LOGAN — With no time on the clock on Wednesday night, Wheelersburg senior Makenna Walker was probably the most nervous individual among the full house at Logan High School.
Except for perhaps, probably in fact, Union Local senior Torre Kildow.
When it was over, though, Walker was undoubtedly overjoyed and relieved —and unfortunately for Kildow and Union Local’s Lady Jets, it was total dejection.
And, for the Lady Pirates especially, no doubt it was March Madness at its epic peak.
With Wheelersburg leading 49-47, but with Walker being called for a shooting foul on Kildow and with time having expired, the six-foot and two-inch senior standout toed the free-throw line for two shots.
But, Kildow never attempted the second.
That’s because she missed the first, and the Lady Pirates pulled off a dramatic 49-47 Division III Region 11 girls basketball semifinal victory —inside Logan’s loud, and even lunacy-laden, Jim Myers Gymnasium.
.@burgladypirates advances to Friday’s Division III, Region 11 final with a 49-47 win over Union Local.
— Jacob Smith (@JacobSmithPDT) March 2, 2023
For the Lady Pirates, winners of 10 all-time district championships, it’s their third regional championship game appearance in five years —and likely is the sweetest, given the program’s wealth of experience with seven tournament-tested seniors.
“Let that sink in, huh,” said veteran Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin, with a smile. “These are just good kids which have bought in and do what we ask. We wanted them (Lady Jets) to feel our presence and know we’re here. After that first quarter, I am pretty sure they knew we were here. At the end of the day, it’s just kids making plays and playing super defense. I think this had about everything you would want and would expect in a regional semi. Just super proud of the girls’ effort. Made enough free throws at the end and just battled the whole game long.”
The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates captured a 49-47 victory over Union Local on Wednesday in a Division III Region 11 semifinal at Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
Jacob Smith | Daily Times
Indeed, on the first day of March, it was a maddening night —with Wheelersburg winning the first of two drama-filled roller-coaster of emotions contests.
In the second semifinal on Wednesday night, West rallied from two 10-point deficits — including the second with six-and-a-half minutes remaining —to stun previously undefeated North Adams 52-51 (see related story).
That means, and you are reading correctly, Wheelersburg will play 25-1 West for a third time this season —with the Region 11 championship AND a Division III state semifinal berth at stake.
To sweeten the pot, the now 24-2 Lady Pirates’ lone losses are to West — which swept Wheelersburg in the regular season to capture its first-ever Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship in the sport.
Tip time is set for Friday night at Logan at 7 p.m.
The Lady Jets, which went 25-2 with their only other loss being to the top-ranked Class AAAA team in West Virginia (Wheeling Park) in the regular-season finale, were the defending Region 11 champions —and the prohibitive favorite for a return trip to the state tournament.
They ended the Lady Pirates’ undefeated campaign a year ago at this same level and in that same gym —benefiting from a 13-4 run to open the game, and a 13-3 spree to close it (56-45 final score).
Final @burgladypirates 49, @ULGirlsHoops 47. @kierakennard FT makes it 49-47 with 17 seconds left. Torre Kildow fouled with no time on clock. 2 shots, she misses the first. No need for the 2nd. It's over. @burgladypirates in dramatic epic fashion onto the Elite 8. Unbelievable.
— @PaulBoggsSports (@paulboggssports) March 2, 2023
This time, only Alaina Keeney — who graduated after earning all-Ohio honors — was not part of the Lady Pirates’ regular rotation returning for this year’s rematch.
And this year, the Jets didn’t fly off for a fast start —nor land with one either.
Union Local’s largest lead was four at 17-13, while Wheelersburg’s was six at 31-25 —as the lead changed hands a hefty 14 times with eight ties, but the Lady Pirates never trailed for the final 3:27.
There could have been a ninth tie to send the game into overtime, as Walker was whistled for fouling Kildow on a putback shot in the lane —but with incredibly no time remaining.
The look of shock on Walker’s face said it all —as she explained what the next several seconds felt like.
“Oh I was so mad at myself,” she said. “But (Wheelersburg assistant coach) Abbie (Kallner) told me that we can beat them in overtime, it’s okay.”
It actually was okay, and no extra session was necessary.
Kildow, on the line by herself in fact, seemingly short-armed the attempt —which clanged the front right of the rim.
She didn’t take the second shot, and Wheelersburg celebrated one stunner of a triumph.
Spradlin spoke of the situation as well.
“That’s a tough spot for her to be in, because she is a really good player,” he said. “Everybody is going to point to that, but there are so many plays in the game. I thought maybe we would get the buzzer before the shot went up, but they called it. I honestly that we were headed to overtime, but luckily she missed one.”
The Lady Jets, actually, only converted five of their dozen free throws —4-of-5 coming from 6-2 senior standout Reagan Vinskovich after halftime.
