The Wheelersburg boys basketball team capped off a doubleheader against the Greenup County Musketeers on Monday night.
Wheelersburg made the trip to compete against a quality opponent across the Ohio River in Greenup County.
“You’re traveling 10 minutes to play a big school, and obviously they’ve got some players that are very talented,” Pirates head coach Steven Ater said. “We lost a game due to weather, so it’s a chance for us to make that up and get a 22nd game going again.”
Headlined by a dominant 24-point, 25 rebound output from junior Tanner Holden, the Pirates were too much for the Musketeers in a 64-49 victory.
Early, Wheelersburg was in control. The Pirates used a quick surge to start off the night on a 16-2 run, topped with a Connor Mullins three-pointer.
Mullins’ triple prompted the Musketeers to take a timeout with 3:22 remaining in the first. Mullins would finish with 10 points in the game.
“I thought we shot really well early,” Ater said. “If you knock down a lot of shots it’s going to make you look pretty smart and pretty good on the scoreboard.”
Continuing what was a stellar effort in the quarter, Wheelersburg pushed ahead to a 25-10 lead through one.
The Pirates were combining their offensive outburst with stout defense, which gave them easy chances to score.
“We guarded the ball well I thought early on,” Ater said. “I thought we did a really good job on the defensive glass, which allowed us to get in transition and throw the ball ahead.”
It was all a part of the process for Ater’s group, as they hoped they would be able to play with pace throughout the contest.
“We told our guys we’re okay with making turnovers and mistakes if we’re playing fast and trying to advance the ball,” Ater said. “I remember one in particular when Tanner threw the ball long to Connor, and he ran as hard as he could and the past just goes off his fingertips. Those are mistakes we’re willing to live with now and then.”
Though they turned it over on that play specifically, they would soon reap their reward from applying the same philosophy.
“Another instance, Tanner threw it ahead to Cole Lowery, and Cole attacks middle and goes to get a layup because we’re advancing the basketball,” Ater said. “The only way you can do that is if you get stops and take it off the glass.”
In the second, Wheelersburg went back to work.
Nearly two minutes into the quarter, the Pirates sank a three-pointer when Justin Salyers connected from long range to give Wheelersburg a 28-10 lead.
Salyers scored five points on the night.
“Connor shot the ball well early, and Justin comes in off the bench and hits a three for us,” Ater said.
The Pirates continued their offensive prowess with 1:44 left in the half after a JJ Truitt finish from a second chance opportunity.
Truitt had 13 points in the game, and was active on the boards.
“I thought JJ was really good on the glass tonight, he had to finish with a bunch of rebounds,” Ater said. “He probably should have got to the free throw line a few times more on a couple of the shots he had around the rim, but I thought he was good to start us off.”
Greenup County got a buzzer beating layup from Elijah Raby to end the first half, but trailed 38-14 through two quarters of play.
Raby had 8 points for the Musketeers.
In the second half, Wheelersburg would open up a 27-point lead after an and-one from Holden. That margin would be the biggest of the game, with the Pirates leading 41-14.
Greenup County didn’t go away easily, though.
The Musketers got four straight points from Brady Nelson, then a three-pointer from JT Johnson to cut the Wheelersburg lead to 20 points on a 7-0 Greenup run.
Nelson was one of two players to score in double figures for the Musketeers, finishing with 12.
Answering right back, the Pirates went on a 6-0 span of their own with baskets from Holden, Salyers, and Lowery.
Both sides went back and forth, but it was Greenup County who won the third by a score of 18-10. After three, the Musketeers trailed 51-32.
“Early on, we were pretty good defensively,” Ater said. “We held them to 14 in the half, and that’s fantastic. For us, it’s just fighting for four quarters. We just can’t seem to come out in the third quarter with that same intensity and sustain it to where you can put a team away and maybe get your young kids some minutes.”
In the fourth, Greenup County got a spirited scoring lift from senior Kyle Gammon.
Gammon scored a team-high 14 points in the contest, and helped to pull the Musketeers closer on the scoreboard.
Though the comeback hopes came up short, Greenup County showed a lot of fight to claw back in what ended up becoming a 64-49 loss to the visiting Pirates.
“A win at this time of the year when you’re talking three weeks left in your season, we’ll take anything we can get,” Ater said. “It’s a chance to get better.”
Wheelersburg will have a tough stretch of games to close out the week, as they face Waverly on Friday.
“Every game is important for us right now,” Ater said. “At this point we’re just talking about making sure we’re advancing and getting better every single day and making sure we don’t have any slippage. We’re working toward that, and Waverly gives us another opportunity to do that.”
On Saturday, the Pirates travel north as they take on a West Branch team near Canton.
“We go to Canton on Saturday to play against a really good division two West Branch team that’s got I think 10 wins at this point,” Ater said.
Testing themselves already this week with a tough Musketeers squad, the Pirates will now have two more battles on their hands to close out this week.
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