WHEELERSBURG — Dusty Spradlin has coached the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates for two full decades.
He couldn’t remember the size of seven for a single senior class.
“Never had seven before,” said Spradlin. “But the thing that is so satisfying is that they are great kids, they are competitive kids. They play multiple sports, they’ve had success, they’ve won a lot of ballgames. I’ve always said Senior Nights can be rough. There is a lot of emotion, it starts hitting you that your time is short. But this group has just been fantastic. They’ve been in a lot of big games, and here we are for Senior Night, and I thought our kids came out and gave a great effort.”
While Wheelersburg wasn’t this season’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II champion, the Lady Pirates put together another remarkable regular season —and they celebrated Senior Night on Thursday night with a 43-34 victory over visiting Minford, thus completing the regular-season sweep of the rival and sophomore-centric Lady Falcons.
The Lady Pirates —spearheaded by seven seniors Madison Whittaker, Annie Coriell, Kiera Kennard, Jocelyn Tilley, Makenna Walker, Lexie Rucker and Macee Eaton — posted a runner-up SOC II mark at 14-2, losing only twice to first-time league champion West.
These seniors, as part of the three Lady Pirate units before, swept through the SOC II as part of the program’s 15 all-time conference championships —including four consecutive and which featured a 62-game league winning streak.
Last year, as juniors, they were part of an undefeated 21-0 regular season —which ended with their second district championship in three years.
Wheelersburg, with Thursday night’s triumph followed by Saturday night’s non-league 59-30 rout of visiting South Point, wraps up the regular season at 20-2 — while the senior-less Lady Falcons finished on Thursday night at 14-8 (11-5 SOC II).
The first matchup between the two three days before Christmas went into overtime, with Wheelersburg winning 49-46 at the Lady Falcons’ Nest —the Lady Pirates prevailing on the strength of their experience and ability to get defensive stops.
Once again, on Thursday night, the Lady Pirates pitched a defensive gem and won the day —this time allowing only five Falcon points apiece in the middle two cantos.
The Lady Pirates scored the first six points in a matter of two minutes and 50 seconds, and while Minford made its initial move and took a 7-6 lead by the two-and-a-half minute mark, Wheelersburg went up by as much as 14 points thrice —a doubled-up edge at 28-14 early in the third, a 30-16 bulge by the 2:23 juncture of the period, and a 33-19 advantage only a minute-and-a-half into the fourth.
None of the Lady Pirates reached double figures, but it didn’t matter —as Coriell canned three three-pointers for a 19-11 lead, and over a span of four minutes.
Minford actually held a 15-12 advantage in total field goals, but the perimeter-oriented Lady Pirate offense accounted for a 5-3 edge in threes.
Spradlin concurred Coriell’s trifectas sparked the Lady Pirates, putting them in front for the final 26 minutes and 12 seconds —and extending their lead outward.
In a 43-34 final, of course Coriell’s three threes were a differencemaker.
“Annie has been playing better and better for us. We have to remind her sometimes to make sure she looks for her shot, because she can shoot it,” said Spradlin. “I thought she was huge in that first half.”
So too was the Lady Pirates’ defense —as aforementioned.
On the flip side, youthful Minford made mid-game mistakes — which are costly against an experienced and senior-laden Lady Pirates’ band.
Wheelersburg won the middle two stanzas by a combined 17-10 —after opening up at a 14-9 first-stop lead.
“I thought we were really good (on defense),” said Spradlin. “They are big and physical and really athletic as well, but I was very pleased with the way our defense played. We are offensively trying to keep tweaking things a bit, trying to find a few more opportunities for us. But I thought our kids did a good of trying to limit them.”
“We were our own worst enemy at times tonight. Now Wheelersburg is a tremendous ballteam that we played. But we shot ourselves in the foot first half. We missed layup after layup after layup. We got so many good looks, both halves. Missed free throws, offensive rebounds we gave up because we didn’t box out. Too many turnovers,” said first-year Minford mentor Chuck Miller. “You can’t do that against a good team like this in their house and expect to win. We just made things so hard for ourselves. We scored 10 total points in the second and third quarters. You just can’t do that against a team like this. I love the fight back in our team, I really do. We never gave up and we fought back to a four-point game with two minutes to go. But you can’t make the mistakes that we made.”
