WHEELERSBURG — The winter weather sidelined nearly every team in the county Tuesday night with the exception of Wheelersburg which hosted the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
Defensive pressure put on by the Tigers lead to a fourth-quarter surge in what became a 66-50 victory over the Pirates.
"We started making plays happen... We were getting tremendous ball pressure," Ironton coach Mark Lafon said. "In the middle of the third quarter and definitely at the beginning of the fourth quarter we got things going and started making some shots."
After three quarters, Wheelersburg had trailed most of the game but kept things close. However, the Ironton press forced several costly turnovers during a 16-4 run to begin the final quarter.
"We coughed it up around half-court a couple times and that was very crucial," Wheelersburg coach Tom Barrick said. "We played with a lot of emotion. We got a little frustrated late (in the game)... But we played with emotion early and that's what you need to be doing at the end of the season."
Ironton's Tim Kochendoerfer came through during a critical third quarter in which the lead changed four times. The Fighting Tigers weathered the storm thanks to Kochendoerfer's 28 second-half points on his way to a game-high 32 points and team-high 10 rebounds.
"He did a really nice job of staying patient," Lafon said. "He has been tremendous leader for us."
Junior guard Travis Elliott added 14 points, five rebounds and four steals while Trey Fletcher had nine points and Malcolm Fletcher had five steals in the rivalry game.
Intense defense on both ends of the floor resulted in a physical contest of which each coach had an opinion.
"The Ohio (High School) Athletic Association mandates that I do not make comments on certain things, so I have to be extremely careful on those things," Barrick said. "When the style (of the game) got to that point, it probably was not in our favor.”
“I know it is frustrating at times for people to watch (physical games) be played, even for our own coaching staff (it is frustrating)," Lafon said. "But it makes for a fun ballgame. It makes the shooting percentage go down and sometimes it makes for sloppy play. But it makes for a fun ballgame... as long as it is both ways."
Twelve second-half turnovers by 'Burg helped the SEOAL-leading Fighting Tigers to 13 steals as a team and to full-court game they wanted to play.
"We turned the ball over and they converted extremely well," Barrick said. "There is no defense for turnovers... When it was a half-court game it was to our advantage. Once the game got to a full-court game, we were not in a position to play at that pace.
Juniors Andrew Bendolph and Andy Stegman led the Pirates with 17 and 15 points respectively. Stegman added 13 rebounds and four blocks while Tyler Lang had 10 points in the loss.
The second quarter was the highlight for the Pirates during which they went 5-for-11 from the field and closed an 11-point deficit to just four points (25-21) at halftime.
"I thought we did some decent things early," Barrick said. "We got to a spell where we didn't make enough shots. We missed a couple layups and a couple foul shots when (the Ironton lead) was just three or four points. That could have given us the lead a little bit earlier."
A nearly even third quarter saw Wheelersburg take control on the scoreboard, 30-29, after consecutive turnovers by Ironton. But Kochendoerfer responded immediately with a three-point play and a pair of technical foul shots for the Tigers.
Wheelersburg fought back to again take the lead at 38-36 on a Stegman put-back but Ironton finished the quarter strong with a 9-2 run and never looked back.
"Consistency has been a problem for us all year," Barrick said. "We were not as consistent as we needed to be against that quality of an opponent."
Wheelersburg travels to Gallipolis for a make-up game tonight. Ironton has a make-up game at Portsmouth on Saturday night.
ALI KEATON can be reached at email@example.com
Ironton 19 6 20 21— 66
Wheelersburg 8 13 19 10— 50
Ironton — Morton 0 1 1, Elliott 6 2 14, Kochendoerfer 11 8 32, Taylor 2 0 4, Fletcher 3 3 9, Carter 1 0 3, Turner 1 0 2, Norris 0 1 1. Totals 24 15 66.
Wheelersburg — Bendolph 6 3 17, Ballard 2 1 6, Lang 3 1 10, Ward 0 1 1, Stegman 5 5 15, Duduit 0 1 1 Totals 16 12 50.
3-pointers — Ironton 3 (Kochendoerfer 2, Carter); Wheelersburg 6 (Bendolph 2, Ballard, Lang 3)
Records — Ironton 16-2 (12-0); Wheelersburg 7-10 (5-7)