Vinskovich, a finalist for the prestigious Ms. Basketball award in Ohio, did her part with a team-high 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds —as Kildow chipped in 16 points on seven field goals, which included two three-point makes.
In the final 48 seconds, after Annie Coriell canned one double-bonus freebie for a 48-44 Lady Pirate lead, Kildow did answer —splashing her second three-point goal from the wing with 32 seconds left.
The Lady Jets then forced Coriell to dribble into a half-court trap, as she was whistled for a traveling violation eight seconds later.
On Union Local’s next possession, the Lady Pirates made a serious stop —getting Kildow to miss off an inside spin move, and Vinskovich going over the back of Kiera Kennard.
With 17 seconds showing, Kennard split the double-bonus foul shots —missing the first and making the second, setting up the Lady Jets’ final possession.
The Lady Pirates missed seven free throws as well out of 23 total, but three — Madison Whittaker 3-of-3, Lexie Rucker 2-of-2 and Macee Eaton 1-of-1 —all combined to go 6-of-6.
Wheelersburg senior Lexie Rucker (31) looks to drive on Union Local’s Ella Pietranton (24) during Wednesday’s Division III girls basketball regional semifinal game at Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
Jacob Smith | Daily Times
Then there was Walker, who went 8-of-10 at the stripe —and scored seven field goals en route to pouring in a game-high 23 points, plus pulling down a team-high seven rebounds.
“Makenna was really good. She’s been playing really well here as of late, and she can do a lot of things,” said Spradlin. “Some games she scores more, some games she is more ballhandler and defender. She made some big shots tonight when we really needed them. At the end, I put her on the Kildow girl, just getting a little bit more size on her.”
Bound and determined not to be her final game in Orange and Black, the senior scored 17 points over the final 16 minutes —including a 6-of-8 charity-stripe performance in the third.
Her three-point goal from the top of the key was good for the game’s final tie at 38-38, as her two fourth-quarter twos gave Wheelersburg its final two leads.
“Offensively, I thought we moved the ball pretty well and the person that needed the ball found the ball at the right time. I don’t think we took a lot of dumb shots. Last year, we got burnt on a couple of possessions and that was something that made us lose. We really took it a possession at a time this time and it really helped us,” said Walker.
Eaton added 10 points on four field goals, and Whittaker (eight points) and Rucker (six points) registered two baskets apiece —with Whittaker and Eaton in the second stanza sinking a three-point goal.
Wheelersburg went just 3-of-17 from three-point range, and got outrebounded by a 10-board margin (33-23), but its defensive performance —once again —was just simply another gem.
The 47 scored was low for the Lady Jets, as they were guilty of 20 turnovers.
“I think we gained a little confidence by how well we guarded, especially early on,” said Spradlin. “We ran multiple kids at their big girls. They just did everything we asked of them. We wanted to try and wear on them and extend the floor and put a lot of bodies on people. I thought everybody that played played hard and did what we asked of them.”
Spradlin said familiarity from last season’s Sweet 16 bout aided the Lady Pirates this time around.
“Having them last year with three starters back probably did help us. We tried to help enough (defensively) without giving up some shots,” he said. “But all we asked out of our girls was try to make it as tough on them as we could.”
Oh, the Lady Pirates did more than just that.
They knocked the Lady Jets out of the Division III tournament —to the surprise of many observers.
Wheelersburg was indeed an underdog on Wednesday, but perhaps that’s when these Lady Pirates are the most dangerous.
“We were probably flying under the radar a little bit because we didn’t win our league, and not sure how many people expected us to make a run this far,” said Spradlin. “But the girls have really played well here as of late.”
And, it’s a close group of Lady Pirates at that.
“We went to a regional final our sophomore year, but I very feel confident with our team chemistry we have now,” said Walker. “I really think that’s going to help us on Friday night.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 10 10 15 14 —49
Union Local 10 9 16 12 —47
WHEELERSBURG 49 (24-2)
Mia Vastine 0 0-1 0, Madison Whittaker 2 3-3 8, Annie Coriell 0 1-2 1, Kiera Kennard 0 1-4 1, Jocelyn Tilley 0 0-0 0, Emma Smith 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 7 8-10 23, Lexie Rucker 2 2-2 6, Macee Eaton 4 1-1 10; TOTALS 15 16-23 49; Three-point goals: 3 (Madison Whittaker, Makenna Walker and Macee Eaton 1 apiece)
UNION LOCAL 47 (25-2)
Laken Vinskovich 1 0-3 2, Lauren Miller 1-0-3, Torre Kildow 7 0-1 16, Emmy Kellaway 1-0-3, Ella Pietranton 2 1-3 5, Reagan Vinskovich 7 4-5 18; TOTALS 19 5-12 47; Three-point goals: 4 (Torre Kildow 2, Lauren Miller and Emmy Kellaway 1 apiece)