Miller mentioned the Lady Falcons’ furious rally, as a 13-3 run over a span of three minutes made it indeed interesting.
Minford got as close as 36-32 with 2:55 to play —as Marlee Pendleton scored four fourth-quarter field goals as part of her nine points.
Ava Cronin’s corner three made it 36-30, and Maggie Risner got a rebound putback — for the four-point deficit (36-32).
But 52 seconds later, after the Lady Pirates played keep-away and the Lady Falcons fouled nary, Rucker cut into the lane —and made a nice pass underneath to Eaton, who converted a three-point play.
As it turned out, that was the beginning of the end.
“Macee made that big play with the and-one,” said Spradlin. “That’s just our kids battling, and our kids making plays. This was actually a tournament-like game.”
Pendleton answered with a rebound putback with 1:50 remaining, but the Lady Pirates finished things off with free throws —two by Whittaker with the one-and-one bonus with 37 seconds left, and one apiece by Rucker and Eaton in the final 29 tics.
Walker followed Coriell’s treys with eight points, including one of her own and six in the third quarter, and Whittaker with seven —as she meshed 4-of-4 foul shots with a corner three-pointer, which made it 36-23.
Rucker also scored seven including 5-of-8 free throws, Eaton added six, Tilley tallied four, and Kennard chipped in a second-stanza field goal.
The Lady Pirates posted a strong 14-of-19 at the foul line —compared to the Lady Falcons’ 1-of-9.
Minford sophomore point guard Lexi Conkel scored 10 points to pace all scorers —including two of the Lady Falcons’ three threes.
Pendleton (nine points) and Lindsee Williams (eight points) both had four field goals, as Risner registered for four points.
Of Minford’s five league losses —two were to West by a combined 16 points, with Wheelersburg by a combined dozen and one overtime frame being two others.
The 11th-seeded Lady Falcons, for the next two weeks, are idle until they play Peebles (14th seed) — in a Division III sectional championship tilt on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.
“It’s time for us to have the target on our backs, instead of shooting for other people. We’ll get back to work and prepare for Peebles. They have a great point guard (Payton Johnson) and a great tradition, and it’s going to be a battle,” said Miller. “But we’re up for it.”
Third-seeded Wheelersburg will have two weeks off as well —and plays its Division III sectional championship bout on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. too, against either South Point or Belpre.
That will be then for the Lady Pirates, but Thursday was all about celebrating a seven-some Senior Night —and another stellar campaign.
“We only have two losses to West, so it’s been another really good season. These seniors have just been fabulous. Couldn’t ask for better kids. Just good representatives of their school and community,” said Spradlin. “Tonight was an excellent win for this group. The SOC II wasn’t ours this year, but still a lot of things to play for. We feel like we can make a deep run in the tournament, but we have to make sure we’re playing our best basketball and competing at a high level on every possession.”
* * *
Minford 9 5 5 15—34
Wheelersburg 14 9 8 12—43
MINFORD 34 (14-8, 11-5 SOC II)
Lexi Pendleton 0 0-0 0, Maggie Risner 2 0-2 4, Ava Cronin 1 0-0 3, Baylee Hammonds 0 0-0 0, Lexi Conkel 4 0-4 10, Lindsee Williams 4 0-1 8, Marlee Pendleton 4 1-2 9; TOTALS 15 1-9 34; Three-point field goals: 3 (Lexi Conkel 2, Ava Cronin 1)
WHEELERSBURG 43 (19-2, 14-2 SOC II)
Mia Vastine 0 0-0 0, Madison Whittaker 1 4-4 7, Annie Coriell 3 0-0 9, Kiera Kennard 1 0-0 2, Jocelyn Tilley 1 2-2 4, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 3 1-2 8, Lexie Rucker 1 5-8 7, Macee Eaton 2 2-3 6; TOTALS 12 14-19 43; Three-point field goals: 5 (Annie Coriell 3, Madison Whittaker and Makenna Walker 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved