THE PLAINS — In traditional fashion, Wheelersburg’s Lady Pirates —perhaps to probably —need to make more than two three-pointers per game in order to emerge victorious, especially in highly-touted tournament play.
And, the second of those was the final points of the game —an immaterial one in all truthfulness for senior Madison Whittaker for the Lady Pirates’ largest lead.
Wheelersburg senior Madison Whittaker (5) keeps the ball away from Chesapeake Lady Panther defenders during Wednesday’s Division III girls basketball Southeast District semifinal game at Athens High School’s McAfee Gymnasium.
Paul Boggs | Daily Times
But the Lady Pirates of the past are not these senior-laden Lady Pirates of the present, which thrive on the defensive side.
Wheelersburg pitched another remarkable defensive gem on Wednesday, this time against the 10th-seeded Chesapeake Lady Panthers —and going all the way to The Plains in Athens County to do it.
The Lady Pirates only surrendered 10 second-half points, and stymied Chesapeake to single-digit scoring for the final three cantos, as third-seeded Wheelersburg won going away with a 48-26 blowout —in a Southeast District Division III semifinal inside Athens High School’s historic McAfee Gymnasium.
The Lady Pirates put up the first five points, before the sole-senior Lady Panthers —including two three-point goals from Sophi Hutchinson as part of her eight early markers —scored 10 of the next 14.
But the Lady Pirates seized the lead for the game’s final 19 minutes and 35 seconds —erupting for a 30-10 second-half advantage with the 22-point final being the largest.
Wheelersburg, with seven seniors, was clearly the deeper, more experienced and tournament-toughened unit on Wednesday —and it certainly showed.
“All in all, I thought our kids’ effort was great. We just talked about leaving it all out on the floor, and see what happens. It’s been a good season so far and we get to move on,” said veteran Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin. “Our kids have refocused a little bit and redefined the goals. Our experience, and them being really young, that really helped us today. Chesapeake is a good team out there, and they probably got a little tired, we subbed more to try and wear down on them.”
Wheelersburg senior Kiera Kennard (12) leads a Lady Pirate fast break as fellow senior teammate Makenna Walker (25) trails the play during the Lady Pirates’ Southeast District Division III girls basketball semifinal game against Chesapeake.
Paul Boggs | Daily Times
With the win, the Lady Pirates raised their Jolly Roger record to a stellar 22-2 —as only a Southern Ohio Conference Division II sweep by West remains Wheelersburg’s lone losses.
Wheelersburg was playing in its ninth consecutive district semifinal for Wednesday, as these seniors will play for a third straight Division III district championship on Saturday.
The Lady Pirates play another Orange-clad club for that district title —the ninth-seeded and now 19-5 Nelsonville-York Lady Buckeyes.
Nelsonville-York defeated Southeastern 60-44 in Wednesday night’s other semifinal at Athens High School, as Southeastern stunned the Division III bracket a week ago —and upset fourth-seeded and host Eastern Brown 53-52.
The tipoff time, and location in fact, for Saturday’s district final has been changed as of Wednesday night —as Wheelersburg will play Nelsonville-York at 2 p.m. at Wellston High School.
But defense, like the Lady Pirates, travels well.
It must if it can go all the way to Joe Burrow Country, and cage the Lady Panthers to 16 points over the final three quarters.
Hutchinson had a game-high 21 points on nine total field goals including all three Chesapeake treys, but she scored seven only after halftime —following a 14-point first half of four twos and two threes.
No other Lady Panther produced a field goal in fact, as three others combined to go 5-of-8 from the free-throw line.
Hutchinson had six second-stanza points, followed by four more in the third — and her final three-point goal in the fourth.
The only other Lady Panther points were a pair of Abby Isaacs first-quarter foul shots, a pair of Erin Hicks third-quarter free throws, and a split of freebies from Hannah Webb in the fourth.
Spradlin explained the Lady Pirates’ “good defensive gameplan coming in”.
It panned out to near perfection for the second half — with senior Kiera Kennard and sophomore Mia Vastine getting up in Hutchinson, and preventing dribble-drive penetration.
“We tried to focus in on guarding those driving lanes. Hutchinson hits two threes and she had 14 first half. A couple of times, we didn’t get good help early. She was able to get downhill. But I thought our kids battled. We just asked them in the second half to tighten up those driving lanes,” said the coach. “Both Kiera and Mia were going to play an important role and guard her (Hutchinson), but we also had some good moments where we helped (help defense).”
Offensively, the Lady Pirates shook some doldrums off in the second half —as their 18-16 halftime advantage was their smallest over the final 15 minutes and 35 seconds.
Their 17-6 third-quarter fury featured nine unanswered over the opening 3:18, then an 8-4 doubling over the final 4:42.
They widened their lead throughout the fourth, and scored the final eight over the final 3:26.
Wheelersburg was led in scoring by seniors Makenna Walker (seven total field goals) with 18 points, Macee Eaton (six field goals) with 12 and Lexie Rucker (four field goals) with 11.
Rucker and Walker went 3-of-3 from the charity stripe apiece, as Walker’s three-point goal was actually the second basket of the game for the 5-0 lead.
With an advantage inside — and even attacking the rim — Walker wound up with 11 in the second half, along with nine from Rucker.
Eaton scored six apiece in each half.
“There were moments where I thought we were pretty good offensively. They (Lady Panthers) struggled a little bit to match up with Macee’s size down in there, and I think they were quite content to try and get out and pressure our shooters. But we found Macee, found Makenna a couple of times on some of those cuts,” said Spradlin. “There was a lot open in that lane, but you had to be a little bit patient.”
Patience paid off with Wednesday’s win —and will be paramount again on Saturday against Nelsonville-York.
“We’ll have to have that kind of defensive effort, and be better offensively, and hopefully our experience helps out again,” said Spradlin. “Our kids are going to be excited to play for a chance to win another district.”
Something Spradlin says has a high degree of difficulty.
“I hope people don’t take this for granted. Because it’s not easy,” he said. “What we’ve been able to do and play for three straight districts is certainly not easy. This group is special. They just are, they are not ready to be done yet. We’re certainly hoping we can win another one on Saturday.”
* * *
Chesapeake 10 6 6 4 —26
Wheelersburg 9 9 17 13—48
CHESAPEAKE 26 (17-7)
Sophi Hutchinson 9 0-3 21, Robin Isaacs 0 0-0 0, Abbey Isaacs 0 2-2 2, Emily Combs 0 0-0 0, Kate Ball 0 0-0 0, Brooklyn McComas 0 0-0 0, Hannah Webb 0 1-2 1, Erin Hicks 0 2-4 2; TOTALS 9 5-11 26; Three-point field goals: 3 (Sophi Hutchinson 3)
WHEELERSBURG 48 (22-2)
Mia Vastine 0 1-2 1, Madison Whittaker 1 1-2 4, Annie Coriell 1 0-0 2, Kiera Kennard 0 0-0 0, Jocelyn Tilley 0 0-0 0, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 7 3-3 18, Lexie Rucker 4 3-3 11, Macee Eaton 6 0-1 12; TOTALS 19 8-11 48; Three-point field goals: 2 (Makenna Walker and Madison Whittaker 1 apiece)