By Gary R. Rasberry
FAIRBORN — Roger McEldowney wasn’t really surprised that Bloom-Carroll came back against his Versailles Tigers after falling behind early.
The Tigers saw a 10-point lead at the half trimmed down to two points with five minutes left in the fourth quarter but Versailles righted itself and came away with a 51-43 win in the Division III regional semifinal at the Ervin J. Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University.
That sets up a rematch for the 25-0 Tigers against defending Division III state champs Reading on Saturday at 1:15 p.m. at the Nutter Center. The teams met on Feb. 14 at Versailles with the Tigers winning 57-45. The Blue Devils (19-6) advanced to the regional title game with a 54-43 win over Ripley in the opener of the evening at the Nutter Center.
It was a game where neither team shot too well. Versailles finished with a 37.8-percent shooting clip, a slight improvement from the 29.6 percent the team shot in the first half. The Bulldogs (16-9) rebounded from a 21-percent shooting first half in hitting 50 percent (13-of-26) in the second half to finish at 36.7 percent.
“I attribute that to good defense,” said McEldowney of the poor shooting. “It was a physical game. It’s hard to shoot when the game is that physical.
“That’s what we expected,” said McEldowney about the surge of the Bulldogs. “You get to this point, I don’t think any of them will be easy. Give those guys credit.”
Beyond the rough shooting, Versailles got the lead by forcing turnovers from its defense. The Tigers forced 14 turnovers in the game, getting 17 points off those turnovers.
Down 21-11 at halftime, Bloom-Carroll, which came in winners of nine straight, got back into the game late in the third quarter and turned up the pressure in the fourth. Bulldog center Ron Ball, held scoreless in the first half, found the touch in the third, scoring nine of his 11 points to get the team to within nine points at 39-30 by the end of the third.
At the start of the fourth, Kale Ricodedson scored five of the Bulldogs’ first seven points to cut the score to 39-37 with 5:12 left to go in the game.
“Coach said there would be ups and downs in the game,” said Tiger guard Kyle Gehle. “They (Bloom-Carroll) wouldn’t be here if they weren’t a good team.”
Joe Shardo relieved the pressure momentarily with a three-pointer with 4:27 remaining. A switch of possessions later, Zach White stole the ball away from Versailles and scored on the layup to get it to 42-39. After a jump ball gave B-C the ball, Ryan McNeilan came up with the big play of the day with a steal and layup for Versailles to put the team up five at 44-39.
“That was big,” said McEldowney. “Everybody on this team has been stepping up all year. We needed someone to make the play and Ryan did.”
The teams traded free throws for the rest of the game as the Tigers slowly raised its lead with one or two points at the line. The Versailles defense did their part as well, getting steals on two key possessions in the final 90 seconds to keep the Bulldogs from scoring.
“We had some looks we couldn’t knock down, but a lot of it was because of (Versailles’) defense,” said Bloom-Carroll coach Tom Petty. “You’ve got to give credit to Versailles. That’s a good defensive team with that pressure. It’s a difficult team to do the things you want to do.”
Gehle finished with 16 to pace the Tigers and Shardo added 13 with Ben Shappie adding 11 on 4-of-6 from the foul line and making five steals.
Ball finished with 11 points and nine rebounds for the Bulldogs while David Stemen led the team in scoring with 13.
Now Versailles faces Reading for the second time this season. The Tigers got the first win, but McEldowney isn’t worried that his team won’t be prepared for the Blue Devils.
“This group has been so focused all year,” said McEldowney. “I think they’re going to take each opponent and they’re going to be focused. I don’t think it matters what the last game was, to be honest. It’s a whole new season, a whole new game and a whole new situation.”