WAVERLY — Wheelersburg entered their game against Fairland on Saturday averaging 66 points per game in the opening two games of the tournament.
The 16-4 Pirates looked impressive in the first couple rounds of play, but knew they would have their hands full with a 19-2 Dragons squad.
Hanging around early, Wheelersburg would ultimately fall 61-34.
“We started so well,” Pirates head coach Dusty Spradlin said. “We had some really good looks early, and made shots. In this game when you’re making shots, everything is nice and the defense is a lot better.”
In the first quarter, Wheelersburg hit three three-pointers from three different players to set the pace early.
Abbie Kallner, Ellie Kallner, and Leann Spradlin all hit a three to help the offense of the Pirates play well early.
Spradlin and Abbie Kallner had five points apiece after one, and Wheelersburg was tied with Fairland at 14 all.
Fairland had four different players score in the first, led by seven points from Emily Chapman. Chapman would finish the game with an impressive 26 points.
In the second quarter, Chapman continued to shine with nine points in the period. The Pirates, though, had the answer in Abbie Kallner who hit two threes in the quarter to keep Wheelersburg hanging around.
Late in the period, Spradlin tied the game at 25 with a basket off an Ellie Ruby steal with 1:25 before the half.
From there, the Dragons got a late push from their offense.
First, Allie Marshall scored for Fairland on a steal. Then, Kelsie Warnock hit a triple for the Dragons right after.
Not done yet, Fairland sank a shot at the buzzer from Chapman to take a 31-23 halftime lead. The Dragons closed out the half on a 10-2 run to take some momentum into the second half.
Out of the break, Fairland would score six unanswered points before Kaylee Darnell was able to stop the run with a three.
“It’s really deflating to play well and then look up and you’re down eight in that last minute and a half,” Spradlin said. “They came out and piggy backed right off of it, and kept making some shots and driving hard at the basket.”
Wheelersburg would struggle to connect on some open looks in the latter part of the game.
“We still got shots in the third and fourth quarter, but we had to play so hard when we got behind,” Spradlin said. “They closed the half on an 8-0 run and took an eight-point lead, and it was deflating because we had played so hard and really good that first half.”
“Their zone kind of started spreading out on us to make it tougher on the perimeter, and we struggled to get the ball in to the interior. Some of that is our size, and some of that is that we still have to find ways to get some dribble penetration in.”
The Pirates would score just 11 points total in the second half, and were outscored 30-11 in the final two quarters by the Dragons.
Wheelersburg missed all 10 of their free throw attempts in the second half, and shot just 2-for-16 on the game.
“We weren’t good from the foul line, at all,” Spradlin said.
Though the Pirates had some issues on offense late in the contest, they kept the fight coming on the defensive end and were able to fight until the bitter end.
“Our kids battled hard,” Spradlin said. “We played two freshman a lot today with Abbie and our two seniors, and we really lacked some inside presence which was a big difference.”
As the game ended 61-34 with a Wheelersburg loss, the careers of Ruby and Spradlin come to a close as well.
“Those two have been through a lot,” Spradlin said. “They’ve been through district championships, they’ve been through district championship losses … they’re two kids that when we need something done, and we say we’re going to do this, they know what we’re talking about because they’ve been through all those experiences.”
Ruby will be remembered for her overall tenacity in the way she played for the Pirates. A relentless defender who was tough to get past, Ruby always gave her all when she was on the floor for Wheelersburg.
“Ellie is a kid at five foot, five-foot-one, that plays like she’s six foot,” Spradlin said. “She’s super quick, she rebounds the ball and she does so many things and guards.”
Spradlin was a big part of the Pirates team in her career as well. An outstanding shooter who could stretch the floor offensively, Spradlin spent her final year with Wheelersburg working hard.
“She really dumped everything in this senior year,” Spradlin said. “She spent a lot of time in the gym, some extra time.”
The Pirates head coach will certainly miss having his two seniors from this season’s team around.
“One of them is my kid, and it’s hard to look at them after the game and they dump so much into it,” Spradlin said. “No one wants to go out with a loss period, no one wants to go out with their last game being that kind of a loss.”
The game was a lesson learned and a teaching opportunity for Spradlin.
“I told both of them, sometimes wanting to and even working as hard as you can, doesn’t mean you get the result that you want,” Spradlin said. “People sometimes think that just because they worked hard they should get the result, and I told them that’s a part of life.”
“When they go away to college, they’re going to face adversity and things are going to be hard. When they move on and have a job and a family, it’s hard. That’s what’s so great about this game, is it teaches them that it’s ok to dump everything I have into it, it’s ok that maybe if you didn’t have the best day to put your head down and go to work.”
Spradlin has no doubts they will be a success given their work ethic they’ve shown over their careers.
“Those two have toughness,” Spradlin said. “They know what it’s like to work hard and to have people counting on them. Our team has been able to look to those two, we know what those two are going to do and we can just follow that senior leadership, and that’s what you want every year.”
“Those two, from the first day in practice to this point, were ok everyday with whatever this team needed and working hard. They were going to work hard, and how can you not be proud of when they do that.”
Looking ahead to next year, Wheelersburg has some pieces to build around. Abbie Kallner will be a senior next year, and Darnell and Ellie Kallner will return as sophomores.
All three started for the Pirates against Fairland, and have been vital to the success of Wheelersburg throughout the season and will continue to be moving forward.
Spradlin also cited sophomore Mallory Bergan as another player to watch if she can continue to develop as a player in the varsity game next year.
Overall, Spradlin is optimistic about his team’s future.
“I feel like we’ve got some kids that are coming back where we’ve got some things we can work with,” Spradlin said. “We’ve got some other kids that were able to get some time, like Bella Williams, Paige Emnett, and Addi Collins.”
“One thing I know, and I’ve done this for a lot, I think it’s been 16 years, is that our kids and whatever we have assembled for next year’s team is going to represent their school really well. They’re going to represent their families really well, and they’re going to play as hard as they can like they did today.”