WHEELERSBURG — Remaining poised in less than ideal situations shows the overall growth and maturity of any unit.
On Thursday evening, Scott Caudill’s group continued to show why it holds an undefeated mark so far through the 2017-18 campaign by utilizing those qualities in spades, as the Minford Falcons’ girls basketball program overcame seven first-half three-pointers and strong efforts from Kaylee Darnell, Leann Spradlin, Ellie Ruby, and the Wheelersburg Pirates’ girls basketball program to claim a 53-42 victory in SOC II action behind 19 second-half points from Erin Daniels and 13 points from Caitlyn Puckett and move to 12-0 in the process at Wheelersburg High School in a well-played bout by both squads.
For Caudill, Thursday evening was just more proof of the sacrifices that his girls have made to become the complete unit that the members of the Minford girls basketball program have strived to field.
“The girls really stepped up and handled the pressure,” Caudill said. “Our girls did a great job handling that well and not turning the basketball over. Hat’s off to Dusty (Spradlin) and his girls. They shot the lights out of the basketball and they did what they needed to do to give themselves a shot at the end of the game. I’m tickled to death for our team. We stuck right in there and took care of the ball. It is honestly exactly what I expected. I knew it was going to be a dogfight coming in here. Hat’s off to the ‘Burg girls and hat’s off to our girls. The gym was packed tonight, and the fans wanted to see a good basketball game.”
Even in the defeat, however, it was hard for Wheelersburg head coach Dusty Spradlin to be disappointed in his girls and their overall work.
“It was a great effort from our girls,” Spradlin said. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort. No one likes the result, but you get back to work. We’re playing for down the road this year. We’re playing for tournament time. We have a bunch of games here in January that will help get us ready. This was a great atmosphere against a team that is unbeaten, and we were there. They just made more plays, and we’ve got to find a way to make plays. We’ve got to find a way to cut out those dead periods offensively, because I feel like that is what has cost us this year.”
At the beginning, however, Wheelersburg’s offense was full of life. Behind patience and good offensive execution, the Lady Pirates not only got more than their fair share of good looks from behind the three-point line, but knocked them down — to the tune of five three-pointers in the first quarter alone from four different players (Darnell, Spradlin, Paige Emnett, and Abbie Kallner) — as Wheelersburg not only controlled the tempo, but the lead, 15-10, at the end of the first quarter of play.
“Burg’s helpside defense was great,” Caudill said. “They smacked the ball around every time we put the ball on the ground, and every time we got a rebound, they had a hand on it. They got after it. But when you’re 12-0, you’re going to have a target on your back every night.”
And through the first four-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter, Wheelersburg — behind the play of Darnell and Spradlin — continued to stretch its lead as the Lady Pirates ultimately pulled out to a 23-15 advantage behind the cool, calm, and collected play of its core nucleus. Spradlin ultimately nailed three of the Lady Pirates’ seven treys in the first half — all from straight-on — and Darnell added a 12-foot jumper near the right baseline as Wheelersburg took a 23-15 advantage with 3:26 to play in the first half.
If Minford showed any panic, however, it was certainly hard to tell. Despite Wheelersburg’s three-point barrage, the Lady Falcons continued to pluck away on the interior with Puckett and Ashley Blankenship. The pair, who combined for 15 of Minford’s 23 points in the first half, proved to be huge as the duo scored each of the half’s final six tallies — with Puckett, especially, serving as a thorn in Wheelersburg’s side on both ends of the floor despite playing on a sprained ankle suffered the day prior in practice — as Minford used an 8-0 spurt to tie the score at 23-all by the end of the first half.
“Caitlyn’s an animal,” Caudill said. “She’s an absolute animal. She does things that you can’t coach or teach. She’s an absolute animal. Hat’s off to her. She goes 100 percent on every single possession, whether it’s offense or defense. Over the course of the last three years, she’s become a lot more intelligent in her role, and has gotten a lot better over the last three years as a result. She’s huge. She’s huge for us.”
