Versailles wears down Waynesville to advance to D-III final four

Versailles has much tradition to lean on and usually a lot to look forward when it reaches the Division III regional tournament. The Tigers played in their fifth straight girls high school basketball regional final Saturday, attempting to reach a fourth state final four in five years.

Physically, the No. 1-ranked Tigers have what they need in big post players and guards who make things happen. Facing a potential three games in six days, the Tigers focused on the mental side this week.

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“We had a mental speaker come in and just told us to play in the moment and not think about the past or think about the future,” senior guard and leading scorer Kami McEldowney said. “And I think that helped us a lot.”

The anonymous speaker also told them to adopt the word “now” as a slogan. So the players wrote it on the inside of one of their wrists. Head coach Jacki Stonebraker wrote it on the back of her left hand and drew a circle around it.

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The Tigers were all about the “now” in a 59-28 blowout of Waynesville at Springfield High School. The Tigers (27-1) will play Elyria Catholic at 6 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus. The Tigers are going for the ninth time and will try to win their third state title.

“It never gets old,” said Stonebraker, who has taken eight teams to state in her 15 years as coach. “I look at these girls and I see all the smiles on their faces and it’s just incredible. I don’t even know how to put into words how these girls just know how to win and they know how to battle.”

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In Versailles’ way was a Waynesville (24-2) team that had knocked off unbeaten and second-ranked Cincinnati Summit Country Day to get here. The Spartans wanted to spread out the bigger Tigers and get offense from 6-foot junior Marcella Sizer and guard Rachel Murray, who ended up leading the Spartans with eight points. But Sizer got in foul trouble, and the Tigers’ defense was rarely out of position.

“We knew that they were going to be physical and try to push us around,” said longtime Waynesville coach Tim Gabbard. “They just out-physicaled us the entire game and we couldn’t get anything going.”

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Danielle Winner, a 6-2 senior, and Elizabeth Ording, a 5-11 junior, started for the Tigers, but Ording got in foul trouble. However, the Tigers go 10 deep and 6-2 sophomore Lindsey Winner, Danielle’s sister, played a lot of minutes.

“Our key was to really lock down on defense and keep them in front,” Danielle Winner said. “If we kept the along the perimeter, it would be an easier game for us.

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“Having (Lindsey) step up is a really big thing for us. Knowing that we can always pull up somebody off the bench and they can do just as good a job when somebody’s in foul trouble, is a really key part in our success.”

McEldowney led the Tigers with 17 points and Danielle Winner added 11. The Tigers got 24 points off the bench led by sophomore guard Danielle Kunk with 10.

In their previous win over Williamsburg, the Tigers started slowly. On Saturday, they jumped to a 12-6 lead after the first quarter and led 32-19 at halftime.

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“I had a heart-to-heart with them yesterday because I just didn’t feel the excitement in the air,” Stonebraker said. “Are we just settling for getting to a regional or is this just ho-hum? I kind of got on them and a spark just hit them, especially the seniors that this is it.”

For the Tigers, it’s about “now.”

“And if you think about it, spell it backwards,” Stonebraker said, “It’s a great word.”

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