WELLSTON — No doubt, defense does in fact win championships —especially those of the Southeast District Division III variety.

But even one this good had to perhaps surprise these senior-laden Wheelersburg Lady Pirates —and veteran head coach Dusty Spradlin.

As Nelsonville-York’s Airah Lavy landed a winged three-point goal, only a minute into Saturday’s championship tilt at Wellston High School, the Lady Buckeyes took a 3-2 lead.

The next Nelsonville-York point you ask?

Try exactly 15 minutes and nine seconds later.

Buoyed by that all-time defensive gem, and the Lady Pirates pouring it on with 26 first-half points, third-seeded Wheelersburg went on to roll to its third consecutive district championship —defeating ninth-seeded Nelsonville-York 51-31.

That’s correct.

“I don’t think so,” said Spradlin, when asked if he has ever coached in a game which included an epic scoring drought of almost an entire half. “But now that you say that, I remember the three that they scored when we didn’t hedge well. Didn’t know that was the number (15 minutes), and don’t know that I’ve ever seen one like that. But our kids came in really focused. We were so good in that first half, and probably caught them off guard by how physical we were guarding them. All of those kids that played in the first half gave us great energy and we tried to run a lot of people at them.”

Three first-half points for the Lady Buckeyes —which actually outscored Wheelersburg 28-25 in the second half, including a 14-5 output for the third quarter.

In fact, the Lady Pirates endured a six-minute scoring drought of their own —as the Lady Buckeyes sliced their largest deficit of 31-7 with five-and-a-half minutes left in the third to a dozen points three times (31-19, 33-21 and 35-23).

But back-to-back baskets by Makenna Walker, with Walker enjoying a personal parade to the fourth-quarter free-throw line, woke Wheelersburg back up —as it finished the final three minutes and 37 seconds on a 16-8 doubling up from there.

Wheelersburg senior Makenna Walker (25) leads a Lady Pirate fast break as fellow senior teammates Macee Eaton (32) and Lexie Rucker (31) trail the play during the Lady Pirates’ Division III Southeast District girls basketball championship game against Nelsonville-York.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

With the win, the Lady Pirates raised their Jolly Roger record to a stellar 23-2 —as only a Southern Ohio Conference Division II sweep by West remains Wheelersburg’s lone losses.

Incidentally, West won its first-ever district championship for girls basketball —defeating Portsmouth 51-47 in another Division III title bout on Saturday.

But, this was the third in a row for these seven-strong and experienced Lady Pirate seniors — part of the program’s 10th all-time district crown (1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2008, 2015, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023).

The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates seniors, from left, Lexie Rucker, Madison Whittaker, Makenna Walker, Jocelyn Tilley, Annie Coriell, Macee Eaton and Kiera Kennard pose with the Division III Southeast District championship trophy.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

“Just super proud of this great group of kids. I hope people understand that winning district championships, especially three in a row, is just not an easy thing to do,” said Spradlin. “I’m sure a lot of people raised an eyebrow when we didn’t win the SOC II, but we tried to tell them that there’s a lot of basketball left and a lot to play for.”

And, on Saturday, apparently A LOT of defense to be played.

Nelsonville-York turned the ball over 21 times, and shot just 28-percent —both from three-point range (5-of-18) and overall (11-of-39).

The Lady Pirates also outrebounded the Lady Buckeyes by eight (36-28), as Brooklyn Richards finally broke the 15:09 N-Y drought — before Lavy made a deuce and another trey to get Nelsonville-York within 31-10.

Prior the Lady Buckeyes’ breakout cantos of 14 apiece in the second 16 minutes, Wheelersburg’s defensive numbers were quite staggering.

Spradlin smiles sometimes when informed of such statistics, and dating back to their 48-26 rout of Chesapeake in the district semifinals, the Lady Pirates’ lockdowns over quarters included only 29 points allowed over six, 19 over five and 13 over four.

