WAVERLY — Once again, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates are winning road basketball games in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
The only difference you can argue, as opposed to the proverbial “dogfights” for the Lady Pirates, Wheelersburg’s wins resemble rockfights.
The latest defensive gem pitched took place on Monday night in an important league makeup matchup at Waverly —and the first of highly and quirkly rare, even unheard of, back-to-back contests against the Lady Tigers.
That’s because Wheelersburg won with defense first, as seniors Madison Whittaker and Annie Coriell unlikely accounted for ALL dozen of the Lady Pirates’ fourth-quarter points —and Wheelersburg escaped the Lady Tigers’ den with a 37-32 triumph.
But, just how vital was Wheelersburg’s latest road win?
Combine that with Waverly’s win (55-49) over visiting West on Dec. 15, and the Lady Pirates and Lady Senators still are tied atop the SOC II standings at 7-1.
West won at Wheelersburg back on Dec. 8, handing the Lady Pirates their only season setback —and snapping their 62-game league winning streak in the process.
Both Wheelersburg and West are 10-1 overall —as the Lady Tigers’ title hopes took a hit, for now 6-3 Waverly fell to 5-3 in the league.
The Lady Tigers are tied with South Webster (5-3 SOC II) for fourth, as they immediately trail Minford (6-2 SOC II) —which won at Waverly and outlasted South Webster in overtime, but lost at West and to Wheelersburg (49-46) in overtime in the week before Christmas.
The back half of the SOC II’s double round-robin begins on Thursday —as Wheelersburg will host Waverly.
More on that soon enough.
But first things first, the first encounter between these two Orange and Black clad clubs —to wrap up the front half of conference competition.
Similar to ‘Burg forcing 20 turnovers against Minford two weeks ago, Waverly turned the ball over 18 times against the Lady Pirates —and shot just 32-percent (12-of-38), including 29-percent (4-of-14) from three-point territory.
The Lady Tigers scored just seven points in each of the opening two periods, only had half-a-dozen in the third —and endured a scoring drought from 54 seconds remaining in the first quarter to only 2:47 to play in the second.
But that was not all.
The Lady Pirates pitched another shutout in the final three minutes and six seconds, when Waverly led 32-30 —as Wheelersburg finished the game by scoring seven unanswered.
Afterwards, longtime Wheelersburg head coach Dusty Spradlin repeated that winning SOC II road shows sure isn’t about offensive style points —but rather just having more points on the board.
“Once again, we found a way to win and that’s the main thing. They beat West with the same thing, playing that (halfcourt zone defense) 1-2-2 and 1-3-1, and at some point, you have to make shots against the zone,” said Spradlin. “I was fairly pleased with our shots, but we still have to find ways to be better offensively. But bottom line, we’ll take the win on the road and keep moving forward.”
Only six Lady Tigers played, and only three scored, including the senior standout 1-2 punch of Bailey Vulgamore and Kelli Stewart.
Vulgamore made three threes, one two, and 4-of-4 free throws for a game-high 15 points — followed by Stewart scoring 10 on five two-point goals.
Stewart grabbed seven rebounds, as Paige O’Bryant added three baskets in the middle two cantos towards seven points.
Spradlin said Vulgamore and Stewart getting their double figures was not a surprise, but perhaps holding them to nine combined (Vulgamore five and Stewart four) in the opening half might have been.
“We knew those two kids are obviously the ones who can score, but I was really pleased at halftime that Bailey especially only had five,” said the ‘Burg coach.
The first half’s only tie stood at 7-7 at that 54-second juncture, with Vulgamore making a three for the Tigers’ largest lead at 5-0 —only a minute and 15 seconds in.
Stewart scored a basket apiece in each of the first two periods, as O’Bryant bagged a deuce and a trey —including her top-of-the-key three, which finally stopped Waverly’s epic six-minute and seven-second scoring drought.
But per veteran Waverly coach John Bonifield, it was turnovers against the half-court sets which did his Lady Tigers in.
“That’s the first thing we talked about. Against a team the caliber of Wheelersburg, we can’t turn it over 18 times. Turnovers are going to happen in ballgames, but that’s just too many,” he said. “That’s nine or even 10 shot attempts you didn’t get. In a close game, that’s the difference between winning and losing. Our execution down the stretch wasn’t the best, but if you do all the little things right throughout the ballgame, a lot of times it doesn’t matter those last possessions. We definitely have to clean up our turnovers, and just get back to making the shots we normally make.”