“Minford got some easy baskets, and their offense is a little easier for them to come by,” Spradlin said. “They’ve got a 6-3 post player (in Ashley Blankenship) that you have to contend with, they’ve got a senior point guard in Erin Daniels that’s been through all of these situations before, and they’ve got great players around them who know their roles. When they’re executing in the low post, and when Daniels is hitting threes from the outside, something’s got to give. If we’re trying to help down in the post, then we’re leaving shooters open. Minford just made plays.”
As big as that 8-0 quarter-ending run proved to be, it was only the beginning of what the Lady Falcons would showcase on the night — because Erin Daniels came out in the second half firing.
In the third quarter of action, Daniels wasted no time taking the game over herself, notching 11 points in the frame alone en route to scoring 19 tallies in the second half as Minford ultimately went on a 17-2 spurt between the second and third quarters that turned the eight-point deficit it once faced into a seven-point lead. During that stretch, the senior stronghold scored nine of the Lady Falcons’ 11 points at one point as Minford ultimately took a 32-25 advantage. The same stretch entailed Wheelersburg scoring just two points as the Lady Falcons forced the Lady Pirates into the aforementioned total over a full eight minute span.
“I’ve got the best player in the county,” Caudill said. “Erin Daniels did a phenomenal job tonight. She stepped up as a senior and delivered for us. I’ll take her any day of the week. Hat’s off to her. When we play big games, Erin wants the ball, but at the same time, she’s so unselfish and gets her teammates the basketball. I’m more proud of her tonight than I’ve ever been because she overcame the adversity, and she stood right in the line of fire and provided leadership all night long.”
“We went through another period where we had a scoring lull,” Spradlin said. “You can’t have those dead periods against good teams. We have those dead periods offensively, and it’s draining mentally because in the first half, we were making shots. In the latter part of the second quarter and in the third quarter, however, we weren’t, and if you let it, it can wear on you. For us, we’re so small that it’s hard for us to get a lot of easy shots. We can get them if we get some steals and get out in transition, but we don’t have that inside presence like South Webster and Minford has.”
Even through its struggles, however, Wheelersburg continued to plug away behind the presence of Darnell. The freshman guard, who scored nine of her team-high 14 points, continued to show off an ever-growing offensive game by collecting nine of her 14 points in the second half, draining a three-point basket and nailing two additional long two-point jumpers to help Wheelersburg draw within three points (40-37) and (42-39) with less than five-and-a-half minutes to play in the fourth quarter of action.
“Burg did a nice job of stopping our runs with (Kaylee) Darnell in the second half,” Caudill said. “She was just killing us. She would stick some daggers in our lungs all of the time, so we couldn’t get that spread like we wanted to.”
“Kaylee has good ball handling skills,” Spradlin said. “She shot the ball fairly well tonight, too. I was really pleased with the way that she played. For us, we’ve got to find a way to get the ball inside and kick it back out to our shooters. We did early. It’s a work in progress. We’re trying.”
But with Daniels and Puckett in its back pocket, the Lady Falcons proved to be too much. With the game on the line, the duo displayed the pose that Minford has shown in spades throughout the 2017-18 season by combining for eight straight points and developing a 50-39 advantage as a result with less than two minutes to go in the game en route to sealing the deal.
With the victory, the Lady Falcons, who sit with a 9-0 SOC II conference mark after claiming its 12th straight win to start the year, will turn its attention to a home bout against West on Monday — a game that Caudill believes his unit will, as they have all season, handle with the very grit and smarts that have got them to this point in time.
“These girls are smart, and they’re prepared,” Caudill said. “We’ve been in those positions many times, and we’ve been on the losing end of the coin. The girls are tired of it, and they’ve worked to change that.”
As for Wheelersburg, the Lady Pirates, who still hold a 7-4 overall record and a 5-4 SOC II record even after the loss, will turn its attention to yet another tough bout when Oak Hill plays host to Spradlin’s squad on Monday evening.
“We’ll keep working at it,” Spradlin said. “We’ve got a big road game at Oak Hill on Monday, and there’s no time for rest for us. We’re back to work tomorrow, and we’re going to have to play well, because Oak Hill’s playing some good basketball.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT