MINFORD — Almost everybody knew that Abbie Kallner was 17 points away from picking up her 1,000 career point Thursday night … that is, everybody except Abbie Kallner.
Wheelersburg’s senior guard came into the evening’s contest at Minford sitting at 983 career points. But she was the last one keeping track of how many points she had or needed … and the first to tell you her team needed a win more than anything else on the agenda.
Late in the fourth quarter, Kallner sunk two free throws to pick up 999 and 1,000. And, thankfully for her, those two free throws further lathered icing on top of an important 55-42 SOC II victory.
“I scored 1,000 points and had no idea,” Kallner said, smiling. “But I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything that I have without my teammates … this win tonight, 1,000 points … I’m just thankful that with all the pressure, we were still able to come out, execute and do what we wanted to do. We have big dreams and big goals and I’m glad we’re reaching them.”
While the night ended well for Kallner, it didn’t exactly begin on a high note.
The Falcons limited the Pirates’ most dangerous scoring threat to three points at halftime and just five after three quarters. That opened the door for Kallner’s teammate Kaylee Darnell to do what she does best: find nylon.
The sophomore carried Wheelersburg’s offense through much of the first half — with help from Abbie’s sister Ellie — habitually pulling up from mid-range and habitually hitting her shots.
“I knew it was going to be a big game and I knew I had to execute,” Darnell said. “I just looked for the open man and found open shots coming off the ball screen. I just executed really well.”
12 of Darnell’s game-high 20 points came in the first 16 minutes — 10 came in the second quarter alone. She then passed the torch to Kallner in the fourth, who scored 12 down the final stretch.
“Those two are going to have to shoulder the load. We talked about that early in the season,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “A lot of kids really played their roles just fantastically. I got after Kaylee early because you have to come off those screens looking to score. And I thought our patience … between Abbie and Kaylee, it was really good. Abbie struggled a little early but boy, she stepped up late. You want your experienced kids to want the ball.”
With both teams entering Thursday tied atop the SOC II standings, the Pirates (9-1, 7-1 SOC II) aimed to focus on three things in order to hand Minford (10-2, 6-2 SOC II) a second loss.
“I told the girls, I reminded them before we left the bench that defense, rebounding and taking care of the basketball were the keys to a win,” Spradlin said.
At the end of the night, Wheelersburg checked off all three boxes. The Pirates’ defense forced Minford to turn the ball over 14 times, compared to just eight of their own, and excellent shot selection negated the need to crash the offensive glass.
However, it’s just one win. There’s still much work to be done.
“I felt like we got some good shots and I felt like we did a pretty good job on [Minford’s Ashley] Blankenship. We hadn’t played since December 20. You never know with those long breaks,” Spradlin said. “But It’s a grind. I know everybody is going to be excited about this one but all it does is put us one step closer to where we hope we end up. But still a long season to go.”
Tale of the tape
Out of the gate, the two conference powers traded punches as expected. Ellie Kallner got the scoring started 39 seconds into the action before Blankenship put the Falcons on the board at the 6:51 mark in the first quarter. After eight minutes, the game was deadlocked at 11.
However, in the second, Wheelersburg started to create separation behind Darnell’s hot hand.
Tied 19-19, Darnell led a half-ending 10-2 run to give the Pirates a 29-21 lead at the break.
In the third, the Falcons countered with a run of their own, relying on Blankenship and Caitlyn Puckett to lead the charge. Down 37-30 with 2:18 left, the duo trimmed the lead to just two at 39-37 heading into the final eight minutes.
Blankenship then started the fourth by hitting one of two free throw tries to pull the Falcons to within one. But that’s when Abbie Kallner decided enough was enough.
With Wheelersburg leading 41-40, Kallner scored and hit an awarded foul shot before hitting a 3 after forcing a turnover, giving the Pirates a 47-40 lead with 3:41 to go. From there, she spearheaded a game-ending 8-2 run to secure the win.
Darnell led all scorers with 20 points while Abbie Kallner added 17 of her own alongside five boards and three assists. Ellie Kallner also reached double-digit scoring figures with 10 points.
Blankenship led the Falcons, posting a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Caitlyn Puckett followed with 12 points and seven rebounds while Livi Shonkwiler added six points.
What’s on tap
While Minford focuses on bouncing back Thursday at Portsmouth West, the Pirates will be back in action Monday for a non-conference contest at Vinton County.
The Vikings, a Division II opponent, are 9-0 with signature wins over Meigs, Alexander and Unioto.
“Vinton County is really good. Those are games where you get a chance to step out of conference, challenge your kids and put them in pressure situations where they’re going to have to play their best to win,” Spradlin said. “Come tournament time, that’s what everybody wants so it’s a good game to play early and get used to that type of environment.”
According to Darnell, Wheelersburg just has to be Wheelersburg.
“We’re all going to have to pitch in. We just have to keep doing us, keep executing and keep finding the open man,” she said. “If we do that, we should be good to go.”
Wheelersburg: 11-18-10-16 — 55
Minford: 11-10-16-5 — 42
Wheelersburg: 23-42 FG, 7-11 FT, 2-10 3pt. (Irwin 1, A. Kallner 1), 16 rebounds (A. Kallner 5), 8 turnovers, 7 assists (A. Kallner 3). Scoring: Darnell 20, A. Kallner 17, E. Kallner 10, Keeney 5, Irwin 3.
Minford: 16-43 FG, 8-19 FT, 2-13 3pt (Puckett 1, Slusher 1), 33 rebounds (Blankenship 11), 14 turnovers, 4 assists (Tolle 2). Scoring: Blankenship 17, Puckett 12, Shonkwiler 6, Slusher 5, Tolle 2.
Reach Derrick Webb at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @dw1509.