By Gary R. Rasberry
So far, it’s 24 wins and 0 losses for the Versailles Tigers on the basketball season with just two wins away from making it to state.
The Tigers make their second straight trip to the regional tournament at Wright State University but this time Versailles is hoping for better things after losing in the semifinals last season.
Versailles will play Bloom-Carroll in the nightcap in Thursday’s Division III doubleheader at the Nutter Center with defending state champs Reading facing Ripley in the first game on Thursday.
The 16-8 Bulldogs come out of the Columbus district after suffering a load of injuries that was so severe that at one point in the season coach Tom Petty had just six players dressed for a game. After freefalling to 7-8, the Bulldogs refused to back down, embarking on a nine-game winning streak, getting Petty his 400th career win at the school.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs is 6-5 senior Ron Ball, an All-Central District honorable mention selection and Tigers coach Roger McEldowney sees him as the key to the lineup.
“He’s a load to handle,” said McEldowney. “He averages about 14 points per game. ...Playing in the MAC and the different styles we see is good for us.”
The team gets fairly smaller after Ball. Six-foot senior Eric Baughman, another honorable mention selection, will run the point after averaging 11.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in the regular season. Junior Joe Goodyear (6-2) and seniors David Stemen (5-10) and Zach White (6-3) will round out the starting lineup.
“The three guards are all around double figures,” said McEldowney. “Goodyear shoots the three. Baughman is the point guard and is mostly a penetrator. Stemen is also a shooter, so they have four players that can score.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs will stay back in a half-court defense without a lot of pressing.
“They’re more of a possession team,” said McEldowney. “They want to keep you in front and make you shoot over them.”
The Tigers are coming off a strong game against Greenview, pulling away in the third quarter for the 59-44 win. Versailles has already set a new school record for wins in a season with 24, bettering the 23-win mark from the 1993-94 season.
Kyle Gehle and Joe Shardo continue to pace the offense for the Tigers. Gehle leads the team with a 20.9 ppg. clip and Shardo raised his average to 16.9 ppg. after scoring a game-high 24 during the win over Greenview.
McEldowney has his eight-player rotation set, as the starting five of Shardo, Gehle, Ben Shappie (10.1 ppg.), Ryan McNeilan (6.0 ppg.) and Bart Schmitz (4.9 ppg), along with strong bench support in Kevin Paulus (3.9 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), Paul Borchers and Adam Barga (6.0 ppg) played at least 10 minutes in the win.