By Marc Tobias
COLUMBUS — Nobody has ever said winning a state basketball championship is supposed to be easy, and Versailles found that out firsthand during its 68-64 double-overtime victory in Thursday’s Division III state semifinal against Bellaire.
Versailles had to overcome a 12-point second-half deficit to forge a first overtime and the Tigers then needed a last second three-pointer from Kyle Gehle to send the game into its second overtime before Ben Shappie was able to win the game with a three-pointer with less then 12 seconds remaining in the second extra session.
Shappie then iced the game with a pair of three throws for a four-point lead with 3.6 seconds remaining.
The Tigers’ effort did prove one thing. There’re very few teams in Ohio, regardless of division, that can match their grit and “refuse to lose” attitude.
“You have to have a pretty big heart to play in that situation and keep reaching down to find some good stuff to finish off games,” said Versailles coach Roger McEldowney. “These kids have had that all year and they just refuse to lose. They love to compete and they just get the job done.”
Already without their second-leading scorer in Joe Shardo due to a torn ACL, the Tigers were facing a double-digit deficit at 43-33 when they lost their top offensive threat, Gehle, for the majority of the second half due to foul trouble.
Gehle picked up a costly technical foul in the final minute and a half of the second quarter when it appeared he may have said something to one of the officials.
His fourth foul came at the 6:23 mark in the third quarter when he collided with a Bellaire player after he drove to the basket.
With Gehle out, things were beginning to look extremely bleak for the Tigers, but that’s when Ben Shappie and Paul Borchers took over the leadership reins for the Tigers.
Borchers started the comeback when he hit a bucket to cut the lead down to 43-35 with 5:26 to play in the third.
Shappie then put the entire Versailles team on his back, scoring on three consecutive drives to the basket to pull Versailles to within two points at 43-41.
Having to contend with the 6-foot-10 inch and 360-pound Aaron Agnew in front of the basket, Shappie was able to use his quickness and scooped three left-handed shots past the big man.
“I was just trying to make sure everyone stayed into it and kept their heads up and focused on what we had to do to get back into and stay in it,” Shappie said. “I know Kyle had a shot blocked when he drove to the right side, so I went left and I don’t think he was as quick moving that way.”
Agnew may have also began to tire, as the big man along with the other four Big Reds starters played almost every second of the game.
Bellaire then went back up by five, but Shappie answered with a three-pointer to keep the Tigers within two points. The Tigers’ senior ended the quarter by wrestling a rebound away from Agnew and then hit a fade away jumper to pull Versailles to within one point at 47-46 entering the fourth quarter.
“In a double-overtime game I guess everybody has their chances to run away with it. We had our chances and they had their chances, and in the end they capitalized and we didn’t,” said Bellaire coach Gene Ammirante. “I thought the key was in the third quarter when we came down around seven or eight times in a row and came up empty. We had good looks and good decisions most of the time by the people we wanted to have the basketball, but we didn’t capitalize.”
Shappie scored 11 points in the third quarter and finished with a game-high 23 points.
Versailles took the lead for the first time in the game at 48-47 when a Shappie steal led to an Adam Barga basket.
A right hook in the lane by Borchers tied things up once again at 50-apiece and then a Kevin Paulus basket tied the score at 52-52.
Borchers gave the Tigers the lead at 54-52 on an offensive putback, but Josh Fisher did the same for Bellaire to tie the game once again at 54.
Agnew then hit two free throws for a two-point Bellaire lead, but Borchers, who started his first game of the season, scored once again on an offensive rebound to tie the game at 56 with under one minute to play.
“We needed somebody to step up and help take up Joe’s slack and Paul was able to do that, Ben was able to do that and the whole team was able to do that. I couldn’t be prouder of them,” McEldowney said.
Borchers couldn’t have picked a better game for his breakout performance, as the Tigers junior finished with 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.
“You go through the whole season with Joe there, and you get this far in the tournament and you don’t think something like that will happen, even though in the back of your mind you know it can,” Borchers said.”I just tried to stay focused and try to look at it as another game and know that everybody had to step up, it was just a lot of fun.”
Versailles had a chance to win it in regulation, but Gehle’s three-pointer was off the mark, and Borchers follow up attempt was partially blocked by Agnew.
Borchers put Versailles on top early in the first overtime 58-56 on a short jumper. Nate Davis answered with a three-pointer and Mike Fisher hit one of two free throws for the Big Reds for a two-point lead. Davis then split a pair of free throws for Bellaire giving them a three-point lead.
When Josh Fisher was fouled with 13 seconds left and two free throws to come, it appeared Bellaire had the game secure. Josh Fisher missed both free-throw attempts, though, allowing Versailles one more crack at it and that’s when Gehle buried an improbable three-pointer.
“We wanted two guys to come up top to set a double screen on both sides so I could choose whatever side I wanted to go,” Gehle said. “I went right and it wasn’t there, so I went back left and I think it was Paul that set the screen to get me open and fortunately, I hit it. I hadn’t hit a lot of shots all day but I hit one when I need to hit one.”
Gehle was asked later if he had any doubts about taking that three, but before he could answer coach McEldowney jumped in and said, “Not in my mind,” with a laugh.
Gehle finished with 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting from the field.
The end of the first overtime was painful on the other side of the court, though, where 2-of-6 shooting from the line in the first overtime cost Bellaire a spot in the state finals.
“I thought we made some big ones, but we also missed some that could have put some nails in the coffin and when you don’t put the nail in the coffin against a team that’s 26-0 then they’re going to come up and strike you,” Ammirante said.
Shappie then capped a wonderful game in the second overtime by draining a three-pointer to put Versailles up by two with less than 12 seconds remaining, with his two free throws capping the four-point win.
Agnew finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds for Bellaire while Davis added 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting while pulling down 14 rebounds. Both of the Fishers’ finished with 12 points and they combined for seven rebounds.