Tigers run out of fuel in second half comeback effort

Versailles did not have any qualms about the challenge ahead of them in a Class 3 sectional game at Harrisonville Wednesday night.

Standing in the way of a trip to the state quarterfinals was a state-ranked Hogan Prep team (23-4) that entered the contest ranked No. 2 in the most recent Missouri Basketball Coaches Association (MBCA) poll. The Tigers took that challenge head on and managed to dwindle a 25-point second half deficit down to 12 before ultimately falling to the Rams by a final score of 82-65.

“They are a good squad with good athletes,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said of the opponent. “They move around well, play well together and share the ball really well, but our guys were not intimidated. We knew what we were getting into coming in and we did our best to come out there and fight. I could not be more proud of the guys, they laid it all out there.”

The night actually started off well for the Tigers as they opened up a 5-1 lead in the early going. Unfortunately, the Rams quickly answered back with an 8-0 run that soon grew into a 27-13 lead after the first quarter. A full court zone press and high-pressure man-to-man defense made it tough for Versailles to generate any rhythm on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Hogan Prep used that energy to generate some quick and easy transition buckets on the other end while also finding its stroke behind the 3-point line.

By halftime, the Hogan Prep lead was up to 23 and grew as high as 25 with the first bucket of the third quarter. Then, just like the district championship win over Boonville, Versailles decided to make a little run of its own.

It started on the defensive end as the Tigers added a little more pressure, guarding Hogan Prep the full length of the court and forcing the Rams to take more contested shots as they presented different looks between a 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone. At the same time, Versailles started knocking down shots and a 9-2 Tiger run made a dent in that deficit. By the start of the fourth quarter Hogan Prep led by just 14, but Versailles started to run out of gas and five turnovers in the final frame allowed the Rams to extend the lead to a more comfortable advantage.

“The last three weeks we had kind of been preaching how the defense is going to get us where we want to go,” Ollison remarked. “It just takes so much energy to play a team like that for 32 minutes and we did not have enough energy to finish it off, but I could not be more proud of our guys. The way they battled and competed, we have gotten a lot better this year.”

And it is that energy that may be what Ollison appreciates the most. It was a major factor in Versailles winning its first district title since 2005 and having the opportunity to take a crack at the state tournament.

“The whole key to the thing is the energy our guys brought. Without that, it would not have mattered,” the coach pointed out. “My ‘Xs and Os’ do not do a whole lot if there is not energy so guys came out and decided they wanted to play hard and competed. At some point, I could have said anything and they would have went out and done it. That is what I love about these guys and that is what is going to turn this program around.”

Versailles senior Jonathon Geier led the team with 23 points in his final game as a Tiger while sophomore Coby Williams knocked down 22, junior Wyatt Espinosa added nine and senior Ayrton Gennetten recorded seven.

For any coach, it can always be difficult to see a senior class leave and it was no different for Ollison when it came to this unit.

“Taylor (Dobbins) came to us late, but he fit right in chemistry wise. Chase (Hyman) came out in just the last couple of years and how much he has improved is insurmountable,” the coach noted. “Ayrton is the heart and soul of what we want to do defensively and gives it everything he’s got all the time and I cannot say enough about Jonathon Geier and what he has done for this program. His work ethic and the time he has put in the gym over the last year is just tremendous and it is going to pay off for him. He is going to get a chance to play somewhere next year and that is going to be exciting.”

The coach did also not mince his words about the support he and his team have felt throughout the year where the Tiger finished with a record of 16-13.

“I’m so thankful for the fans, the turnout and the way our community gets behind these guys. I could not ask for more,” he said.

This campaign may be concluded, but the next one will soon begin. After a couple of months off for some of the athletes to go enjoy their spring sports, the journey of next season will get underway as Versailles looks to keep raising the bar.

“When the summer gets here we are hoping to roll this momentum into just a little bit more. I told Coby when he came off the court that I want to win this thing next year and he does not disagree,” Ollison stated. “He and Wyatt are going to be a big part of what we are doing as well as a lot of those other guys. Sha (Leach), Colby (Boicourt), Ori (Bartlett) and some of those guys coming off the bench are going to be a big part of it. I am excited about where the program is headed and we still have work to do so we’ll stay focused on it and do what we can.”

When it comes to generating momentum, a district title and a trip to the Sweet 16 is certainly a good place to start.