Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The game had been a back-and-forth affair on the scoreboard throughout. So it probably should’ve been no surprise Saturday when the Versailles and Hermann boys basketball teams sent some shoves back and forth on the court as well.
The Tigers’ final and most blatant shove drew a technical with two minutes remaining in overtime, and the Bearcats made sure that the game’s sixth lead change was its last. Hermann held on for a 67-65 win in the Capital City Shootout at Fleming Fieldhouse.
“I think any time you play close games it’s a good experience,” Versailles coach Kent Thomas said. “You learn so much, but right now we’re just searching for a little bit of a reward. Can we get a ‘W’ notched so that we feel good about ourselves for all the hard work that we’re trying to put in?”
The game’s first punch was a strong one, thrown by Hermann. The Bearcats led 12-2 less than five minutes into the game, and the Tigers’ offense struggled to overcome three turnovers on its first five possessions.
But Versailles (2-5) managed to finish the quarter down just four, thanks in part to Sam Bowman’s seven first-quarter points.
“(He) probably kept us in the game there early on because he was the only one that was making some shots,” Thomas said. “But I think you’ve just got to keep patient and keep running your stuff, generally speaking.”
Versailles tied the game for the first time since 0-0 with a Shane Randall transition basket at 18-all, topping an 11-4 run. The Tigers’ first lead came at 22-20 on a Randall putback, but the most energizing lead change came at 27-26, on a four-point play by freshman Wyatt Espinosa.
Espinosa finished with 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
“He has come on so much in the last year,” Thomas said. “He has improved so much, and he is not afraid. He plays fearless, and boy, at times he was our best offensive weapon out there.”
Espinosa’s and-1 gave Versailles a lead that lasted nearly seven minutes before Hermann’s Mat Hug tied the game at 39-all. Hug finished with a game-high 32 points on 15-of-17 shooting.
“He’s a good player. Kept hurting us down in the paint,” Thomas said. “Our zone defenses, we just couldn’t get matched up right with him down there. He was taking advantage of some mismatches and we weren’t getting down there to help on him as much as he should have.”
Neither team could muster a final blow, though, and the Tigers and Bearcats entered overtime tied at 55 when an off-balance shot by Hermann’s Matthew Heidger rimmed out at the buzzer.
Espinosa scored first in OT, off a jump stop with 3:23 to go. Hug struck back with four straight points. And then things got chippy. Versailles’ Tyler Zolecki was called for an offensive foul. Seconds later, a back-and-forth between Randall and Hermann’s Trey McKague culminated with Randall getting a technical for shoving McKague to the ground.
Hermann took a 61-57 lead on the free throws, one it held for good — not that Versailles went down without a fight.
“I thought the kids did a good job of kind of having a next-play mentality, getting themselves focused and then just playing,” Thomas said.
Randall in particular had to get focused, as he took four free throws on the Tigers’ next two possessions, hitting three of them to keep things close.
“That’s tough,” Thomas said of Randall, who finished with a team-high 18 points. “Because it’s a very emotional play there. I thought he kept his composure and did pretty well.”
A Elijah Bentch 3 cut the lead to two with as many seconds to go, but the Bearcats were able to inbounds the ball and kill the clock.