Behind Connor Stonebraker’s 23 points, Versailles flexed their muscles in the Division III opener with a 31-point victory at National Trail.
Vandalia, Ohio – They hadn’t played for ten days, but not for you to notice.
There was some concern among them if the layoff would show up as rust – not as sharp as they would like.
Those were the questions, the concerns, leading into Wednesday’s Division III opener between the No. 1 seed Versailles (21-1) and the No. 21 seed National Trail (4-19) . No one doubted Versailles would emerge at the top, but what would they look like when they did?
Would they look like a legitimate threat to capture OHSAA Div. Title III in three weeks, able to navigate their way through the inevitable district and regional challenge of teams like Meadowdale, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy or Madeira?
It took about four minutes of the first quarter Wednesday for National Trail to answer in the affirmative. The Blazers could have felt like a certain Eastern European country around the same time – powerless – as Versailles took an early 9-0 lead they were leading 16-6 at the end of the quarter and 36-12 at halftime.
The newly anointed Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Connor Stonebraker, had 19 of those 36 points and was in a word, or two, unstoppable or indefensible. Make your choice.
It ended with Versailles 59, National Trail 28, in a game that Tigers coach Travis Swank would later call a game where they did a lot of little things to his satisfaction.
“If you were writing about baseball, I guess you’d say we hit a lot of singles tonight,” Swank said. “But at this time of year, these bachelors can hurt.”
Translation: the singles are easier than the three-point circuit behind the arc. Go with the sure thing and get as many shots close to the rim as possible.
Stonebraker would finish with a game-high 23 points, and he had help. Teammate Ben Ruhenkamp built on a strong first half to finish with 10. Jaydon Litten characterized his small-ball attack by hitting the only 3-pointer of the night for the Tigers and finished with 8. AJ Griesdorn in had 6, Eli McEldowney and Cole Hamilton each had 4, Noah McEldowney and Ethan Dickey each had 2.
Wyatt House led National Trail with 8 points, as the Blazers finished their inaugural year in the Western Ohio Athletic Conference with a 4-19 record.
Connor Stonebraker said he felt good playing after the layoff and admitted his surprise at being named his conference’s Most Valuable Player for 2022.
“I was a little surprised,” he said. “There were a lot of deserving players… Jaydon, obviously, Dave Homan (New Bremen), Reece Busse (New Bremen)… yeah, I was a bit surprised. There were a lot of deserving players.
As far as the curiosity of one of the most ardent fanbases in the region goes… how was the opening night of the second season?
“It feels good to get out there and get your confidence back,” Stonebraker said. “We came out fast and really set the tone for the game, and it was good for me to know that I can do whatever I need to do there. My teammates trust me as much as I trust myself, so I know they support me 100%.
And… how good are the Tigers, in the next three weeks?
“I guess you’ll have to come and see,” he replied. Hit !
Travis Swank said they hit a lot of singles. What he meant was that they didn’t rely on three-point shooting, but on solid defense, rebounds and points in transition. It wasn’t until the end of the second half that Jaydon Litten finally ignited one behind the arc just in front of his own bench.
Travis Swank admitted…he liked what he saw.
“We sometimes tend to look for home runs, instead of just simple ones,” he explained. “So we want to resist the temptation to swing at the fences sometimes, just stick with simple ones because when we do that we’re pretty hard to beat and we hurt people. We want to run a little bit more precise, a little better, and that’s really what we wanted to do tonight in the second half.
“Could we have done better? Yes. We would like to be sharp in this tournament. will play in Miami East.
East advanced in Game 1 Wednesday, knocking out conference rival Three Rivers Bethel by a 61-42 margin. And after a solid season (15-6, TRC co-champion)…with a history of playing tough zone defense…the Vikings will make those singles tougher.
“They play very well defensively, both as a team and in the zone,” added Swank.
“We don’t see a lot of zone in the MAC, and with the layoff we were able to work on it. We see a lot of physical man-to-man fights, and I’m sure they’ll mix some things up…they play a lot of men but I’m sure they’ll show a certain zone as well. We have to be ready for whatever they do.
Nothing less than Wednesday’s win was more important than the confidence boost Connor Stonebraker got by scoring 23 points in his tournament debut. He’s got plenty of help, sure, but regardless, a 6’7″ player who’s athletic and has touch around the rim thrives on positive reinforcement.
“It was important for him, I know, just to have easy looks early on and get the ball through the rim,” Swank said. “That’s what we really needed for the whole team tonight. Get some easy ones because this (student activity center) is never an easy place to play, to shoot, so for us to go out and play like we did…maybe that will allow us to pass on Saturday.
I guess… you’ll have to go out and see!