Miami East boys drop D-III district semifinal to top seed Versailles


VANDALIA — “So close,” Miami East boys basketball coach Justin Roeth said as he emerged from the locker room at the Vandalia SAC after the Vikings nearly upset top seeded Versailles in a D-III district semifinal.

East trailed by just one point in the final minute before the Tigers escaped with a 59-54 victory to improve to 23-1.

And while the Vikings season ended at 16-7, it wasn’t so much the end as another step forward for eight seed East.

While the end of the season is traditionally the final time the team will be together, that’s not the case for the Vikings — who had no seniors and just two juniors on the roster.

“I am just super proud of all the coaches and players,” Roeth said. “We talked about not being satisfied.”

And Roeth talked about the drastic improvement of a sophomore laden team from the start of the season that validated that.

“In just every way possible,” Roeth said about the improvement from the start of the season. “I think the proof of that is in losing to Bethel early in the season and then beating them twice after that — losing to Troy Christian by 14 at home at the start of the season and then beating them by 15 on the road the second time.”

And of course, Saturday’s performance against the highly-touted — and rightfully so — Tigers.

“We lost to them by nine the first time,” Roeth said. “I know we lost to them by five today, but this game was close all the way. We led for most of the first three quarters.”

The game started with Jacob Roeth and Camren Monnin hitting 3-pointers and Mitchel Kemp picking up four points inside as the Vikings jumped out to a 13-3 lead.

And East’s game plan worked to perfect throughout the first half.

With Roeth scoring 10 points and Wes Enis adding seven points, the Vikings went to the locker room with a 28-19 lead despite Versailles’ 6-foot-7 junior Connor Stonebraker scoring 10 points for the Tigers.

“We knew there size was going to be a problem,” Roeth said. “I think the final rebound total was 31-18 and they probably had quite a few points off offensive rebounds.”

The momentum began to change in the third quarter when East got into some foul situations.

“That’s when we kind of had to change what we were doing,” Roeth said. “We went from playing on our toes to playing back on our heels because of the foul situation.”

The Tigers outscored Versailles 16-7 in the third quarter to tie the game at 35 going to the fourth quarter.

With Stonebraker scoring eight points and Noah McEldowney hitting a 3-pointer in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, East just kept battling back.

“It would have been really easy for us to panic in the third and fourth quarters,” Roeth said. “At no point did we do that. I was really proud of the way the kids kept their composure.”

Particularly in the final two minutes when an East player —due to some confusion — entered the game as Noah McEldowney was shooting the second of two free throws, resulting in a technical. The net result was Versailles opening a five-point lead.

“He is just a freshman,” Roeth said. “It was kind of confusing. And the great thing was —even after that — he made some plays to help us down the stretch.”

A basket by Enis and two free throws by Roeth cut the lead to 52-51 with 54.1 seconds to go, before Versailles scored seven straight points before Enis hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Roeth led the Vikings with 19 points, despite playing most of the second half with four fouls.

Enis had 17 points, five rebounds and four steals and Kemp added six points.

Stonebraker, despite picking up three fouls in the first half, had a monster game with 22 points and 17 rebounds for the Tigers.

Jaydon Litten scored 12 points, Noah McEldowney had 10 points and five assists and Eli McEldowney had 10 points and four assists.

Ben Ruhenkamp grabbed seven rebounds.

East was 18 of 52 from the floor for 34 percent, including six of 15 on 3-pointers for 40 percent. The Vikings made 12 of 14 free throws for 85 percent.

Versailles was 19 of 38 from the floor for 50 percent, including two of seven from long range for 28 percent. The Tigers made 19 of 28 free throws for 67 percent.

Versailles won the battle of the boards 31-18, but had 11 turnovers to East’s 4.

“One of the things we talked about was this team’s chemistry and the way they have come together,” Roeth said. “And we feel like that chemistry will give us momentum heading into the off-season.”

Because this wasn’t the end — but just the beginning for Miami East.

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