By Marc Tobias
The biggest news on the eve that Versailles opens play at the state basketball championships is that the Tigers will be forced to go into battle without one of its star players.
Joe Shardo, injured in the Tigers (26-0) regional final win over Reading, will miss Versailles’ Division III state semifinal contest on Thursday at 2 p.m. against Bellaire (22-4) with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
The loss of Shardo is huge since the senior was averaging 16.8 points while also leading Versailles in rebounding at 6.5 rebounds per game.
“I feel for him because he’s dedicated his whole life to basketball and to get to this point with him being such a huge part of it and not being able to play at state makes me really feel for the kid,” said Versailles coach Roger McEldowney. “But he’s had such a great attitude and he’s helping the kids that are going to take his spot. He’s really working with them to get the plays down and things like that. He’s really trying to still be a part of it by staying positive and helping everyone else out.”
Paul Borchers (6-4, Jr.) will take Shardo’s spot in the starting lineup against Bellaire.
“Paul’s played a lot for us this year and he’s really stepped up big and played well for us against Reading,” McEldowney said.
Borchers is averaging 3.3 points and 3.5 rpg., but McEldowney said he won’t be solely responsible for picking up the void left by Shardo’s injury.
“At halftime (in regional finals) we talked about it in the locker room — it’s 16 points, if everybody gets an extra two or four here or there we can kind of spread it out,” McEldowney said. “Kyle’s (Gehle) capable of going off and having big nights too, so we need to do a good job of getting him the ball. Ben Shappie has really stepped up too and I think he’s that kid who could score 20 on any given night but on this team we’ve been so balanced this year he really hasn’t had to do that.”
Gehle’s (6-1, Sr.), a D-III first-team All-Ohio representative, is averaging 21.1 ppg. while Shappie (6-1, Sr.) has been chipping in 10.5 ppg.
Even if Shardo was healthy, Versailles would still have its hands full with Bellaire.
Bellaire has four players averaging double figures, including Eastern District Player of the Year, Nate Davis.
Davis (6-2), a sophomore point guard, leads Bellaire by averaging 20.5 ppg. this season and he’s grabbing 9.8 rpg.
“Once he gets it in the lane he can elevate and finish with either hand, so we have to try and keep him in front of us and make him beat us from over the top,” McEldowney said. “He can shoot it a little bit too, but we’d much rather have him shoot it over the top of us then get it to the basket.”
McEldowney said the responsibility for slowing down Davis will be in the hands of Shappie.
“He has been our defensive stopper all year, he’s going to have to do the job on the Davis kid, and if he can do it I really like our chances,” McEldowney said.
The Tigers’ bigger matchup problems may be with finding someone to guard Bellaire’s mammoth center.
Aaron Agnew stands at 6-feet-10 inches tall and hits the scale at roughly 360 pounds.
Agnew is the Big Red’s second-leading scorer at 19.9 ppg. He’s also Bellaire’s all-time leading rebounder with 927 boards while he holding the school record for blocks with 314.
“We’ve seen some pretty good post players in the MAC, so our basic philosophies will be the same, but we think there are some guys we can cheat off of and help, and that’s probably what we’ll try to do,” McEldowney said.
Most likely the player that the Tigers will cheat off the most will be Andrew Bobka who’s averaging just 3.0 ppg.
After Bobka, Bellaire has a pair of solid three-point shooters in Mike and Josh Fisher who average 14.5 and 12.2 ppg.
“We’ve been balanced, because we have a 6-10 kid and some other solid players and our opponents have chosen to attack us in different ways,” said Bellaire coach Gene Ammirante. “We’ve had nights when all of them have picked up the slack, and that’s been helpful.”
Bellaire’s been an up-tempo team, but McEldowney said he hopes to be able to attack the Bellaire with some of its own medicine because the Big Reds aren’t very deep, and could possibly play with just its five starters.
“We don’t think Agnew runs the floor real well, he’s pretty good around the basket but we’re going to try and push it and get it up and down because that’s the way we play and maybe try and wear them down a little bit,” McEldowney said.
Ammirante said his squad will be ready for whatever the Tigers throw at them.
“When you play in the tournament you have to be able to play all kinds of tunes, we’ve already had to dance a few slow dances to get this far, but I think Versailles is more like us and will play more like us,” Ammirante said.
McEldowney said the another key for his team will be knocking down some perimeter shots.
“I just think we’re going to have to shoot the ball well, I think that’s a big key,” McEldowney said. “Obviously he’s (Agnew) going to control the paint a little bit and we’re going to have to make some perimeter jump shots to be successful.”