By Rob Kiser
VERSAILLES — It was a game that everyone had waited for with much anticipation.
Tippecanoe, a Division II power with a 10-0 record, came to Versailles, which was 12-1 and considered one of the top D-III teams in Ohio.
And anyone who attended the game got more than a bargain.
It was high-quality basketball from start to finish for two teams with big aspirations before Versailles held on to win a 54-53 thriller.
“This was a perfect game,” Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “Two great teams going at it in the middle of the season. We knew what kind of games this was going to be.”
Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman agreed.
“Ultimately, the goal (during the season) is to get ready for a tournament run,” Holderman said. “And this game does that. We knew this was going to be a tough game.”
And the significance wasn’t lost on the players.
“I love games like this,” Kami McEldowney said. “We just love to compete. This is what makes the game fun.”
Neither team led by more than two points in the fourth quarter, and it came right down to the wire.
With 33.6 seconds to go, Versailles’ 6-foot-2 senior Danielle Winner was fouled with the game tied at 53.
After missing the first one, Winner calmly sank the second one.
“I still had confidence (after the miss),” Winner said. “I knew I could make it.”
Stonebraker gave her senior credit.
“I was nervous just watching,” Stonebraker said. “In that situation, that was big to make one of them.”
Tippecanoe called timeout with 27 seconds to go.
The Red Devils worked the ball around and got an open look from just inside the 3-point line with six seconds to go — but the shot bounced off the rim, and the Red Devils grabbed the rebound.
But, just as quickly, Kami McEldowney punched the ball out and Danielle Winner ended up with it as time ran out.
“I just knew I had to do whatever it took (to knock the ball loose),” McEldowney said. “You just do whatever you have to do.”
The world’s strongest man couldn’t have ripped the ball loose from Winner’s grip.
“I knew there was only a couple seconds left,” Winner said. “I was gripping the ball as hard as I could.”
The buzzer sounded, and the Versailles’ seniors had their first win over Tipp.
“What a ferocious play by Kami (McEldowney),” Stonebraker said. “This was big for our seniors.”
Holderman couldn’t complain about the shot.
“There was a little hesitation there,” he said. “And we got a second chance. It just didn’t happen.”
The first half was back and forth.
Versailles came out on fire from deep and opened an 11-4 lead.
Tipp came back to go up 17-14, only to see Versailles open a 36-29 lead at the break in a matchup of three-pronged attacks.
Maddie Frederick, Allison Mader and Cali Stewart combined for 26 of Tipp’s 29, while Kami McEldowney, Caitlin McEldowney and Danielle Winner accounted for 30 of Versailles’ 36.
Kami McEldowney was 4 for 4 from the 3-point line and scored all 14 of her points in the first half, before an outstanding defensive effort by Claire Hinkle kept her from scoring in the second half.
“I knew this a big game,” Kami McEldowney said. “My sister (Caitlin) and I decided to do some extra work and have a shootaround before the game. I think that helped a lot.”
Caitlin McEldowney hit two threes and Ellen Peters and Hailey McEldowney each hit one as Versailles finished 8-for-15 from the 3-point line.
A basket by Danielle Winner opened a 38-29 lead to start the second half, but Tipp rallied. With Stewart and Frederick combining for 11 third quarter points, the Red Devils evened it at 44 after three quarters and it was a battle of the rest of the way.
Caitlin McEldowney made the biggest play of her young career with the game tied at 51.
McEldowney stole the ball and came down and hit a 15-foot jumped in transition with 1:41 to play to give Versailles a 53-51 lead.
“What a play by Caitlin (McEldowney),” Stonebraker said. “That was a big jumper. That was right at the 3-point line. For a sophomore to make a play like that — that’s impressive.”
Brooke Aselage countered with a putback at the other end with 55 seconds to go to tie it and set up the dramatic finish.
“There were about three plays in the game where we made mental mistakes that lead to bad turnovers,” Holderman said, talking about McEldowney’s steal. “And Versailles took advantage of every one of them.”
Along with Kami McEldowney’s 14, Caitlin McEldowney had 12, Danielle had 12 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double and Peters scored seven points.
For Tipp, Frederick had 19 points, while Stewart added 13 points and eight rebounds. Mader scored 12 and Aselage added seven.
Versailles was 22 of 51 from the floor for 43 percent and two of four from the line for 50 percent.
Tipp, which travels to Fairborn Wednesday, was 21 of 47 from the floor for 45 percent and eight of nine from the line for 89 percent.
Versailles won the battle of the boards 25-22 and had 11 turnovers to Tipp’s eight.
The Tigers will take a 13-1 record — and a lot of momentum into Thursday’s MAC matchup with Marion Local.
“I don’t remember beating Tipp,” Danielle Winner said. “This was a big one. We knew this was going to be a showdown.”
With the quality of play to match it.
Rob Kiser can be reached at (937) 451-3334.