MINFORD — The Minford Lady Falcons, to their credit on Thursday night, did make four buzzer-beating baskets —against the defending Southern Ohio Conference Division II champion Wheelersburg Lady Pirates.
But the Lady Pirates saw those two-pointers, and raised the Lady Falcons for nine trifectas —all in a high stakes SOC II tilt inside the Falcons’ Nest at Minford High School.
In the end, the big winners were Wheelersburg and senior Lexie Rucker, as Rucker rained in a game-high 21 points including five three-point goals — and the Lady Pirates never trailed for the final 22 minutes and 52 seconds, en route to capturing a key 49-46 overtime triumph over the sophomore-centric Lady Falcons.
That’s correct, as despite needing an extra four minutes to prevail at Minford, Wheelersburg withstood seven first-half lead changes and three entire-game ties —taking the lead for good with two minutes and 52 tics to play in the first half, followed by building its largest advantage at 35-27 a full eight-and-a-half minutes later.
The difference in this one: the Lady Pirates won with their experience and depth, getting key defensive stops, and splashing nine three-pointers on a rain-soaked Thursday night to Minford’s two.
Needless to repeat, but with Wheelersburg’s offensive attack under two-decades head coach Dusty Spradlin, when the Lady Pirates pump in the threes, they are almost impossible to defeat.
Young yet talented Minford made it tough no doubt, but the Lady Pirates’ present of a key Christmas-season SOC II win did arrive just in time.
Wheelersburg is used to winning conference road shows, as it did several during its 62-game league winning streak —which West snapped three weeks ago for the Lady Pirates’ (7-1, 6-1 SOC II) lone loss.
“We weren’t great maybe offensively, and a couple of times defensively we forgot what we were trying to do, but I thought we always played hard and our energy was good. Everybody gave us something,” said Spradlin. “Whether it was defensively, helping us reverse the ball or setting some screens, things like that. We’re still a work in progress offensively, and maybe some were disappointed we went to overtime, but as I told them that if you find ways to win road games in this league, you’re hopefully going to put yourself in a spot where you want to be at the end of the season. That first goal is to win the conference.”
With West’s win at Wheelersburg, and with Waverly upstaging the Lady Senators a week later before West and Wheelersburg won over Minford this past week, the Lady Senators (7-1 SOC II) and Lady Pirates are separated by a mere half-game in the SOC II standings.
The Lady Falcons fell to 7-3 with the loss, and to 6-2 in the league —but are one of two teams to defeat Waverly (5-2 SOC II), with South Webster (5-3 SOC II) being the other.
While Minford did lead four times —the final three were only one-point advantages at 4-3 midway through the first quarter, 10-9 at the end of the opening salvo, and 19-18 with 3:10 to play in the second stanza.
Lindsee Williams, with two free throws only two minutes and eight seconds in, got the Lady Falcons on the scoreboard —but their first lead lasted only 11 seconds.
From there, Rucker rattled home five three-pointers through the first three periods —including her first four in the first 10-and-a-half minutes.
Her fifth and final three-ball on five attempts—from the corner pocket —broke the 23-23 tie in the third, as she mixed in three deuces towards her 21 points.
She shot 8-of-9 and made her first seven, missing only one attempt in the fourth quarter.
At five-feet and nine-inches tall, Rucker is listed as the tallest Lady Pirate —perhaps with the most versatility.
Both coaches commented on Minford’s matchup problem — or advantage for Wheelersburg — she presented.
Spradlin said Rucker is a third of a “three-headed monster” —in terms of scoring with fellow seniors Makenna Walker and Madison Whittaker.
Walker was a second team all-Southeast District Division III selection last season, while Rucker made third team —with Whittaker and fellow senior Macee Eaton on Honorable Mention.
“Lexie was really good tonight. Lexie, Makenna and Madi, all three of them can score and they do it differently,” said Spradlin, the reigning Southeast District Division III Co-Coach of the Year. “Lexie can get downhill and shoot from the perimeter very well.”
“Did she (Rucker) miss?” said first-year Minford coach Chuck Miller, with a slight laugh. “Walker and Whittaker, we pretty much held them in check most of the game. But Rucker went off, and the shots she made, not just the threes, but runners to the basket. She is a tough matchup and she earned everything tonight. I was so impressed with her. She is so long and athletic and difficult to guard. If you put a guard on her, she will take them down inside. If you put a big on her, she takes them outside. She just played a heckuva game.”
The Lady Pirates put up 23 triple tries and sank nine —as Whittaker made three, including one apiece in the middle two stanzas, followed by her third and final from the corner for the 41-38 edge in overtime.
