VERSAILLES – The Southwest region is perhaps the toughest in Division III boys basketball this year, but that doesn’t faze the Versailles Tigers as they enter the sweet 16 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
Versailles won the Midwest Athletic Conference championship this year, beating a pair of regional tournament qualifiers in Delphos St. John’s and Marion Local along the way. The Tigers also took on a tough non-conference slate that included regional qualifiers such as Dunbar, Fort Loramie and Tri-Village.
“We’re battle-tested going into the tournament,” senior Alex Wendel said. “Going against the No. 10 and the No. 3 potentially in the next two games is really what we just wanted from the beginning of the season.”
Versailles, which is ranked second in the state by the Associated Press, will have its hands full this week beginning with No. 10 Roger Bacon in the regional semifinals at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena in Kettering.
If the Tigers can get past Roger Bacon, they’d advance to play either Worthington Christian or No. 3 Summit Country Day in the regional finals with a spot in the state final four on the line.
“You’ve got to beat them at some point, I guess,” Versailles boys basketball coach Travis Swank said. “That’s the way we’re going to look at it. We’ll just take our best shot and see if that works out for us that night. If it doesn’t, we still hope that we’re playing our best at that moment in time, and if we just get beat by a team that’s playing better than us that night you tip your hat to them. But I think our kids are ready to go and ready to fight and bring a lot of energy to the games. If they can do that I think we’ll be OK.”
There are five state-ranked teams that have qualified for sweet 16 in Division III. Three of the four, including Versailles, are playing in the Southwest regional at Trent Arena.
“I think it’s good for us,” senior Connor Custenborder said. “You’ve got to beat the best if you want to eventually win state.”
As they enter this week’s regional tournament, the Tigers think they have an advantage because they’ve played the state’s best teams throughout the season.
“I think when you play a tough schedule – even our non-conference schedule was really tough this year as well – you get to play in those hard games,” Swank said. “It prepares you for a long tournament run. In order to get better you’ve got to play good teams.”
While Versailles is accustomed to playing tough teams, Roger Bacon will be one of the biggest challenges the Tigers have faced all season.
“They’re a really talented team, one of the most complete teams that we’ve faced all year,” Swank said. “They’ve got guys that can shoot it. They’ve got a lot of guys that like to drive it to the basket. We’re going to have a very good defensive game to begin with because they can score and they can score in bunches. We’re going to have to handle the ball as well; they put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
If Versailles can defeat Roger Bacon and then beat either Summit Country Day or Worthington Christian in the regional finals, the Tigers would advance to the state final four next week in Columbus.
This past week they watched the Versailles girls basketball team win a regional championship, and that’s only increased the boys’ desire to win a regional championship of their own.
“It’s real fun having another team during the same season as you that you can just cheer on and root,” junior Justin Ahrens said. “We’re really happy for them that they made it to state, and we’re going to be there Friday (in the state semifinals) looking to help them get the win.”
The Tigers like competition, whether it’s a tough opponent on the court or a friendly rivalry with their classmates on the girls basketball team.
“It’s always our goal to try to out-do the girls,” Wendel said. “They’re usually right there regional finals, state finals, and that’s always our goal to out-do the girls.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.