The Lady Pirates — behind senior Lexie Rucker’s 10 first-half points of her team-high 12 along with five from fellow senior Makenna Walker and all three of senior Macee Eaton’s in the second stanza—scored seven unanswered first for a 7-5 lead, then added another eight unanswered in upping the advantage to 15-7.
Rucker with a pair of corner-pocket three-balls, and Walker with a three and 2-of-2 second-stanza free throws, were instrumental in the Lady Pirates’ play.
Wheelersburg maintained that seven-point (25-18) edge with a half-a-minute to play in the third —when sophomore Mia Vastine connected with a three off the wing.
Rucker and Walker also scored their final baskets in the quarter —with Walker fouling out at seven points and with 3:06 still to go.
But with Walker out, Whittaker was in —and eventually, on.
Her two trifectas broke first the game’s second of threes ties at 27-27, as — after nice ball movement and off an Eaton assist —her second with 1:42 to play, and following exactly two minutes in which Wheelersburg was either tied at 30-30 or trailed 32-30 —put the Lady Pirates in front for good.
With 29 tics to go, Whittaker went to the free-throw line and meshed both of the one-and-one situation —once Waverly was over the second-half fouls limit, and to make it 35-32.
Speaking of fouls to give, the Lady Pirates fouled twice to give them six for the half with 18.6 seconds left — but Eaton made a steal on the next Lady Tiger possession, and Coriell ended it with two free throws with seven seconds showing.
Basically, with Walker fouled out — and the tallest Lady Pirates Rucker and Eaton unable to score late —it was up to Whittaker (eight points) and Coriell (four points) coming through.
Both teams tallied 12 total field goals.
“We liked that we made them work on their offensive end. We changed it up a few times, going to a couple of different zones against them. Just focusing in on where the shooters are with Whittaker and Walker and Rucker,” said Bonifield. “I don’t think either team had their best games offensively, but the difference is they got the win. So right now, they are feeling a little bit better than we are.”
Whittaker was scoreless through her first 10 shots, but her two threes ended up being the difference.
“That’s the thing that’s really nice about this group. They all have moments when they can score, and they all have a good belief in themselves in what they can do,” said Spradlin. “I told Madi (Whittaker) that not too many people can be 0-for-whatever to start, and then knock down two dagger threes like that. Those were huge. But it takes all of us. It takes all of us to guard, it takes all of us to offensively get the ball where we needed. A lot of that is where Waverly has a lot of length with Stewart and Vulgamore, and they really spread out that 1-2-2 and even that 1-3-1.”
The Lady Pirates, probably, are going to see similar — if not exactly the same — sets from the Lady Tigers on Thursday.
This one is at Wheelersburg, as both coaches could not remember such a unique scheduling situation.
“Nothing like this. Playing the same team back-to-back. A lot of familiarity of course, but we’re the ones that have to get one back on the road,” said Bonifield. “That’s the plan, but we have to execute a lot better than what we did tonight.”
“I don’t think that I’ve ever had such a back-to-back like this. Not that I know of,” said Spradlin. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to shoot the ball better in our gym, but I can’t imagine their gameplan changing too much.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 10 8 7 12 —37
Waverly 7 7 6 12 — 32
WHEELERSBURG 37 (10-1, 7-1 SOC II)
Mia Vastine 1 0-0 3, Madison Whittaker 2 2-2 8, Annie Coriell 1 2-2 4, Kiera Kennard 0 0-0 0, Jocelyn Tilley 0 0-0 0, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 2 2-2 7, Lexie Rucker 5 0-1 12, Macee Eaton 1 1-4 3; TOTALS 12 7-11 37; Three-point field goals: 6 ( Madison Whittaker and Lexie Rucker 2 apiece, Mia Vastine and Makenna Walker 1 apiece)
WAVERLY 32 (6-3, 5-3 SOC II)
Kelli Stewart 5 0-2 10, Caris Risner 0 0-0 0, Morgan Crabtree 0 0-0 0, Bailey Vulgamore 4 4-4 15, Aerian Tackett 0 0-0 0, Paige O’Bryant 3 0-2 7; TOTALS 12 4-8 32; Three-point field goals: 3 (Bailey Vulgamore 3, Paige O’Bryant 1)