LUCASVILLE — When a team can knock down three-point shots with regularity, that always bodes well, especially for a team with a sizable portion of multi-dimensional talents on its roster.
And raining big shots at critical moments is always a big help.
In an early battle with the Leesburg-Fairfield Lions’ girls basketball program, the Wheelersburg Pirates’ girls basketball program broke an early 8-8 tie in the opening quarter of action by scoring each of the game’s final 21 tallies of the first frame en route to taking a 29-8 first-quarter lead. The Lady Pirates then used three additional second-quarter treys — after hitting seven in the opening quarter —to double up the Lady Lions by an 18-9 count in the second en route to putting a Division III Sectional Final contest against Leesburg-Fairfield to bed as Wheelersburg took home a 66-44 victory on Saturday afternoon at Valley High School.
“It’s funny, because I said before the game, ‘If we shoot the ball well, we’re so dangerous,’” Wheelersburg head coach Dusty Spradlin said of his team’s 12 threes in the contest. “It opens up so much of the dribble-drive stuff when teams have to get out and guard multiple people. Our kids played very well, especially after the initial start where we were tied at eight. It was just a really good opening quarter. The ball movement was good, and when shots are going in, it makes everything else look so much better.”
Abbie Kallner, who has already committed to play for Shawnee State University upon her impending graduation in May of 2019, was on fire throughout the first half of action as the junior scored an astonishing 16 points in the opening quarter alone. Kallner, who nailed three treys in the opening quarter on her own, scored all 20 of her points in the first half of play for a game-high. Ellie Ruby also proved to be tremendous with 17 points and eight assists — with 14 of those tallies coming in the opening half of action. Between the two, along with star freshman Kaylee Darnell, the Lady Pirates canned 10 of their 15 treys in the opening half of action.
“Abbie shot the ball really well in the first quarter, and her teammates just did a nice job of getting her the ball,” Spradlin said. “I thought that Ellie Ruby did a nice job of knocking down shots, too. There are times where Ellie doesn’t always look for her shot, and we remind her that she’s got to be a threat offensively from a shooting standpoint, because she shoots the ball well. She loves the defensive side of it and she loves being that quintessential floor general and energizer bunny.”
Darnell, however, was also very strong. In fact, the freshman was the only player on Wheelersburg’s squad to score in all four quarters of action. She obtained 15 points en route to showing off a well-balanced game that included a trio of treys and another trio of two-point field goals.
“Kaylee has had a really solid year,” Spradlin said. “People don’t realize how tough it is for freshmen to come in and be very productive, because the game, from the junior high level to the varsity realm, is so much different. She’s had a really good season. She’s been blessed to play alongside Ellie and Abbie, who have been there before. They have helped her along and have made her job a little bit easier to play off of those two kids. She was good again tonight. She’s a complete player. She can rebound, she can defend, and she can score inside and out. She’s had a really solid year, and I’m just really happy that she got off to another good start tonight.”
Defensively, Wheelersburg was outstanding in the first half as the Lady Pirates proved to be stellar in the opening half. In all, Leesburg-Fairfield was held to just seven field goals. Grace Shope — who has scored over 1,500 points and came into the game as the Lady Lions’ leading scorer — was held to just three first-half points and a single field goal. The senior finished with 12 tallies for the contest.
“We were really good in the first half,” Spradlin said. “I thought that we made a couple of mistakes and fouled Fairfield a few times, which got them to the foul line, but man, once they had those eight, we really locked down there for a while. It was a great win and a good defensive effort. I reminded them, ‘That’s who we are. We have to defend and we have to rebound the ball.’ It puts us out in transition, which is what they love. Hopefully, we can continue the hot hand shooting as we go to Waverly, but right now, we’re happy to still be playing.”
With the victory, Wheelersburg (17-5) — the No. 4 seed in the Division III, Waverly II District Bracket — will get a chance to knock off a No. 1 seed and an AP state ranked foe when it plays No. 1 Fairland (21-2) on Saturday at 12 p.m. And while the task will certainly be of the challenging variety, anything is possible.
“I thought all of our kids played hard,” Spradlin said. “We still struggle with decision-making sometimes, and get ourselves out of control. However, you’ve got to love the passion that they play with. This is what we wanted. We wanted a chance to win a sectional championship, and we wanted a chance to be able to advance to Waverly. Now, we get a No. 1 seed from the other side of the bracket in Fairland. It’ll be a tough task, but with us still playing, anything is possible. You don’t know. We’ll take a couple of days off and we’ll start preparing for Fairland come Saturday at 12 p.m.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT