LOGAN — At first, in the Purple Palace of all places on Thursday night, the Wheelersburg Pirates had the Adena Warriors on the ropes — and seeing some red.
But Adena’s Blue quickly got itself going, shook off some early doldrums, and ended up —although it was close in all three games —ending the Orange and Black’s stellar campaign.
While Wheelersburg won the opening set of its Division III Region 11 semifinal, the Warriors won the final seven points of the second set —and set themselves up where Wheelersburg’s lone leads in games three and four occurred on the opening serves.
As a result, Adena ended the Pirates’ season inside Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium —with the tradition-rich Warriors winning 14-25, 25-20, 25-18 and 25-20 to advance to Saturday’s regional championship tilt.
The Pirates, which were adding to their own history with their sixth consecutive district title (2017 thru 2022) and eighth overall (also in 2009 and 2014), played perhaps their best set of the entire postseason in Thursday night’s lidlifter —walloping the Warriors from the opening serve, as six-foot sophomore Gracie Perkins bookended it with kills.
But in the second set, Adena amounted a comeback with the final seven points as part of an 8-2 game-ending run — as the Warriors withstood 10 ties and five lead changes.
Speaking of which, and unfortunately for the Pirates, their only leads in sets three and four were an inconsequential 1-0 both times.
There were five ties in game three (1-1, 2-2, 11-11, 14-14 and 16-16), and the Pirates put together a furious fourth-set comeback to trail 22-19 and even 23-20, but Adena amassed two Hannah Burns kills to end it —including a thunderous cross-courter that set up match point, and finally a hammer that stayed perfectly inside the back line.
With that, both teams stood at 24-2 —while Wheelersburg’s road to the Division III state tournament reached its conclusion.
The Pirates opened at 11-0, then lost at South Webster with another five-set thriller against the Jeeps on Sept. 20 — but hadn’t lost since for 13 wins in a row.
In fact, only three of those 24 triumphs had extended beyond three sets —a four-set win over West on Aug. 23, a five-set epic over South Webster two days later, and finally a four-set win over North Adams on Oct. 1.
But Adena, indeed, is a different animal —as the Warriors were seeded second in the Southeast District Division III tournament, trailing only the top-seeded Pirates.
“You don’t poke a sleeping bear, or something like that old saying,” said Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry. “They just came out in that second set and were themselves again. They are a great team. We came out in the first set and were just super-focused and executing everything at a high level. The rest of the sets, there were several breaks which didn’t go our way, and easily could have gone our way, and maybe should have gone our way. It would have changed the dynamics of the entire match I think.”
The Pirates played powerhouse Adena at not full strength —as senior setter and second-team all-Ohioan Makenna Walker was nursing an injured knee, suffered in the Pirates’ district championship sweep only four days earlier.
And, her unfortunate and utter untimely injury occurred with Wheelersburg leading 23-12 in that third set.
Walker gave it a go against Adena, but rotated in and out with freshman Ella Chamberlin.
Walker, having already recorded the 1,000-career assist milestone earlier this season, set for 34 against Adena —as the team tallied 43.
She also attacked 21 times and had four kills, chalked up two block assists, and collected 11 digs.
With Walker’s situation, it forced Perry and the Pirates to incorporate a different defensive look.
“It changed everything, honestly. We played a defense that we had only been running for three days,” he said, with a slight laugh. “Her mobility was really limited. But she did a fantastic job of gutting it out.”
In fact, Walker was the Pirates’ first server — and served up three consecutive aces, before another Perkins kill made it 5-0.
Back-to-back Lexie Rucker kills doubled Burg’s advantage to 12-6, as another Walker ace upped the margin to 15-7.
Madie Mays mustered a kill to make it 18-10, then two more Rucker kills and one by Walker turned the lead to double digits (21-10).
The Pirates then led 22-11 and 23-12, before Perkins killed hard a long volley period —and spiked another kill for the 25-14 final.
“We had a lot going our way through that first set,” said Perry.
Wheelersburg was also up 20-18 in the second, but the Warriors got seven service points from Brenna Bossert — including a pair of aces and a pair of Burns kills.
While the 5-9 Rucker and 5-10 Mays muscled for 18 and 13 kills respectively, Adena countered with 16 from the 5-8 senior Burns — and 14 from 6-1 senior middle hitter Sydney Fogelsong.
For good measure, 5-11 junior middle Brinlee Preston added eight.
Fogelsong found paths easier when Perkins was out of the rotation, and made greater impacts as the match progressed.
Fogelsong was the Warriors’ first-team all-Ohio selection —as she had unofficially four kills in set three, before four kills in a fourth-set stretch which swelled the Pirates’ 13-10 deficit to that of 17-11.
“That was big there when they had (Sydney) Fogelsong in and we had Gracie (Perkins) out. That’s big offense for them, even though we accounted for that,” said Perry. “We had a little momentum there right there at the end, if we could have just kept it, who knows. Just some breaks here and there that made the difference.”
The Pirates’ largest fourth-set deficit stood at 22-15, as they got to within three points twice —but Burns put it away.
Perkins powered for five kills and a team-best three blocks, including both of the team’s solos.
The five Pirate seniors were the leaders in digs —with libero Kiera Kennard leading with 29.
Rucker with 18, Madison Whittaker with 15, Walker with 11 and Mays with eight amassed all but one of their 82 digs.
For the season, Walker with 789 assists, Perkins with 44 and Mays with 38 of Burg’s 88 total blocks, and Mays’ 287 and Rucker’s 266 of 1,069 team kills were the standout statistics.
Perry praised his five Pirate seniors — Rucker, Kennard, Whittaker, Walker and Mays —for building on to Wheelersburg’s recent winning tradition.
All five were freshmen for the Pirates’ regional championship squad three years ago, and all five have played in important matches for three years.
That included Thursday night’s regional semifinal.
“Our five seniors, going out playing together, what a way to finish out their careers with all four years winning district championships,” said the coach. “All five are great and we’re really going to miss them. They all started, they are going to be tough to replace. What they’ve done here speaks for itself. We will see who steps up next year, and hopefully our district run will continue.”