Youthful Badin girls ready for regional shot at Versailles

Badin's Grace Larkin guards Gabby Hollar of West Liberty-Salem during last Saturday's Division III district final at Springfield. The Rams won 48-39. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BRYANT BILLING
Badin's Grace Larkin guards Gabby Hollar of West Liberty-Salem during last Saturday's Division III district final at Springfield. The Rams won 48-39. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BRYANT BILLING

A youth movement has driven Badin High School’s girls basketball team back to the loftier heights of the postseason.

The Rams have captured 16 district championships, but No. 16 is the program’s first since 2012. And they’re starting three sophomores.

Ninth-year Badin coach Tom Sunderman will take his squad to Springfield on Wednesday night for a Division III regional semifinal against Versailles, and he hasn’t forgotten that his troops started the season with a 3-4 record.

“We were trying to find our identity,” Sunderman said. “Early in the season with a young team like that, even as coaches we weren’t sure what we were going to get day in and day out.

“For the last six weeks, I think the girls have bought into everything. They’ve made it easier for us to make adjustments. I think their confidence level has gone up. They’re not looking at you like deer in headlights. They look at you with that glare in their eyes that says, ‘What do you want us to do, coach? We can do it.’ ”

The Rams are 19-7. They’ve been Greater Catholic League Coed Central Division champions the last two years. Are they a bit ahead of schedule in terms of making a serious bid for the program’s fourth state appearance?

“We’ve heard that all year, but you know what? A lot of these girls played last year too,” Sunderman said. “It doesn’t say freshmen and sophomores on their uniforms. It says Badin, and they’re playing with a higher pride than they have all year.”

Sophomore Macy Harper is one of those youthful cogs. The 5-foot-4 point guard has already made a verbal commitment to Xavier University for soccer, but said she’s loving her time on the hardwood.

“At practice every day … you’re always pushing your teammates,” Harper said. “I think that’s our mentality throughout the tournament, just to be tough and keep going no matter what.”

The next step figures to be onerous. Versailles (23-3) has set the bar among D-III programs in Southwest Ohio in recent years. The Tigers have been to the Final Four seven times and won a pair of state championships.

This is Jacki Stonebraker’s 14th season as head coach at her alma mater (she graduated in 1995), and youth is being served at Versailles as well. The Tigers start only one senior.

“I feel like we keep getting better and better each day we practice,” Stonebraker said. “They’re a very competitive group. In practices, everything’s got to be a competition or it doesn’t go very well. I think we’ve got a good balance between our guards and our posts.

“We’re not like a lot of the other teams in the past. A lot of those teams had a dominant player or were senior-driven. We do have six seniors on the team, but only one starts, and the other ones are role players.

“So I don’t know if you could compare it to another team in the past, but they have the same type of mentality. They play hard. They play to win. They’re never going to give up on anything.”

Versailles is scoring 59.5 points per game and allowing an average of 33.5. The Tigers finished second in the Midwest Athletic Conference behind Minster.

The starting lineup consists of guards Camille Watren (5-5 senior), Kami McEldowney (5-7 junior) and Ellen Peters (5-8 junior), along with forwards Danielle Winner (6-2 junior) and Elizabeth Ording (5-11 sophomore).

An interesting side note: Among 26 players in the program, Versailles has six sets of sisters.

“We can slow it down and run our halfcourt sets, or we can speed it up and run on people,” Stonebraker said. “I think we’re going to need to run on Badin a little bit more. I think we do have the speed in the post.”

McEldowney is the top scorer, averaging about 13 points a game. Sunderman said she makes the Tigers go.

“Honestly, I think we’re two similar teams,” the Badin coach said. “They usually play with two posts in, so I think we’re going to have play our posts a little bit more. But they do a lot of the same stuff that we do.

“They play a very good fullcourt man and mix it up with some zone. They play good halfcourt defense, mostly man. Because we’re so similar, I think it’s going to come down to execution and who makes shots.”

The Rams will start guards Harper and Grace Larkin (5-9 sophomore), and forwards Lauren Krause (5-9 senior), Olivia Keene (5-7 senior) and Emma Broermann (6-1 sophomore). Shelby Nusbaum (6-0 freshman) is the top player off the bench.

Versailles has a history of beating the Rams in the tournament — the Tigers did it in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Their last meeting was especially painful for Badin, which squandered a 22-8 lead.

“Our girls don’t know that,” Sunderman said. “I’ve got a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in there that have never seen Versailles before, so for them, it’s just another game. If we can play like we did the last two Saturdays, I think we’ve got a fair shot.”