight,” added Jared Niekamp. “We came out and started knocking down shots. We just flowed together as a team.”
If Mike Lee was shellshocked, Versailles coach Scott McEldowney was relieved. Titles don’t come easy in the MAC. Twelve years is a long time to wait, and you never take a Lee-coached Minster for granted.
“We know they’re capable because they have some good shooters,” said McEldowney. “I thought we played well on defense, we mixed things, but they missed some open looks early that would have kept them in the game. The nice thing is we got a lead and were able to play with that lead – it’s a whole different game when you can play them with a lead. You spread things out and make them chase. When you can do that you can continue to get easy baskets.
“What concerned us was the second half and them having been there before. We thought they might go off and shoot themselves back into it. But we did a good job of handling the ball and getting quality looks at the basket.”
There was no shooting their way back. In fact, the frustrated Wildcats failed to land a single player in double figures. Pete Falk led them with 8 points.
“This is a big deal for our kids,” added McEldowney, speaking of winning the conference crown. “I mean, we’ve had some good teams here that never won. We had a team one year that went 5-4 in the league and finished runner-up in the state. It’s not an easy thing to do. To have a lot of young kids on this team, and only two seniors, it really does mean a lot.”
Versailles never really cooled down, shooting 56% for the game. And more, they dominated the boards, offensively and defensively. As McEldowney stated, one easy look after another.
Minster never cracked the 30% mark, one of those forgettable nights that you file and forget. A second season, a second chance comes next with the sectional round of the tournament.
Versailles closes out its regular season Saturday with a non-conference game with Greenville..,momentum, and a title, in their pocket.
“We get free T-shirts out of this for winning the MAC title,” smiled Jared Niekamp.
It really has been…a long twelve years!