COLUMBUS – The Versailles girls basketball team finished the season as the lone unbeaten in Ohio last week with a championship in the Division III state title game. Fellow Midwest Athletic Conference member New Knoxville will try to duplicate the feat Saturday on the boys side.
The Rangers improved to 26-0 and escaped a harrowing day for undefeated teams at the state tournament Thursday with a 62-41 win over Haviland Wayne Trace before 11,733 in a Division IV state semifinal at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.
Earlier in the day, the state tournament’s other undefeated squads from St. Paris Graham and Poland Seminary fell in the D-II semis. New Knoxville suffered no such fate.
The Rangers, whose average margin of victory entering Columbus was a staggering 27 points per game, showed why they were ranked No. 1 in the state for all but one week of the season.
New Knoxville, which has just 34 seniors and 150 students in grades 9-12, pressed on the gas early and never let off. Wayne Trace never led.
“It was a good game for us,” New Knoxville coach Dan Hegemier said. “I think we showed our athleticism throughout the game and our ballhandling abilities. We did a good job. I’m really proud of the win.”
Said Wayne Trace coach Al Welch: “We were bad, real bad.”
The Rangers opened up a 16-6 lead after the first quarter and extended it to 25-14 after two.
In the first 16 minutes the Rangers, whose starters all average double-figures, had seven players in the scoring column. Defensively New Knoxville forced Wayne Trace into 10 first half turnovers and limited the Raiders shooting to 32-percent (6-of-19) from the field. The Rangers shot 48-percent (11-of-23) in the first half.
In the third quarter Wayne Trace fought back to climb within 33-25 on a three-point play by Aaron Hockenberry with 3:35 to go. Those were the last points the Raiders scored in the quarter as the Rangers closed on a 13-0 run to open a 46-25 lead.
Things didn’t get better for Wayne Trace in the fourth quarter as the Rangers opened up a 57-32 lead with 3:32 left to play.
“I told our guys if we defended well we would play Saturday,” Hegemier said. “We did a pretty good job of it throughout the game. A few times they got through but most of the time our kids rotated, covered the backside and gave help. We just locked down and defended.”
Wayne Trace finished the game shooting 34-percent from the field (15-of-44) and 15-percent from 3-point range (2-of-13). Hockenberry, a senior, led the Raiders with 14 points, while senior Alex LaBounty added 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Sophomore Ryan VanderHorst paced New Knoxville with team highs of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Brad Piehl chipped in 13 points and seven boards, while junior Adam Arnett added 11 points.
The defeat brought to a close the outstanding career of Welch who finished his 33-year stay at Wayne Trace with an overall record of 540-211. He led four teams to the state tournament and the Raiders captured the D-III state title in 2001.
New Knoxville goes for some history of its own Saturday when it faces Worthington Christian in the state final at 2 p.m.
The Rangers last trip to Columbus was 61 years ago when they lost to Columbiana (43-34) in the Class B final.
A victory Saturday would also mark the MAC’s fourth boys’ basketball title this decade and first since St. Henry beat Versailles for the D-III championship in an all-MAC final in 2004.
“It’s going to be a tough, tough game for us (against Worthington Christian),” Hegemier said. “We have to score more. I don’t know if 60 points will be enough to win Saturday.”
Welch is a believer.
Said the veteran coach: “That is the best team we’ve run up against this year – no doubt.”