TIPP CITY — Jacki Stonebraker wanted to celebrate with her team after its sectional championship victory against Arcanum, but thoughts of substandard play kept her from fully feeling that joy.
There was reason for Versailles to celebrate, though, as the Lady Tigers beat Arcanum 64-56 on Thursday at Tippecanoe High School to win their first sectional championship since 2010.
“It’s hard because I want to celebrate this win with the girls, but I know we just didn’t play very well,” the Versailles girls basketball coach said. “So it’s hard to say well, you know, we won a sectional championship, we’re finally out of Tipp City, it’s great, we haven’t been out of Tipp City in four years, but we also have to go back to the drawing board and get better.”
Arcanum coach Rachel Fearon also tried to reflect on the positives after the game while dealing with disappointment. But unlike Stonebraker, Fearon had a locker room full of crying players, knowing their incredible season had come to an end.
“It was tough to go into the locker room,” Fearon said. “It will be tough tomorrow not going into the gym with all of them. But I told them, I said, we’re strong.”
The season had to end for either the Midwest Athletic Conference champion Versailles Tigers or Cross County Conference runner up Arcanum Trojans on Thursday in the sectional final, and both teams battled to the end to make sure it wasn’t the end for them.
Early on it looked like the game could end in a rout with Versailles outscoring Arcanum 17-3 in the opening period as the Tigers’ full-court pressure caused a lot of problems for the Trojans.
“We knew coming in to it that their full-court pressure was going to be a challenge, and the first quarter it definitely was a challenge for us,” Fearon said.
The Lady Trojans could only muster an Abbey O’Donnell basket and free throw for a three-point play while Versailles pounded the ball inside with Amanda Winner, Christa Puthoff, Emily Harman, Katie Heckman and Lauren Bruns for a 14-point lead.
“It looked great, didn’t it? We looked like we were here to play, and we looked like we were ready to go, and then we just didn’t have a very good rest of the game,” Stonebraker said. “The second quarter just kind of fell apart on us.”
After a basket by Winner early in the second quarter increased Versailles’ lead to a game-high 16 points, Arcanum went to work to trim the deficit.
It began with a Brittany Kinney 3-pointer and continued with seven consecutive points from Alexis Abner to make the score 19-13 in favor of Versailles.
After Versailles broke its scoring drought with points from Heckman and Puthoff, Stevie Johnting stepped up and hit back-to-back 3-pointers for Arcanum.
Versailles continued to go inside to Heckman and Puthoff while Abner and Johnting added more 3-pointers, cutting Versailles’ lead to 27-24.
After another Heckman basket for Versailles, Abner tallied the final five points of the half for Arcanum to tie the game at 29-29 and fully erase the double-digit deficit it faced in the first quarter.
“That definitely brought our momentum back,” Fearon said. “That was great going into halftime. The kids felt confident. That brought us back into the game.”
All 29 of Versailles’ first half points came near the bucket or at the free throw line after being fouled attacking the rim. Heckman and Puthoff, who both missed the regular season contest between Arcanum and Versailles, accounted for 16 of the Tigers’ first half points and a total of 36 for the game.
“That was our game plan going in, but it’s also because our guards weren’t getting a lot of daylight,” Stonebraker said. “They really had a lot of pressure on our guards.”
With a Rachel Kremer 3-pointer, Versailles was able to add a little bit of an outside threat in the third quarter to go along with the strong inside presence from Heckman, Bruns and Puthoff. That helped the Lady Tigers outscore Arcanum 20-14 in the period and enter the fourth quarter with a 49-43 advantage.
Then like Arcanum had done in the second quarter, the Lady Trojans mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter with Abner and O’Donnell leading the charge. Trailing 55-49, Arcanum went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 55-55 with just 2:40 remaining in the contest.
But after that, Heckman and Puthoff scored for Versailles to give the Tigers a four-point lead. With a minute to go, Arcanum resorted to fouling in an attempt to get back in the game but fell short as Versailles won 64-56.
“We’re young,” said Fearon, whose team has two seniors to Versailles’ nine. “I think towards the end of the game that kind of showed out here on the floor. Versailles definitely has more experience.”
Versailles, which never trailed on Thursday night, was led in scoring by the strong post play of Heckman with 24 points and Puthoff with 12. Also for the Lady Tigers, Winner scored seven, Bruns scored six, Harman scored five, Kremer scored five, and Olivia Schlater scored five.
Arcanum played great defense, Stonebraker said, but couldn’t handle Versailles’ size.
Arcanum was led by Abner’s 19 points in the loss while O’Donnell scored 14, Kinney scored 13, Johnting scored nine, and Rebecca Deao added one.
Arcanum has a young team with four starters who are either freshmen or sophomores and only two seniors on the roster, O’Donnell and Josie Weaver, who was limited all season by a shoulder injury.
With a strong young core and the benefit of this year’s tournament experience, Arcanum is excited about the future.
“This has been a great experience for us. Just to play in this atmosphere tonight, what a great experience,” said Fearon, whose team won two tournament games before losing to Versailles. “And I told them, I said, you just need to take this moment and embrace it. I think they did.”
Versailles also is excited about the future although the Tigers’ next game is more imminent as they play the winner of tonight’s game between Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and Georgetown at 1 p.m. Saturday at Springfield High School for a district championship.
Stonebraker said she’s confident her team will rebound and play more soundly in the district final after a getting a wake-up call from Arcanum, reminding the Tigers that they are beatable.