TIPP CITY — Saturday afternoon saw the end of the Versailles Tigers’ successful season, cut short by the Anna Rockets.
After leading for the first three quarters, the Rockets capitalized on late-game free throws to inch ahead in the final minutes, winning 47-44.
“It was a well played game; it was just too bad that we couldn’t make some free throws at the end,” Versailles girls basketball coach Jacki Stonebraker said.
The Lady Tigers already knocked out solid competitors in West Liberty-Salem and Arcanum earlier in the Southwest District Division III tournament, but they knew their toughest challenge would materialize in the sectional finals against the Rockets.
Anna previously took down Northridge and Dixie and was poised for a close game against the Tigers.
Versailles’ Brook Pothast struck first for the Tigers on a long drive down center, sending a message to the Rockets that they wanted early control.
Anna’s Natalie Billing came back with two from the free throw line, but Katie Heckman shot off another two to keep the Tigers ahead.
Two minutes later, Heckman laid up on an assist, and the Tigers were up by four. But Anna’s Cayla Bensam nailed two off the line to keep the game within reach.
Then Kayla McEldowney fired off a pivotal 3-pointer to knock the score up 9-4 for Versailles.
But Anna made another two free throws, making all six of its first points from the line.
Rachel Kremer fired off another three to knock Versailles up to a 12-6 lead, but Anna came right back with four more to keep it 12-10.
The Tigers popped in one last shot before the quarter ended, and they found themselves handily up 14-10 early in the game.
The second quarter started off with Anna’s Rachel Noffsinger firing in two points to signal Versailles that they weren’t slowing down.
But the Tigers went on a six-point streak with Lauren Bruns leading off with a steal and a breakaway deuce, followed by Pothast and Heckman each adding two.
The Rockets retaliated when Natalie Billing put up three from the free throw line, backed up by Avery Bensman stealing from the Tigers under the net and adding her own deuce, making it 20-17.
With two minutes left, Amanda Winner came through from the line, but Billing evened her score up off a long pass.
But Winner would have the last word, getting in a final two more points in the last few seconds of the quarter, going into halftime 23-19 to maintain the Tigers’ four-point lead.
Fifteen seconds into the third, Erica Huber sunk a huge 3-pointer for Anna, closing in at 23-22.
As the pressure mounted, both teams managed to keep their composure and trade back and forth.
“Their pressure did bother us a little bit, but I didn’t think we looked horrible against it. It seemed like every turnover we gave them, we took a turnover from them,” Stonebraker said.
In the last moments of the third, Brooke Pothast put up two free throws to keep the Tigers ahead by three. But Kayla Blankenship put up a last second two-pointer just inside the three-point line and ended the quarter 36-35.
During the fourth, every free throw counted, and the Rockets capitalized on their accuracy from the line to catch up to their opponents.
“It was coming down to those free throws in the middle of the fourth quarter and the first part of the fourth quarter,” Stonebraker said. “We couldn’t make some, and they hit some early. So that’s what just kept them in there.”
Versailles was 10-for-16 on free throws, while Anna was 15-for-27.
Heckman led with two off the top of the fourth, but a pivotal steal led to Billing score to keep them alive 38-37.
Winner fired back two from the free throw line, but another steal from Anna led to two more for Billing.
Brooke Pothast rang out for two, but with two and half minutes left, a huge 3-pointer from Anna’s Billing rained down to tie the game 42-42.
A fifth foul call on Heckman led her out of the game with 1:30 left, and Billing made two from the three throw line for Anna to lead for the first time at 44-42. Then Anna’s Huber managed a turnover with a minute left for possession.
A foul was called and Bensman scored one more from the free throw line to make it 45-42.
Versailles rebounded and with 30 seconds left, Rachel Kremer delivered front and center to make it 45-44.
With less than 30 in regulation, Billing drew another foul on the drive but couldn’t deliver on either shots, and Versailles rebounded with :15 left in the game, still trailing by one.
Both teams called back-to-back timeouts.
But a crippling Versailles double dribble was called with six seconds left in the game, and Anna had the clear advantage to wind down the clock.
With the pressure mounting, Versailles fouled Anna’s Huber, and she made one at the line. Anna rebounded, and Versailles drew a technical foul on the attempt to gain the ball back.
Huber scored one more for her team making it 47-44 and had possession with one second left to end the Tigers’ season.
Brooke Pothast led her team in points with 12 followed by Heckman and Amanda Winner with 10.
The Tigers ended 19-4 for the 2012-13 season and will graduate one foundational senior, Meagan Winner, from the team.
“Meagan’s done a lot for us. She’s that rock that all the girls can go to and feel like they can talk to on and off the court,” Stonebraker said.