Losses are difficult to forget. Just ask Versailles senior Chad Winner.
He remembers a district final loss to Clark Montessori when he was a sophomore. The Tigers led by 14, but lost in overtime. The reason: too many missed free throws.
When Stivers was trying to come back late behind freshman Rodrick Caldwell’s seven quick points in Thursday night’s District III final at UD Arena, Winner made three straight trips to the free-throw line. He made five of six and Versailles was able to hold on for a 65-54 victory that was played much tighter than the final margin.
“Just tell yourself you’ve got to step up and the team needs these two points,” said Winner, who at one point this season was shooting 50 percent. “This time I wanted to make sure we got them.”
Versailles (20-5) made 17 of 21 free throws in the fourth quarter and 27 of 36 for the game. Winner made 7 of 9 and scored 18 points. Kyle Ahrens made 10 of 13 and scored 25 points.
“We rode those guys a lot in the second half and they’re good shooters, but their legs were spent,” said Versailles coach Scott McEldowney, whose team lost in the regional semifinals last year. “You just don’t know if you can still step up and knock them down. As far as gamers, yeah, they want to be there.”
Versailles plays in the regional semifinals against Worthington Christian at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Trent Arena.
Stivers (17-9) played in its first district final since 2006 and led 25-16 in the second quarter as Versailles battled foul trouble and Stivers forced several of Versailles’ 20 turnovers. But Stivers led only 27-26 at halftime and couldn’t build on some three- and four-point leads in the third quarter.
“We had too many mental breakdowns, and that’s something that’s hurt us all year,” Stivers coach Jay Hall said.
Rodrick Caldwell led Stivers with 19 points and Robert Caldwell scored 15 before fouling out. Stivers shot 30 percent from the field and was outrebounded 47-34.