The Wheelersburg Lady Pirates basketball team brought their rally caps with them to Greenup County for a meeting with the Muskeeters on Monday.
Trailing by 10 points in the third quarter, the Pirates completed a comeback to capture a 54-43 win over the Musketeers.
To start, though, things didn’t go so well for Wheelersburg.
From the tip, it seemed like the Pirates were lacking energy as a team, especially in the first half.
“We struggled so much early, and we talked about at the half our body language,” Wheelersburg head coach Dusty Spradlin said. “Body language was bad, we were kind of feeling sorry for ourselves because things weren’t going great offensively. It kind of hurt us a little bit defensively because we didn’t go quite as hard.”
“We did not play well at all offensively, just really passive against their zone and missed a lot of shots. Some point-blank opportunities down in, kind of avoiding some contact.”
Early for Greenup County, it was junior Maggie Miller who set the tempo for the game.
Miller scored off a steal 15 seconds into the game, then hit a shot nearly thirty seconds later while getting fouled to give the Musketeers a quick 4-0 edge.
On the night, Miller had 13 points.
Later, free throws from Lauren Hannah gave Greenup County an 8-2 advantage with 5:25 to play in the first.
Wheelersburg would pull within three, but the Musketeers kept coming right back at them with an offensive barrage of their own.
After one, Greenup County was up 12-8.
The Pirates pulled within two around midway through the second, but the Musketeers again gained some separation when junior Gracie Haywood put on a nice up and under move for a layup, giving Greenup County a 17-13 lead.
Haywood also had 13 points for the Musketeers in the game, and seven in the second quarter.
Greenup County still looked good early, and closed out the second on a 10-4 run after the Haywood score with 4:56 before the break.
At the half, it was the Musketeers ahead 25-17.
Again, early on in the third, Greenup County looked to be in control. The Musketeers scored early on four points from Haywood, and would lead 29-19 with 5:34 to play in the quarter.
From that point, it was Wheelersburg who would crank up the intensity.
The Pirates closed out the quarter on an 18-4 run, sparked by constant defensive pressure that smothered Greenup County the rest of the way.
With nearly a minute to play in the third, a three from senior Ellie Ruby off a steal gave Wheelersburg a 35-33 lead, their first of the game.
Ruby had 16 points and a handful of steals, giving her team a huge defensive boost.
“She does it game in and game out, she’s kind of the person that gives us that energy,” Spradlin said.
Scoring again before the end of the third, this time the Pirates got a steal and bucket from Abbie Kallner.
Kallner had a game-high 20 points for Wheelersburg.
“Abbie has been real consistent all year,” Spradlin said. “She’s a kid that’s got to share the big burden for us offensively, she works her tail off to get open. She’s had to guard some of these bigger players because we’re so small, but she’s very relentless.”
Shots began to fall in the third quarter, but they were created by turnovers and easy opportunities from the outstanding defensive play from the Pirates.
“The difference was in the second half we really picked up our pressure, and got some easy ones,” Spradlin said. “The funny thing is when you get some easy ones, sometimes shots start to fall from outside, which they did. We only hit two threes in the game, both in the third quarter, but they were huge.”
“Defensive pressure was the whole difference. The first half, we were a step slow on a lot of things.”
In the fourth, defense was still the theme for Wheelersburg.
Ruby registered another basket from a steal forced by the Pirates, giving Wheelersburg a 41-35 lead with 6:09 to play.
It was the play of Ruby and girls such as Ellie Kallner and Kaylee Darnell that helped create a stifling full court blitzkrieg of the Musketeers in the second half.
“Ellie Kallner can provide some pressure in the full court as well,” Spradlin said. “I thought our defense though fed off of Ellie [Ruby], and we got people where they needed to be to get some of those steals in the second half.”
Those turnovers forced helped to create outlet passes and open shots on offense for the Pirates. That allowed scoring chances for Ellie Kallner (11 points) and Darnell (six points) all night.
The play of Ruby was what stood out the most, as the feisty point guard put on a defensive clinic. Ruby simply refused to allow anyone to advance the ball against her at times, wreaking havoc for whoever handled the ball for Greenup County.
Coach Spradlin often uses Ruby for nearly every minute of the game, as she is able to impact her team with her talent and energy level.
So, he was a bit upset when he had to take his senior out because of an issue with her shoes.
“She really cranked it up a notch in the second half, she’s so active and her hands are everywhere. She’s quick as all get out. The only reason we took her out … tonight, she had a shoe string that busted.”
“I think we’re going to have to have a little shoe tying practice tomorrow. We probably better make sure too that we have extra shoe strings. I don’t know where that shoe string came from but we got her one thankfully so we could get her back out there.”
Wheelersburg would tie up the Musketeers down the stretch with some clutch free throws to escape with a 54-43 win.
The victory improves Wheelersburg’s record to 14-4 on the season.
As the regular season starts to wind down, the Pirates still have some stiff competition awaiting them.
“We’ve got our last SOC game Thursday with Valley,” Spradlin said. “Saturday, we’ve got a non-league game with North Adams when they come to town, and I think they’ve got maybe two losses on the year.”
First, Wheelersburg will be focusing in on their matchup with the Lady Indians.
“Valley is always going to play hard for Coach Merritt,” Spradlin said. “He’s going to put them in the right spots, and if we play like this again offensively, we’re going to have to grind out another win on our court.”
If Monday night was any indication, the Lady Pirates have no issues with grinding out a tough one on the floor.