Low-scoring and physical, Versailles ruined Marion Local’s season opener with great defense and a resolve to win. And for now, at least…it worked.
Maria Stein, OH – Neither coach, Kurt Goettemoeller or Travis Swank, expected anything much different than how it went down – low-scoring, physical, and a grind for four quarters.
Versailles had spent the last two weeks-plus playing five previous games. Marion Local had spent that time winning a state championship in football. Versailles had made the transition from being football physical to finesse; while Marion came out resisting the urge to fight through screens like you fight through blocks.
So it came as no surprise that Versailles won the game, 38-34, just as it came as no surprise to Goettemoeller that it would take his Flyers team some time to switch gears.
“It was a battle of undefeateds coming in,” laughed Goettemoeller. “And we wanted to work hard defensively – really hard – because that’s what we hang our hat on. I was super pleased with our effort. To hold Versailles to 38 points, with one of the best players in the area, I thought we played a whale of a game, defensively.”
And no argument from anyone in the tiny, packed Marion gym…those who came out to see if that Marion magic in basketball could come with the flip of a switch (or sports). It didn’t.
The Flyers had six fouls almost before they scored their first field goal, a runner in the lane by Charlie Huelsman at the 4:05 mark of the first quarter. And by the 5:00 mark of the second quarter senior post player Matt Everman was on the bench with his third foul.
“The thing is,” said Goettemoeller. “They’re so accustomed to fighting off blocks with their hands in football, and basketball is the exact opposite. You can’t reach and grab. You have to show your hands.”
But still, the intensity was there to keep Versailles out of the end zone, even though in this case the end zone was circular and 18 inches wide. The Tigers did run out to an 8-2 lead, but Marion got enough offense from Huelsman, a couple of made free throws, and badly needed three-pointer from Alex Klosterman to trail just 12-7 at the end of the quarter.
Versailles wasn’t burning it up, but they were playing their game – patience, sharing the basketball, and making what good shot opportunities they had. Michael Stammen, Ryan Martin, Connor VanSkyock, and Cody Naftzger all contributing to what would become a 21-18 halftime lead.
“We expected it to be physical,” said Versailles coach Travis Swank. “But I’m glad we came out like we did and met the challenge. Last year when some of these guys were learning we might have shied away from the varsity style of basketball – that kind of physical play. But tonight we rose to the occasion.”
And, they extended the lead by scoring the first six point of the second half, before Marion’s Bryce Moeller and Klosterman could reel things back in with a pair of three-pointers. Marion would tie the score at 28-28 with 1:07 left in the quarter, but Versailles retook the lead in the final 30 seconds to lead 31-28 at the start of the fourth.
Suffice it to say, there is no better physically conditioned football team in Ohio than Marion Local, but basketball requires a different type of legs…and the Flyers began to run out of legs in the final eight minutes, leaving shots short, and in general…perhaps they lost some focus. That said, they defended all the same, holding Versailles to just one made field goal (by Van Skyock). Marion would make three of their own (Eyink and a pair by Everman), but Versailles would win it at the line with five made free throws, outscoring the Flyers 7-6 in the final eight minutes.
Conner Van Skyock would lead all scorers with 14 hard-earned points for Versailles, while Stammen and Ryan Martin would score 8 each, Naftzger had 4, and Austin Toner and Ben Ruhenkamp would finish with 2 each. The Tigers finished 13 of 34 from the floor (38.2%).
For Marion, they spread it around. Seven different players would score, but no one more than 8 points (by Alex Klosterman). Matt Everman added 7, Eyink had 6, Bryce Moeller had 3, Peyton Otte had 2, and Reece Hess hit a free throw for his only point. The Flyers connected on 12 of 39 shots from the field, for 31%.
“If you really get down to it, the difference in the game was a matter of us not making shots,” said Goettemoeller. “We missed shots that we were capable of making…that and Versailles is really good. They’re well-coached, they had the best player on the floor in Michael Stammen, and they defended us well.
“We have to retrain our thought process from football to basketball, and that takes some time…more than a week of practice…and we have to do what we can do while we get through this stretch of games coming up. But I was proud of being down 10-3 in the first half and hanging around by getting stops [on defense]. And I think we actually got the lead. And in the second half they got the first six points and we came back again with our defense. We talk about not worrying about the score…we just keep fighting and in the last two minutes we try to figure out something. That’s what we did tonight, but we just didn’t make plays at the end to win.”
And is there concern that the shooting will come around?
“None,” said Goettemoeller. “We got guys that can make shots.”
Travis Swank appreciated the magnitude of winning, at Marion, even against a team playing its first game of the season, and with just one week of practice.
“We took their best punch along the way tonight, it kept going back and forth for a while, and what I liked was us getting stops at the end when we needed it,” he said. “It was tough, but we were able to hit enough free throws at the end to salt the game away.
“But we’re proud of our defense and we try to keep teams at 40 or below, and that’ll be our mentality and I hope we can continue that throughout the year.”
They’ve done it now in four of their six games, but Swank smiled at the role fate played in doing it against Marion Local.
“It was a good basketball game, really, even without much scoring. Both teams know each other well, they took some things away that we do, and we were trying to do the same thing to them. You know, I’m glad we played them early. Because they’re well-coached and I know they’re going to get a lot better by the end of the year.”