Over the holiday season, often times we find ourselves in a rut.
Unable to move off the couch, tied down with treats from the various celebrations, and just in a bit of a lull overall.
It seems as though such is the case for schools and their respective sports teams, too. Especially when talking about high school kids, sometimes teenagers get in a funk on Christmas break.
Such was not the case for the Wheelersburg Pirates on Friday, as they steamrolled the Wellston Golden Rockets 83-44 in a completely dominant effort.
“We challenged them, we really challenged them before the game to make sure we bring energy early,” Wheelersburg head coach Steven Ater said. “With the way teams have defended us, we’ve seen junk defenses, we’ve seen box and ones, we’ve seen triangle and twos. We told them it doesn’t matter what they’re going to come out and do, as long as we take care of business on the defensive end.”
Certainly, the Pirates did just that.
Out of the gates, Wheelersburg would show how stocky their defense would prove to be throughout the contest.
The Pirates allowed just three first quarter points, leading 17-3 after one.
JJ Truitt and Tanner Holden did their part in the period, scoring five points apiece to lead the way for Wheelersburg on offense.
Matt Simpson scored the lone basket of the first for Wellston. Simpson would finish with a team-high 12 points, but was really the only consistent threat for the Golden Rockets.
“Simpson is a really nice post player,” Ater said. “He had 14 on us last year at their place as a junior, so that was a key coming in to make sure we could stop him.”
In the second quarter, the tandem of Truitt and Holden continued their respective success. The defense of the Pirates also continued to give Wellston all sorts of problems.
Truitt, who said after the game that his favorite Christmas present was a pair of Kobe Bryant shoes, approached the second quarter with a mamba-like mentality.
With 5:41 to play in the second and Wheelersburg up 23-5, Truitt nailed a three-pointer and then followed up with an and one on the next trip down the court.
“I just told my teammates to keep feeding me the ball because the rim felt pretty big to me,” Truitt said. “Every time I caught it, my eyes got big and just everything was going right for me.”
At the end of the second quarter, Truitt had an impressive 17 points.
Before the teams hit halftime, Holden had a big play of his own on a fast break dunk to make the score 38-9 in favor of the Pirates with 30 seconds to play.
Holden said when he saw the open lane, he just wanted to “punish the rim, and try to get the crowd going.”
“There really wasn’t a lot of energy heading in to the game, and I know players had to bring it and coaches had to bring it,” Holden said. “That play kind of livened up the energy a little bit.”
Wheelersburg wasn’t done, as Cole Lowery hit an impressive buzzer beater as time expired to give his Pirates a 40-12 halftime lead.
“I was really happy with the way we guarded early,” Ater said. “I think we gave up three in the first quarter, and then it was almost single digits at halftime they hit a late three to push it to 12.”
“I think the guys are starting to connect with one another a little more, and understand positioning, understand spacing defensively and how we should guard one on one matchups. I thought we did a really good job on the glass and ran in transition well.”
The third quarter brought forth an offensive explosion from Lowery, as he continued his hot shooting to follow up his buzzer beating shot.
Lowery would score 14 points in the third, finishing with a game-high 19 overall.
“He made some really nice plays,” Ater said on Lowery. “I thought he did a good job guarding the basketball tonight early on.”
With three players finishing in double-figures, Ater loved the versatility he saw from his team as it adds a challenge in defending the Pirates.
“I think for teams trying to junk us, it makes it very tough when you look and you see several double-digit scorers,” Ater said.
After three, Wheelersburg was well in control leading 62-27.
In the fourth quarter, the Pirates were able to play several younger players who saw their first varsity playing time.
Matthew Miller, Mason Montgomery, Marcus Saunders, and Corey Maxie all got to play varsity minutes for the first time in their young careers.
Wheelersburg would score 21 points in the fourth, but allow 17 to the Rockets.
“They’re able to score,” Ater said about his younger players. “A lot of them have to learn how to defend at the varsity level, but those four guys playing late was the first time they’ve ever set foot on the varsity floor. So, there’s no doubt butterflies were very big in their bellies.”
“I thought Matthew came in and played really well, attacked the glass. Marcus came in and hit a shot, got some assists to people, and got to the free throw line. Mason Montgomery drops in a basket there in the fourth quarter for his first varsity basket, and then Corey Maxie came in and got some rebounds and got a chance at the free throw line.”
All in all, the Pirates would pull away with an 83-44 win.
The offense was certainly impressive, but once more the defense of Wheelersburg held their opponent to under 50 points for the second game in a row.
“Coach Ater just kept yelling at us in practice to go hard in every drill and give it all we got,” Truitt said about the emphasis on defense. “In the Portsmouth game, we just got everything clicking.”
The Pirates have a big game to start the new year on January 2, as they travel to South Webster. It looks like Wheelersburg could be hitting their strides at the right time, though.
“For us, we made shots which makes life easier for us of course,” Ater said. “We’re starting to find our rhythm and gel a little bit, but we’ve got to make sure we continue upward.”
“I was really happy with how unselfish we were. I thought we almost overpassed at times, but it still led to great shots.”
With a new year comes renewed expectations and added ambitions. For Holden, 2018 could be one to remember.
“I think the New Year’s resolution would be just to become a better leader,” Holden said. “I think I really need to step up into the role of a leader, and push other players and exert myself into different leadership roles.”
If Holden and the rest of the Pirates can continue to play at this pace, look out for Wheelersburg in the SOC.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer