A digital billboard in the heart of Elyria was illuminated this week with one message: “Good Luck at State.” That was as bright as the lights got for Elyria Catholic.
Versailles owned the marquee, boards and court on Thursday.
Playing in its ninth state tournament, the Tigers advanced to their fourth Division III state final in five years with a methodical 63-47 win over Elyria Catholic in a state semifinal at the 43rd annual OHSAA girls basketball state tournament inside Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
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Versailles, state runner-up in 2014 and 2017 and state champ in 2015, will face the winner of Ottawa-Glandorf/Africentric in the state final at 2 p.m. Saturday. Versailles was also state champion in 2008.
The Tigers, ranked No. 1 in both the MaxPreps D-III computer rankings and AP poll, improved to 28-1.
Versailles out-rebounded EC 39-24 and outscored the Panthers 13-6 in second chance points and 34-24 in points in the paint.
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Both teams featured three girls 6-foot-1 or taller.
“Fabulous,” Versailles head coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “We beat them on the boards by 15. That number is the reason we won the game.”
“We knew we were in for a tough ride,” EC head coach Eric Rothgery said. “Versailles is a very good and well seasoned team. Their experience carried them to a good extent. We allowed too many second chance points, and in the end that’s going to coast you against a really good team.”
“They’re big too. And aggressive and crafty.”
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In the first year of the OHSAA’s Competitive Balance initiative, EC (22-6) was one of two parochial schools to make the 16-team state tournament field in all divisions. Its trip didn’t last long.
Despite holding an 8-7 lead after the first quarter, the Panthers trailed 25-16 at half. Versailles led 30-20 after three. Twice in the fourth quarter EC pulled to within seven points, but climbed no closer.
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The Tigers had four players reach double figures, led by senior Kami McEldwoney’s 17 points. Senior Danielle Winner added 14, while sophomore Lindsey Winner and junior Elizabeth Ording scored 13 and 10, respectively. Danielle Winner had 10 rebounds, while Lindsey Winner and senior Ellen Peters each grabbed eight.
Versailles committed just six turnovers, including two in the second half.
“You have to play perfect to beat that team,” EC sophomore Ally Winner said. “Them being here (four times in five years), does give them that factor we didn’t have.”
Said McEldowney: “We were stronger, even though they were thicker.”
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Versailles missed it’s first seven free throws of the game, then hit 19-of-20 to close.
The Tigers will go for their second state title of the school year Saturday. Six Versailles players also starred on the D-III state champion volleyball team in the fall.
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“We want to go out state champs,” Danielle Winner said. “There’s only 32 minutes standing in our way.”