COLUMBUS – The Versailles girls basketball team played the entire season with a bulls-eye on its back. Fittingly, every team the Tigers faced left their encounter with a mark on their backside as well. The latest to wear an orange and black tread was Sugarcreek Garaway.
The Pirates got roughed up to the tune of 51-33 in the Division III girls basketball state final Monday at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Versailles, which claimed its first state title in four trips to Columbus, became the sixth Midwest Athletic Conference school to win a state championship and first since 2004 (Minster). Overall the MAC has 10 titles.
Versailles also became Ohio’s lone unbeaten girls basketball team. The Tigers finished 28-0.
“One word – unbelievable,” Versailles head coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “This entire season has been a dream come true. These girls have had a mark on their back all season, ever since the polls came out with the No. 1 ranking and they’ve played with pressure, played with poise and played with the determination that they weren’t going to be knocked from the No. 1 ranking. They proved today why they’re the No. 1 team in the state.”
Garaway (25-3) entered the contest with some solid credentials of its own. The Pirates were making their fourth trip to state and second in three years. Defensively, no team at state was stingier than Garaway, which entered averaging a measly 23.8 points per game.
Versailles was the first team to put 50 on the Pirates. And it did it a variety of ways.
After taking the first eight minutes to figure out Garaway’s defense, the Tigers attacked in the second. Down 7-6 after one, Versailles took the lead for good when Megan Campbell completed a three-point play with 5:50 to go before the half. Versailles led 19-13 at the break.
“The first quarter is always a little crazy, because you have to figure out what the other team is going to do and how they are going to play,” Versailles senior Justine Raterman said. “We found pretty quickly that we were going to have to go inside.”
In third quarter Garaway’s Laura Bardell hit a 3-pointer to bring the Pirates within 19-16. After a Mallory Barga jumper extended the lead to 21-16, Versailles never lead by less than five points.
After three quarters the Tigers held a 35-19 advantage.
“I never felt comfortable,” Stonebraker said. “But in the third quarter I felt like we kind of got a couple quick buckets and kept them from scoring and that was huge.”
Garaway scored just six points in each the second and third quarters, while Versailles rolled up 29.
The Tigers were effective from everywhere – minus the free throw line. Despite shooting 58-percent from the field (16-of-25), Versailles hit just 20-of-33 free throws.
It didn’t mater.
“We felt like we were OK at halftime, but what they did in the second half is what a championship team needs to do,” Garaway coach Scott Bardell said. “We took away as best we could the paint and they hit us from the perimeter. The one thing they hadn’t done in the semi was shoot anything long or mid-range, it had just been pound you to death in the paint. You can’t take away everything, you have to concede something so we conceded the perimeter and they stuck it in our ear.”
Versailles’ main cog was again Raterman, The 6-1 senior became the school’s all-time leading scorer when she hit a free throw with one-second left in the third quarter. Raterman ended the game with 17 points and 1,672 for her career. She also tallied 10 rebounds, four steals and two assists and hit 11-of-13 free throws. For the tournament, Raterman, a University of Dayton recruit, registered 44 points, 29 rebounds, eight assists and six steals.
Laura Bardell led Garaway with a game-high 18 points.
“I’ve seen a couple of games where every basket was either a basket that Raterman scored, passed for or it was a missed shot stick back. She was that dominant of a player,” Bardell said. “She was clearly a great player today as well too.”
The victory also added to the resume of Stonebraker – Raterman’s older sister. When Stonebraker took over the program five years ago, the Tigers went 5-16 in her first year. Since then with her little sister in the line-up and fellow senior standout Emily Bohman, Versailles has gone 83-18 with two state berths – and now a title.
“Everybody stepped up,” Stonebraker said. “It just seemed like we had a lot of girls in the scoring column, a lot of girls rebounding the basketball and a lot of girls doing the little things that makes a state championship team.”
Said Bardell: “At the beginning of the season you pray that when you lose, if you lose, you lose to a team that on that day was better than you. Today Versailles was better than we were. They just had answers to questions we didn’t have.”
Garaway’s Laura Bardell and Erica Hershberger reached rare milestones Monday. Hershberger started her 101st game, while Bardell played in No. 100. The duo was a part of two state tournament teams.
“The only reason Erica has one more (start) is because I held Laura out of a Hiland game her sophomore year with a high ankle sprain,” Bardell said. “I trust them implicitly. There were times on the floor when I thought they had a better answer than what I might have had from the sideline.”
Versailles reserve Megan Campbell played possessed, getting the most out of her eight minutes.
“I thought Megan Campbell played the game of her life today,” Stonebraker said. “I don’t know how many points she had but it just seemed like she was just in the right place at the right time catching and grabbing rebounds. Her bunny shots were right on. We went to a big line up and they didn’t seem to be able to handle that.”
For the record, the 6-foot sophomore had 10 points, two rebounds and an assist. She was 4-for-4 from the field.
“She’s a pretty good sized kid,” Bardell said. “And a pretty good player.”
Stonebraker said pressure is something that the Tigers have faced and thrived off of. Anything less is unacceptable.
“Some games you get a little more nervous than other games, but you wouldn’t want to play without nerves, you wouldn’t want to play without pressure.” Stonebraker said. “Pressure is something you want to play with and play for because if you don’t have it than you’re not playing for anything. You’re not playing for the state championship, you’re not playing for the regional championship – you’re playing for a team that doesn’t want to win or doesn’t know how to win. And you’re not playing in front of fans that appreciate (your effort) and really expect you to win. That expectation at Versailles is huge for us.”
Raterman and Bowman complete their careers having helped turned around the Tigers program. The year before the duo got there, Versailles lost 16 games. In the four years since their arrival, the Tigers have lost just 18.
“Things didn’t look too great (after that first year),” Stonebraker said. “Then these two (Raterman and Bohman) came into the picture and they brought us to a different level of basketball. To be sitting here today at 28-0 and a state championship team is what these girls wanted as freshman. Their dreams have come true.”
“(The feeling of winning state is) phenomenal. I can’t even describe it. It was awesome to be out there with the 15 other girls on this team and share the experience with them. I also hope it gives the younger girls something to strive for when they get up in the program.” – Bohman
“At halftime down six I was OK with that because they were going over top and we thought we could negate that. But when they then hit perimeter shots – given our lack of size – I knew it was going to be a long afternoon.” – Bardell
“We knew they could shoot the ball. We knew they were great outside shooters. They have great form, they have great skills. They are one of the best defensive and offensive skilled teams I’ve seen play basketball. We just had to get a hand in their face.” – Stonebraker
“I mean I guess maybe we’re better than Regina. We gave up 17 to Raterman rather than 27 and Bohman got six and she had 27 (against Regina). You kind of have to pick your poison. That’s the way it works.” – Bardell