Girls basketball: Versailles rallies to reach D-III regional final

SPRINGFIELD — The Versailles High School girls basketball team is back in the Division III regional finals for the first time since 2018.

The Tigers overcame a six-point fourth quarter deficit to beat East Clinton 45-41 in a D-III regional semifinal game on Wednesday, March 1 at Springfield High School.

Versailles (17-10) advanced to play sixth-ranked Columbus Africentric in a D-III regional final game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Springfield High School in a rematch of the 2018 state title game.

Versailles junior guard Jenna Dirksen had 11 points and sophomore Taylor Wagner and junior Allison Schwartz each had 10 points as the Tigers won their sixth straight game.

Astros junior guard Jordan Collom had a game-high 14 points, senior guard Jayden Murphy had 13 points and senior guard Libby Evanshine added 12 points as East Clinton saw its 12-game winning streak snapped. The Astros finished the season 24-3.

East Clinton jumped out to a 13-6 first quarter lead, but the Tigers fought back to cut the lead to three points at 20-17 at the half.

Versailles struggled from the field in the first half and didn’t make a 3-pointer in the game.

“We’re normally knocking them down, but the gym was crazy loud, so I think we were all consumed with that,” said Lexi Magoto, the Tigers lone senior. “You just have to keep shooting. That’s a big thing. We’ve always been taught a next play mentality and I think we did that tremendously tonight.”

While the Tigers struggled to shoot the ball, the key to their success has always been on the defensive end of the floor, said Tigers coach Tracy White. They held East Clinton to 13 points under their season scoring average.

“We have not shot the ball well, but it doesn’t matter when you lock down on defense,” White said. “That gives you the freedom to not have to knock down those shots. Hopefully we can have a breakthrough on Saturday to get that field goal percentage back to what we’ve been shooting.”

East Clinton extended its lead to seven points at 28-21 on a 3-pointer by Collom and a layup by Evanshine midway through the third quarter.

The Tigers cut the lead to four points on two free throws by Dirksen with 7:15 remaining. The Astros pushed it back to six points on two free throws by Evanshine.

After a timeout by East Clinton, Wagner took over. The sophomore post scored seven straight points to give the Tigers a 35-34 lead with 5:25 remaining.

“It was really just post to post, high-low,” Wagner said. “I don’t think they could guard me and (Schwartz) at the same time, so that post-to-post action really helped us out there.”

The Astros reclaimed the lead on a 3-pointer by Murphy to make it 37-35 with five minutes remaining.

A basket by Schwartz with 2:30 remaining gave the Tigers a 41-39 lead they would never relinquish. Versailles junior Cassie Leach and sophomore Grace Osborne — who entered the game for the first time with four seconds remaining — each hit two free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

Versailles earned its first win in Springfield since 2018. Three years ago, the Tigers lost to Anna in a D-III regional semifinal game at Springfield.

“My first year as a head coach we played here and we haven’t been back since,” White said. “It’s huge. The biggest thing is with this group of girls. We’re a young group of girls that have just came together as a team. They just flat out work, they want it and they accept challenges. Every day we try to get better at two to three things and whatever those two to three things are, they’re laser-focused. I can’t say enough about our girls.”

The Tigers are one win away from getting back to the state tournament for the 10th time in program history.

“It would mean everything,” Magoto said. “It would be huge for all the girls. Everyone just really wants it.”

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