By Rob Kiser
COLUMBUS — For both Jacki Stonebraker and her Versailles girls basketball team, one word came to mind as they advanced to their third Division III state championship game in four years.
After being runnerup to Africentric in 2014 and beating Ottawa-Glandorf for the title in 2015, Versailles will play Gilmour Academy at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, looking for the school’s third state title — all with Stonebraker as coach.
“Unbelievable,” Stonebraker said about playing in the state championship game for a third time in four years after beating Winchester Eastern 58-34 Friday at the Schottenstein Center. “It really us. Yes, you have to have good players, but to see what these kids have accomplished. They work so hard.”
But, don’t be misled — the Lady Tigers find plenty of room for fun as well.
“You should see us in the hallways before we come out on the court,” Winner said when asked about how loose the team was. “We are all singing and clapping when we go from the locker room to the court. And believe me, there is plenty of time for it, because it is such a long walk. But, It is so much fun to play here.”
Kami McEldowney, like Winner and junior and the recipient of a piggyback ride from the 6-2 post after the game, agreed.
But, she didn’t have to tell you that.
The smile that never left her in the postgame interview room was big enough to light up a City.
“It is just so much fun to play basketball here,” McEldowney said. “I just love playing here.”
And facing a front line from that stood 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 foot, Versailles was up to the challenge.
Versailles grabbed 16 offensive rebounds and outscored Eastern on second chance points 19-11.
“We took it as a challenge,” Versailles 5-10 sophomore post Elizabeth Ording said. “We knew we had to do it.”
Ording was playing in her first game at the Schottenstein Center floor and responded with 11 points, including six in the third quarter.
“It was a lot of fun,” Ording said. “I think the first half did help relax me.”
And senior Camille Watren, like McEldowney a starter on the 2015 state championship team, said there was a noticeable difference playing at the “Schott” for the second time.
“To tell you the truth, I was a lot more comfortable here,” Watren said.
She demonstrated that by going 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in the first four minutes.
“The team needed me,” she said. “And once you hit the first one, it just gives you confidence.”
Versailles will play a Gilmour Academy team that is 23-5 and had close losses to D-I powers Mason and Mount Notre Dame during the season.
Naz Hillmon, a 6-2 junior, had 16 rebounds and 16 points in a 65-54 win over defending state champion Africentric.
Emily Kelley, a 5-10 senior guard, who is the all-time leader in 3-point field goals in Ohio, didn’t disappoint Friday, making six of 11 from behind the arc and scoring 24 points.
Versailles is yet to have a close game in the post season.
The Lady Tigers closest game was a 14-point win over Hamilton Badin in the regional semifinals and the 25-3 Lady Tigers have now outscored their opponents by 256 points in the seven tournament games, an average of 32.3.
And Watren, along with fellow seniors Bynna Blakeley, Emily Langenkamp, Kami Ording, Bailey Huffman and Clair Schmitmeyer will now finish her career, fittingly, in the state championship game.
“It is just an unbelievable feeling,” Watren said.
And she would get no argument from her coach.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.