By Marc Tobias
COLUMBUS — Throughout this school year Versailles seemed unbeatable, and in fact, the Tigers were just that heading into their Division III state championship showdown with St. Henry.
Versailles had won 42 consecutive football and basketball games heading into that contest, but the Redskins stifling defense and balance on offense put an end to that incredible winning streak with a 61-49 victory Saturday afternoon at the Value City Arena inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
St. Henry held Versailles to 27-percent shooting (16-for-60) from the field, meanwhile, the Redskins had four players reach double figures (two guards and two post players).
“We knew we were going to have to shoot it real well to be successful and I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half, and in the second half, I thought they did a pretty good job of being physical with us and kept us from getting to the hole and the outside shots didn’t fall,” said Versailles coach Roger McEldowney.
The Tigers did hang tough in the first half and trailed just 26-24 at the break. An Andy Puthoff three-pointer with roughly 29 seconds left until halftime was the last bucket of the half to put St. Henry on top heading to the break.
One reason Versailles was able to stay so close in the first half was because the Tigers were doing an excellent job staying with St. Henry on the glass.
Versailles actually held a 10-2 rebound advantage with 3:59 to play in the first quarter, and at halftime the Tigers still clung to that rebounding advantage, 19-17.
The Redskins appeared determined to take over the paint in the second half, and it paid off early with Steve Sutter scoring the first two buckets of the third quarter to put St. Henry on top 30-24. Kurt Huelsman quickly added pair of free throws and the Tigers were facing an eight-point deficit.
Later in the quarter, a Jeremy Schwieterman free throw gave St. Henry its biggest lead of ht game at 36-27, but Ben Shappie answered with a free throw and a three-pointer to pull the Tigers to within five at 36-31.
Schwieterman, who had 10 points in the game, answered again for St. Henry. This time the Redskins point guard took a steal all the way to the hoop to put the Red and White on top 38-31 heading to the fourth.
Huelsman then scored the first three points in the fourth quarter and St. Henry remained on top 41-31 with 5:22 in the game.
The Redskins guards then started to take over, as Bryan Post hit a free throw and Nate Stahl scored one of his 13 points on a layup thanks to a nice feed from Schwieterman.
By the time Stahl hit his next bucket, the Redskins were in cruise control as they led 47-31.
“I think with their big guy presence we were trying to help down on them, and we didn’t think they were going to shoot as well as what they did from the outside but with us helping down it opened up from the outside then we went outside and they went back inside and it was hard to figure out and hard to stop both of those attacks,” said Versailles point guard Kyle Gehle.
Gehle, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-24 shooting from the field, finally broke through with the Tigers’ first basket of the quarter at the 3:41 mark to end an 11-0 St. Henry run.
“We just didn’t shoot very well and they made us alter our shots a lot,” Gehle said. “When we did take it in we were going right at them, it’s just sometimes they’d get the call, but that’s no excuse. We just didn’t make enough shots today to get the win.”
Gehle was hounded by the Redskins’ Jeremy Schwieterman for the majority of the game, and Schwieterman’s defense of Gehle was one reason the Redskins senior was named to the all-tournament team.
Gehle finished by making 6-of-24 from the field for 17 points.
“He (Schwieterman) was playing pretty tough, but we didn’t get as many open looks as we wanted to and when we got to the hole it seemed like it was hard to get good shots,” Gehle said.
“He’s a great player (Gehle), there’s not really much you can do to stop the kid. He can drive by you, he can shoot the three and all you can do is try to get a hand in his face to try and stop the shot,” Schwieterman said.
Ben Shappie, who led Versailles with 19 points, also found it hard to get open looks as he finished by making 6-of-19 from the field.
The closest the Tigers got the rest of the way was 11 points when Clint Hufford hit a three-pointer with under a minute to play.
St. Henry won the second half by a score of 35-25.
“The second half these guys knew that we were a better team then what we showed closing out the first game that we played here on Thursday and they wanted to finish things off on a better note,” said St. Henry coach Joe Niekamp. “They took a little bit better care of the basketball and got to the free-throw line and knocked some shots down.”
St. Henry finished by making 28-of-39 from the free-throw line compared to 7-of-12 for Versailles.
When asked about that discrepancy, McEldowney simply said with a slight laugh, “I see that.”
“They’re hard to handle inside and they put us in position on the block where we had to help a lot and they get to the line when they do that,” McEldowney added. “They’re a good team.”
Huelsman finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks while Sutter finished with 12 points five rebounds and two blocks.
Huelsman said he knew the Redskins had it won with just under two mintues to play.
“I couldn’ t believe it. It was just amazing because this is a dream come true,” the sophomore post player said.
“It’s a great feeling, you can’t really describe it,” Stahl said. “All the work in the offseason and with AAU and early morning practices, but it all paid off.”
The Redskins and Tigers matchup marked the first time since 1992 that two teams from the same conference squared off in the state final.
St. Henry concludes its season with a 22-5 mark while Versailles finishes at 27-1.
“I’m sure it will mean a lot more when we have a chance to sit back reflect and let this one go, but right now it’s just kind of hard,” McEldowney said.