Eldon girls basketball outruns Versailles on Senior Night

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Eldon sophomore Haley Henderson goes up for a layup with Versailles sophomore Madison Foley in pursuit on Monday, February 1, in Eldon. Henderson finished with 18 points and Foley scored eight.

Eldon was not lacking any motivation Monday night in a Tri-County Conference battle with Highway 52 neighbor for Versailles. 

The Mustangs were coming off a tough loss at Capital City just a few days prior and it was Senior Night on home floor. That was more than enough for the home team to take care of business in a 63-39 win over the Tigers. 

“We had great energy throughout the game. We had three special seniors for us and I think everybody just wanted to play as hard as they could for them tonight,” Eldon coach Isaiah Rhine said of Taylor Henderson, Cassidy Prater and Elizabeth Rush. “We came off a pretty rough game on Friday and did not play like ourselves or the way we want to play at all. I think there was a lot of trying to work that out of our system and get headed back in the right direction.” 

It took a little time to find that right direction, though, as the visitors got off to a solid start and led by as many as seven points in the first quarter before Eldon started to close the gap and narrow Versailles’ lead to a single point by the start of the second. The Mustangs found their rhythm and took the lead for good in that time frame, using an 8-1 run that eventually grew to a 22-7 run and a 39-27 cushion by the half. 

Defensive pressure and execution in the transition game had something to do with that as Eldon took advantage of a short Versailles bench featuring just two available substitutes. The Tigers were missing junior starter Maris Ollison who was out with a shoulder injury.

“We came out and played extremely hard in the first half of the game and got off to a great start,” Versailles coach Tempary Gunter noted. “I was extremely proud of the effort they gave and with limited girls, it is tough. The Eldon girls play hard so it was very competitive the entire night.”

Eldon utilized a full-court zone press and sought to trap in the half court and prevent the Tigers from moving the ball around more freely. Rhine said it is a fairly new tactic that was recently installed and it seems it provided some positive results as the Mustangs forced over 20 Versailles turnovers on the night.

“Over the last week I looked at it and thought maybe there are some opportunities there for us to get some easier points or steals in transition opportunities,” he pointed out. “We just added that in the last week and we are still pretty new to it. I don’t know if we’ll do it as a full-time thing, but it is another weapon we have.” 

And a good defensive effort can usually lead to an easier night on the offensive end as well. Whether it was fast breaks in transition or the ability to execute the offense in the half court, the Mustangs seemed to find their groove after outscoring the Tigers 22-4 in transition and 26 points off turnovers. 

Sophomore Haley Henderson paced the Mustangs with 18 points and six teals and also provided six rebounds and a trio of assists. Freshman Sydney Halderman knocked down 17 points and swiped three steals and both freshman Jaci Mueller and the elder Henderson added five points each.

“We are getting better at that and that is what we want to do- we want to spread the ball around, have good spacing and ball movement- and we work on those things all the time,” Rhine stated. “We are getting better and we are still young so every day is another big step for us in getting better at all those things.”

Trying to limit the fatigue factor of a short bench, Gunter noted that the Tigers opted to run more zone defense as opposed to man-to-man. She commended the efforts of her players and one of them happened to be freshman Kourtney Rainey who was awarded the team’s “Hard Hat” recognition for her efforts on the court. Given to the player after each game who is deemed the hardest worker on the floor, Rainey finished with seven points and added seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.

“Tonight it was Kourtney for her effort in rebounding and on defense,” the coach said. 

Sophomore Madison Foley put up eight points and collected three rebounds for Versailles, junior Joscleynn Marriott scored seven points and collected nine rebounds and freshman Ashlynn Davidson finished with five points for Versailles. There was also another Tiger who got on the stat sheet Monday night.

Like the first meeting between these two sides in the Tri-County Conference Tournament at the start of the year, there was an opportunity for sportsmanship in the final seconds of the game as sophomore Kobie O’Rourke was able to see some time on the floor. Once again, the sophomore who has a physical disability scored a bucket for the Tigers.

“It is awesome and I really appreciate their coach and team for allowing us to be able to get her that point,” Gunter said of the display of sportsmanship. “That was really nice of them and we are very appreciative of that. I know that Kobie enjoyed that and it makes the game.”

Versailles (4-14, 0-3 Tri-County Conference) was scheduled to return to the floor Tuesday night to face St. Paul Lutheran out of Concordia (13-5). Up next is a trip to Osage (8-9) on Thursday and Gunter just wants her girls to keep playing hard as they push forward with a limited bench.1

“Just keep focusing on the little things and what we do well. Use those things and ride through the rest of the season,” she said of the road ahead. “Focus on the small things, do what we can and play hard every game. That is all I ask, is they play hard and work hard.” 

Eldon (7-11, 1-2 Tri-County Conference) adds another win and this one can belong to the seniors whom Rhine said he is appreciative of. 

“They are three really hard-working and caring girls who have been really accepting of me as a new coach and doing everything different their senior year after they are used to a certain way,” said the coach who took over the program this season. “They have been really acceptive to change and good leaders for our program.”

And getting back on the right track Monday night was not so bad, either. 

“We definitely had a look energy and we were playing together as a team instead of individuals and it really helped us,” Haley said of her team’s efforts. 

“It was a lot of fun and it was kind of back to our old selves.”

The Mustangs have a battle with Richland (14-3) up next on Thursday, which will be a varsity game only starting at 6 p.m.

“We just talk about it every day- we are working to get a little bit better and every time we step on the court we are thankful,” Rhine said. “We are focused on getting better, improving and being closer as a team every day.”

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132