Whittaker wound up with a dozen points, as Annie Coriell — scoring seven — canned one in the opening canto.
“That’s where Wheelersburg’s experience comes in. That 62-game league winning streak is not a fluke. That’s a very good senior-dominated team that’s been through the league wars, sectionals, districts and regionals,” said Miller. “They hit threes when they need to. They did tonight. In tight games like these, they know how to win. We haven’t got there yet.”
Spradlin spoke also of his Lady Pirates’ plenty of big-game experience —from wins over West the past two years to a non-league overtime thriller over visiting Vinton County last season to tournament triumphs.
These particular Pirate seniors have three consecutive SOC II titles, three straight sectional crowns, and twice are Division III district champions with one Region 11 runner-up.
“I would imagine us being able to think back and reflect on all those big games we’ve been in,” said Spradlin. “We still occassionally look like a team with its hair on fire offensively, but defensively I thought we were pretty good. I thought we had some big stops in key moments.”
Minford made 19 total field goals to the Lady Pirates’ 16, but all eight of the Lady Falcons’ overtime points came courtesy of Marlee Pendleton.
Pendleton scored twice to make it 41-40 and 44-42 in favor of Wheelersburg, but a Walker assist to Eaton for an old-fashioned three-point play with a minute-and-a-half left made it 44-40.
While Walker didn’t make a field goal, she did convert 3-of-5 free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime —including an overtime pair for a 46-42 lead.
Coriell’s pair made it 48-42, Pendleton’s pair with 16 tics to go made it 48-44, and Whittaker was 1-of-2 before Pendleton’s final of her three buzzer-beaters.
While Wheelersburg was only 1-of-4 for foul shots through the opening three quarters —on an Eaton second-quarter split —it ended up at an enough 8-of-15.
Pendleton poured in a team-high 17 points for the Lady Falcons, on seven baskets and 3-of-4 free throws —of which two buckets beat buzzers in quarters one and three.
She almost made it a double-double with nine rebounds, as Williams — the Lady Falcons’ six-foot and three-inch center —pulled down a game-high 11 boards.
Maggie Risner kept the Lady Falcons within first-half striking distance, scoring 11 of her 15 in the first 16 minutes —as she also forced the overtime by catching the midcourt inbounds pass on the right side, driving the distance and beating the regulation buzzer with a right-handed layup to make it 38-38.
Risner finished with seven field goals, including a top-of-the key three which made Minford’s deficit 17-15.
But like in the loss at West, the Lady Falcons committed 20 turnovers —and they missed three free throws in regulation.
Miller mentioned it was a Lady Falcons’ “learning experience”.
“You don’t like to say moral victories and you hate to lose, but I have no doubt we grew up a lot tonight and this was good for us,” said the coach. “You saw tonight the aggressive Maggie Risner that we need and have to have. That’s the best game on both ends of the floor I’ve seen her play. When she made that shot, I thought we had the momentum and had fought back and fought back. I thought in overtime we could win it. But good teams make shots, good teams make stops. And they (Lady Pirates) did when they needed to. Against good teams, we can’t miss easy shots and turn the ball over that much. We did that again. But this is a good gauntlet for us. You want to play tough teams that make you better.”
And right now, with four games within the next week including two against Waverly on Monday (Jan. 2 at Waverly) AND Thursday (Jan. 5 vs. Waverly), being better is all the Lady Pirates are about.
“That West loss early on forced us to look at ourselves and reminded us we have to get better. Right now, we’re just trying to focus on us trying to get as good as we can,” said Spradlin. “We take them one game at a time.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 9 14 12 3 11—49
Minford 10 11 8 9 8— 46
WHEELERSBURG 49 (7-1, 6-1 SOC II)
Mia Vastine 0 0-0 0, Madison Whittaker 4 1-2 12, Annie Coriell 2 2-2 7, Kiera Kennard 1 0-2 2, Jocelyn Tilley 0 0-0 0, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 0 3-5 3, Lexie Rucker 8 0-0 21, Macee Eaton 1 2-4 2; TOTALS 16 8-15 49; Three-point field goals: 9 (Lexie Rucker 5, Madison Whittaker 3, Annie Coriell 1)
MINFORD 46 (7-3, 6-2 SOC II)
Lexi Pendleton 0 0-0 0, Maggie Risner 7 0-1 15, Ava Cronin 2 0-0 4, Lexi Conkel 2 0-0 5, Lindsee Williams 1 3-4 5, Marlee Pendleton 7 3-4 17; TOTALS 19 6-9 46; Three-point field goals: 2 (Maggie Risner and Lexi Conkel 1 apiece)