By Rob Kiser
COLUMBUS — Versailles girls basketball team is just continuing a long run of success under coach Jacki Stonebraker.
Sardinia Eastern and coach Kevin Pickerill have been building towards the past success of the Warriors program.
The two will meet in a D-III state semifinal at 3 p.m. Friday at Schottenstein Arena.
For Versailles, this is nothing new.
The Lady Tigers are making their sixth Final Four appearance under Stonebraker since 2007, having won two state titles.
Sardinia Eastern has been building for this moment in Pickerill’s three season as coach, getting back to the glory years when the Warriors made three straight trips to the Final Four in 2000, 2001 and 2oo2.
“I am sure the kids are aware of those teams,” Pickerill said. “They don’t remember them.”
But, it was the thought process he had when he took over the program three years ago with a talented group of freshman.
“We were coming off a 2-21 season,” he said. “We thought it would be good to start fresh with that group of freshman.”
After advancing to the district finals two straight years, Eastern brings a 26-1 record into the state tournament.
“We got to the district finals two years ago and got beat pretty good,” he said. “Last year, we got beat in the district finals on a bad shooting night. We made it clear that just getting to the district finals wasn’t going to be enough this year. You have to have long term goals.”
Eastern is led by first team All-Southeast District selection Allison Day, a 6-foot-1 junior who averages 15.7 points per game.
Alexa Pennington, a 6-foot sophmore , was named second team and averages 10.6 points, while 6-foot junior Mikayla Farris was named third team and averages 10.0 points per game.
Morgan Reynolds, a 5-6 sophmore and Whitney Broughton, a 5-8 junior, round out the starting lineup.
“We are a pretty balanced team,” Pickerill, the Southeast District Coach of the Year, said. “We go anywhere from 7.5 points to 15. We don’t rely on any one players. Allison (Day) and Mikayla (Farris) have pretty much started every game from day one as a freshman. Allison missed six games last year with an injury. Mikayla has started every game.”
The Warriors lone loss was to Logan.
“That is a Division I school,” Pickerill said. “One of the reasons for scheduling that game was that is where we play our regional tournament. We have made some adjustments since that game. We changed the schedule up and played some games with longer bus rides, just to get prepared for that during the tournament run.”
The Warriors will mix things up on defense.
“We do a little bit of everything,” Pickerill said. “We will play some man, some zone. We will do some half-court trapping and pressing. I am not saying we are great at any of those things, but to say we are just a half-court man team, that is not true. I think our defense is the one thing that has gotten better during our tournament run.”
And he knows he is facing a team with plenty of state tournament experience.
“This isn’t their first time,” Pickerill said. “We used to see them at the tournament when we were in the Southwest District. We played them one year. I don’t remember who won.”
Stonebraker is impressed by what she sees from Eastern.
“They are big,” she said. “Three big girls across the front. They have a great 3-point shooter. They are a lot like a MAC team. We have seen two big girls, I don’t know that we have seen three like they have.”
Versailles is led by first team All-Southwest District selection Kami McEldowney, a 5-7 junior who averages 14.6 points per game.
Danielle Winner, a 6-1 junior who scored in double figures in both regional games, and 5-11 sophomore Elizabeth Ording were both honorable mention All-Southwest District selections.
Ellen Peters, a 5-8 junior and 5-5 senior Camille Watren round out the starting lineup. McEldowney and Watren were both starters on Versailles 2015 state championship team, while Winner was a key player off the bench.
“I think our girls do step in the gym expecting to win,” Stonebraker said. “But, sometimes that can work against you. I think against Fort Loramie, we expected to win that game just because we were Versailles and it didn’t work out that way. There have been a few times our play didn’t match our expectations.”
Versailles brings a 25-3 record into the game, with losses to Fort Loramie, Tippecanoe and Minster.
“There were a couple games where with a few baskets we could have gotten the win,” Stonebraker said. “We just weren’t quite able to make a couple shots we needed.”
The Lady Tigers don’t mind playing uptempo.
“Our post players run the floor well, so we are always looking to score in transition,” Stonebraker said. “But, both games in the regionals — our opponents made us play a halfcourt game and we executed well.”
Versailles is a predominately man team on defense.
“I haven’t had a chance to look a whole lot at Versailles yet,” Pickerill said. “They have good size inside and some guards that can shoot the ball. The one thing I know is they like to get after it on defense.”
Something that has allowed Versailles to continue its tradition — while Eastern rebuilds their tradition — with the two meeting Friday with a berth in the state championship game on the line.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.