LUCASVILLE — When a team is involved and engaged in its pressure defense, the results usually tend to be fruitful for the said unit in question.
That definition certainly couldn’t have borne much more fruit than it did for the Wheelersburg Pirates’ girls basketball program on Wednesday evening as Wheelersburg accumulated 27 steals, had six players score at least six points or more, and scored the first 37 points of a Division III Sectional Semifinal matchup against the Eastern Eagles’ girls basketball program en route to obtaining a massive 66-6 victory over the Eastern Eagles’ girls basketball program in a contest that was played at Valley High School in Lucasville on Wednesday evening.
For Dusty Spradlin, the veteran head coach couldn’t have asked for much more out of his unit than the performance that the Lady Pirates ultimately put together on Wednesday.
“Our plan was to extend the floor and see if our press could bother Eastern,” Spradlin said. “We’ve got a lot of quickness that, until you’ve seen it, can be a little devastating at times. It got us started, and our kids, as always, shared the basketball really well.”
The Lady Pirates, who entered the contest with an impressive 16-5 overall record coming in despite the loss of All-District honorees Makayla Akers and Kalle Coleman from the year prior, wasted no time finalizing the contest before it even began as Wheelersburg ultimately scored seven points over the contest’s first 1:03 to take control.
That lead, however, didn’t quit growing. In fact, the Lady Pirates quickly extended to a 13-0 tally as Wheelersburg forced an amazing seven steals over the first 3:01 of the contest en route to obtaining easy baskets out in transition. Ellie Ruby, Mallory Bergan, Kaylee Darnell, and Abbie Kallner caused much of the issues as Bergan’s length blended in well with the quickness that Darnell, Kallner, and Ruby provided from their guard positions. The result? 16 steals in the opening quarter of play.
“We’re blessed,” Spradlin said. “We’ve got Mallory Bergan with some size that can give teams problems at the point of our press with her size, and a lot of quickness around it with Abbie Kallner, Ellie Ruby, and Kaylee Darnell being really aggressive. Our kids were very active, and more importantly, were really excited about playing a tournament game. We’ve talked a lot about the importance of getting off to good starts, and I believe that our kids did a really good job coming out in that first quarter with a lot of intensity. They got a lot of deflections and steals that led to easy baskets.”
During the Lady Pirates’ impressive defensive display, Wheelersburg’s Kaylee Darnell and Abbie Kallner took control as the duo ultimately combined to score 16 of the contest’s first 22 points while maintaining the same intensity on the defensive end as Wheelersburg ultimately took a 26-0 first-quarter advantage.
“I feel like those two (Abbie and Kaylee) have had really solid years,” Spradlin said. “Ellie (Ruby) plays with such a great pace, and she gets us going out in transition and helps those two get the looks that they do. When they run to the wings, it helps them get going in transition. Those two were able to get to the basket and were really good energy-wise. All of our starters played hard when they were in. They didn’t get a bunch of minutes, but it’s still good for some of the younger kids to get some playing time as well.”
In the second quarter of action, Leann Spradlin and Bella Williams got going as the former used her crafty slashing and shooting abilities to obtain five of her eight points in the quarter. When Spradlin — the last of the starting five still out on the floor — exited the contest with five minutes to play, Williams entered the affair and added four points on a pair of low-post baskets.
During that period of time, Eastern’s Tiffany Burkitt finally got the Lady Eagles on the board with 1:01 to play in the opening half to end a 14:58 scoring drought for the Lady Eagles, but by that time, the game was a mere formality as the Lady Pirates held a 39-2 halftime lead.
“Leann’s been shooting the ball well for us and has had some really good games where she’s been hot from the three-point line,” Spradlin said. “She knocked down a couple of threes tonight en route to getting her eight points, and is just someone that has been around and knows what to do. She knows her role and plays off of some of the others, like Abbie and Kaylee and Ellie. As they penetrate, she finds a good spot to be at, and has been able to knock down some shots for us. Bella’s just a sophomore coming off of the bench. She’s had some times where she’s been a little up and down, but she’s really been playing a lot better here of late. Sometimes, it just takes a little while to catch up and get that varsity experience. She played junior varsity for us last year and was hurt a little bit, so she missed a little bit of time. This year, we needed her to play varsity ball, and she’s had some good moments. She’s a kid that plays extremely hard and she’s a kid that gives us toughness, can help us rebound, and can get us some points in the paint. She’s turning a corner and is starting to play better.”
With its halftime advantage at the previously mentioned 39-2 gap, the Lady Pirates allowed a half-opening bucket, then jetted out on a sizeable 14-0 margin as Kallner and Darnell combined for 12 points during the spurt before the starters were removed with four minutes to go in the third quarter. Even with its bench emptied, Wheelersburg ultimately increased its lead all the way to the aforementioned 66-6 final.
For the contest, Kallner ultimately finished with a game-high 15 points while Darnell added a dozen to head the charge for Wheelersburg — doing so in approximately 11 minutes of action. Leann Spradlin and Bella Williams combined for eight points apiece, Kallner’s younger sister, Ellie, obtained seven points during the affair, and Mallory Bergan added six points on her own accord. Addi Collins’ four points, along with two points each from Ellie Ruby, Lani Irwin, and Paige Emnett, rounded out the scoring. Burkitt’s four points led Eastern.
With the victory, Wheelersburg (17-5) will take on No. 5-seeded Leesburg Fairfield on Saturday afternoon at 2:45 p.m. in a Division III Sectional Final that will be played in Lucasville. Spradlin says that the Lady Lions are certainly not a team to be taken lightly, especially with star hand Grace Shope (21.5 points per game), who can play all five positions on the floor — and is a 1,500-point scorer — available for Leesburg-Fairfield (17-5).
“(Wednesday evening) was the first opportunity that I’ve had to see them,” Spradlin said. “(Grace) Shope is very athletic and she plays extremely hard. She kind of has a little Ellie Jo Johnson in her. She’s a bigger girl, but she can play on the perimeter, she can shoot the ball, she can drive, she rebounds and she plays good defense. They’ve also got a really nice player in (Samara Cannon) that came off the bench and knocked down some shots. Defensively, they played some man and some 1-2-2 zone, and they were physical and played really hard in it. I felt like they attacked the glass, too. We’ll have to limit Shope’s touches and points, but rebounding is going to be a huge key for us. We’re not always the biggest team out there, but if we can control our rebounding, our kids will have a good chance of emerging with the win.”