“We try to focus more on it in the tournament, and we’ve had some time to do that. We just remind the girls that everybody sees the offense and all the awards come from scoring points, but at the end of the day, we hang our hats on defense and rebounding,” said the coach. “It helps our offense if we can get those stops and get out in transition. It’s what we were trying to do today by extending the floor a little bit more and throw different presses at them and use our athleticism. If you would have told me we would have guarded that well, even in the fullcourt, I thought our kids did a really good job of locating, helping, and then rebounding the ball.”

Then scoring of course.

The perimeter-oriented Lady Pirates pumped in only three-pointers on 19 attempts for 16-percent—two in the second quarter by Lexie Rucker and one corner-pocket shot from Madison Whittaker to make it 14-3.

But they made 13 twos and 16-of-22 free throws —thanks to attacking the basket and getting Lavy and the Lady Buckeyes into serious foul trouble.

In the end, both Rucker on five field goals and Walker with four shared high-point honors —going for 19 apiece, with Walking meshing 11-of-14 free throws and Rucker 3-of-3.

Macee Eaton added six points on two baskets and 2-of-2 freebies, as Whittaker (third quarter) and Annie Coriell (fourth quarter) chipped in second-half two-pointers.

“I thought in the first half, we had some good movement offensively and made some shots,” said Spradlin. “We had some inside-outside action. Second half, we got a little stagnant, not moving quite as much, because we were so aware of whether we made shots or missed shots. But it shouldn’t matter. It should matter if we were taking good ones.”

Eaton with nine, Rucker with eight and Walker with five and four assists were the leading Lady Pirate rebounders.

Lavy, with 15 second-half markers including two threes and 3-of-4 fourth-quarter foul shots, led the Lady Buckeyes with 18 points —as she scored 13 as part of their early last-quarter comeback bid.

Nelsonville-York, playing in only its third all-time district championship game, finished its strong season at 19-6.

But it’s the Lady Pirates pressing on —and earning a regional semifinals rematch against defending Region 11 champion and East District winner Union Local on Wednesday.

Wheelersburg senior Kiera Kennard (12) drives past two Nelsonville-York defenders during Saturday’s Division III Southeast District girls basketball championship game.

Paul Boggs | Daily Times

Tip time is set for 6 p.m. — inside Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.

Spradlin spoke of whom the Lady Jets return.

“It starts with the two six-two girls. You just don’t see a lot of two six-footers for one team. Then they have the one wing player who is a good athlete and can get her shot over just about anybody,” he said. “ But our kids will have a little familiarity with them. Last year, we will always wonder if we got some shots to fall, because we got shots against their zone. We’ve got a couple days to put a plan together to see what we can do.”

* * *

Nelsonville-York 3 0 14 14 —31

Wheelersburg 14 12 5 20—51


Cayleigh Dupler 2 0-0 6, Alayna Okulich 0 0-0 0, Kyleigh Warren 0 0-0 0, Brooklyn Richards 1 1-3 3, Kalina Hernandez 0 0 0-0 0, Kyleigh McWilliams 2 0-0 4, Airah Lavy 6 3-4 18, Megan Booth 0 0-0 0, Emma Fields 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 11 4-7 31; Three-point field goals: 5 (Airah Lavy 3, Cayleigh Dupler 2)


Mia Vastine 0 0-3 0, Madison Whittaker 2 0-0 5, Annie Coriell 1 0-0 2, Gabby Munn 0 0-0 0, Kiera Kennard 0 0-0 0, Jocelyn Tilley 0 0-0 0, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0 0, Baylee Kotcamp 0 0-0 0, Jaylinn Prather 0 0-0 0, Rylee Prather 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 4 11-14 19, Lexie Rucker 7 3-3 19, Macee Eaton 2 2-2 6; TOTALS 16 16-22 51; Three-point field goals: 3 (Lexie Rucker 2, Madison Whittaker 1)

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