In a collision between the state’s top two girls basketball teams in Division III, Miami East briefly held the lead — and possibly the No. 1
ranking. It was Versailles, though, that made the biggest
state-ment. The Tigers saw a 17-point halftime lead disintegrate to three
late in the fourth quarter, only to score the final 14 points for
a 61-44 win on Saturday. About 1,400 spectators packed Miami East for the showdown.
CASSTOWN — In a collision between the state’s top two teams in Division III, the Miami East Vikings briefly held the lead — and possibly that No. 1 ranking. It was the Versailles Tigers, though, that made the biggest state-ment.
Versailles saw its 17-point halftime lead disintegrate to three late in the fourth quarter, only to rattle off the final 14 points for a 61-44 win on Saturday. About 1,400 spectators packed Miami East High School for the showdown between No. 1 Versailles (now 19-0) and No. 2 Miami East (17-1). In the end the rankings held true, though the Vikings made for some anxious moments.
“Everybody was talking about No. 1 vs. No. 2. We tried to look past that,” said Versailles senior forward Justine Raterman, who led the Tigers with 24 points and 16 rebounds. “As soon as the rankings came out we said, ‘Okay, this doesn’t really mean anything. A couple people think that we’re good.’ We really kept a level head coming into this game.”
Miami East led twice. Both times came in the first three minutes. But just as quickly as junior guard Katie Mengos got the Vikings going with a pair of baskets, East went the next 5:50 without a field goal. Versailles’ Emily Frey hit a couple outside baskets to take pressure off Raterman inside, who added six points during the Tigers’ 12-1 run.
“They know who Justine is, so when they collapse on her someone has to be open,” Frey said. “You gotta make big shots and my were falling tonight, thank God.”
The lead ballooned to 31-14 at the half.
“I think any time you play in the (Midwest Athletic Conference) and you play against this type of team day in and day out, it helps in non-conference,” said Versailles coach Jacki Stonebraker. “The girls love playing in these big games, they respond big. They don’t hide.”
Neither did the Vikings. Trailing 34-19 midway through the third, Mengos (13 points) scored consecutive baskets and junior Rebecca Leffel (17 points) added a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 34-26. The Tigers’ lead went as low as five and as high as 12 before the Vikings’ final surge.
“Again, I can’t say enough about our girls giving that kind of focus when you’re down to the No. 1 team in the state,” Miami East coach Chad Widener said. “I think our post players in the first two quarters, we weren’t the aggressive team. Definitely in the third and fourth quarters we definitely were.”
Bolstered by a pair of three-pointers from Leffel and Mengos, the Vikings cut a 12-point deficit to 47-44 with 2:56 left in the game. But two Raterman free throws and consecutive three-pointers from Emily Bohman (18 points) restored the lead to double digits. Mallory Barga, Karen Smith and Bohman capped the game-ending 14-0 run with six straight free throws.
“You get nervous but you’re caught up in the game,” Stonebraker said of the tense fourth quarter. “It’s more intensity. All I told the girls was we have to win the game playing defense.”
A little offense didn’t hurt, either. Raterman’s game-high in points included some impressive baskets from the University of Dayton recruit. In the second quarter Raterman caught a pass and hit a turnaround jumper with defender forcing her backwards. In the fourth she knocked down a smooth jumper off an inbounds pass. Twenty seconds later she scored on the baseline with two defenders in her face.
“She’s definitely the real deal,” Widener said. “She took over at the right times.”
Coming close to knocking off the top team in the state was little consolation for the Vikings, who lost to the Tigers during last year’s regular season (54-36) and in the past two district semifinals (39-29 last season; 50-40 in 2006). They’re in difference districts this postseason, so a rematch would have to take place in the regional final.
“It takes a lot of luck, a lot of hard work and playing a lot of good basketball,” Stonebraker said of such a tournament run. “Hopefully we’re both able to get there.”
Said Widener: “We would look forward to it. Obviously we have a lot of good teams in our sectional and district, so that’s down the line. The third and fourth quarter we showed when we want to focus on our game and attack, we’re a very good basketball team, too. I think that mental toughness is coming out.”
Physical toughness was key, too, in a game that saw the defenses force 25 turnovers from Versailles and 20 from Miami East. Bodies hit the floor often, including a hold-your-breath moment in the third when Raterman landed hard on her lower back battling for a rebound. Defensive pressure forced Versailles into 25 turnovers and Miami East into 20.
“I just had to catch my breath for a second,” she said. “I think it scares you more than anything. Even if you’re not hurt you take a second to make sure everything is okay. Frustration can be good if you use it in the right way. … You have to keep your composure and not let it get to you. Just play your game.”