Versailles turned the tide and utilized a 19-5 run to take an 11-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter and never looked back for a 76-59 win to capture the district crown.
A light bulb switched on for Versailles Saturday.
The Tigers took on future Tri-County Conference foe Boonville for the Class 3 District 13 title in Cole Camp and were trailing a majority of the first half, and by as many as 12 before cutting the deficit to 31-28 by halftime. Then, almost in a flash, Versailles turned the tide and utilized a 19-5 run to take an 11-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter and never looked back for a 76-59 win to capture the district crown.
“At halftime coach was just telling us that we had to stop worrying about officiating and the crowd and just go out there and play basketball because he knew we were better than that team,” Versailles senior Jonathon Geier said of the turnaround. “After we did that, it just worked out for us.”
Versailles coach Jason Ollison was glad his team got the message as it turned out to become the program’s first district title since 2005. That 2005 team, by the way, went on to finish third in the state.
“Versailles has had a basketball tradition for a long time and I am just real excited to be a part of it. These kids come into the gym every day ready to work and I could not ask for better kids as far as on or off the floor,” said the coach who is in his second year with the Tigers. “They are learning how to work through some adversity and I thought tonight we really did a good job of bouncing back when things were not going our way early and taking care of business.
“It is a testament to them. I can go in and tell them but if they are not hearing it, it is not going to work and they heard it tonight. I am really happy.”
Versailles’ big run started with a relentless press. The Tigers had applied some full court pressure in the first half, but a key adjustment was made after halftime as senior Aryton Gennetten was moved up to the top and it gave the Pirates fits. Boonville coughed up the ball for 10 of its 16 total turnovers in the third quarter alone.
“We used his energy on top of the press with Wyatt (Espinosa) and I think that really frustrated them. That got them in kind of a hurry and it lets Coby (Williams) and Jonathon kind of hang out, steal passes and do the things they like to do too,” Ollison pointed out. “It was a little minor adjustment, but it made a big difference and that is because the kids decided they wanted to come out and play.”
And things turned out just as well on the offensive side of the ball as Versailles was able to get some quick and easy transition points off the press. The Tigers also found their stroke from long-range as the team hit five of its 11 total 3-pointers in the third quarter. Shooting 73 percent as a team from the free throw line was simply icing on the cake.
“We just ran the offense, moved the ball and found the open shot and shots were falling so it worked our really good,” said Williams, a sophomore point guard.
Williams led Versailles with 24 points, Geier put up 18 (all in the second half), Gennettenn added 14 and the junior Espinosa recorded 10 as the fourth Tiger in double figures. Senior Chase Hyman finished with six and junior Sha Leach contributed four respectively.
“When you find the open guy hit him, if you are a shooter shoot it and if you are not a shooter find the next open guy,” Ollison said of his team’s offensive flow. “I thought we did a real good job of that tonight because we have some guys that can really fill it up and create their own shot, but when they start creating for everyone else, that is when we become a team.”
And now that team will get to play another day and continue to pursue a state title.
“You worked your whole life for it and it feels great,” Espinosa said. “Coach told us this was ours to win so we came out here firing and that is all we wanted to do.”
Seniors, like Geier, were certainly not ready to hang up the sneakers.
“It did not feel like it was going to be my last game. It just means everything because it is all this work we have put in the past four years,” he remarked. “Leading this team to a district championship with all my teammates, it is just the best feeling in the world right now.”
The opportunity to share that feeling with the Versailles community was pretty special as well. There were plenty of Tiger fans on hand to watch the game, including former players.
“That is what it is all about, being able to have these guys come back and see what they were putting in time for. They may not have been able to get this, but they are a big part of what we are doing and where we’ve come,” Ollison stated. “I’m really happy to see the fans come out, the community support and I could not be more proud of these kids... This is a great deal.”
Up next for Versailles (16-12) is Hogan Prep (22-4) in sectionals with a trip to the state quarterfinals on the line. The contest is scheduled to take place Wednesday night at Harrisonville High School. The school is located about an hour and 45 minutes northwest of Versailles, about 40 miles away from Kansas City.
“We are going to enjoy this one tonight and maybe a little bit into tomorrow, but Monday we are going to get right back to work and see what we can do,” Ollison said after the game on Saturday. “Hogan Prep is a really good team and a top team in the state. But like I told the guys, you get through them and then it is downhill. We’ll get a game plan together and have something together for them.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m.