WHEELERSBURG – From the get-go of Wheelersburg’s home senior night contest with SOC II rival South Webster, much like they have been in the 20 games prior to Tuesday, the Pirates were locked in.
Wheelersburg led after the first quarter 21-12, and except for a brief period when South Webster went on a 14-0 run themselves, the Pirates never looked back, claiming an impressive 72-49 win over the Jeeps.
“Holding them to 49 points, that’s a high powered offensive team,” said Wheelersburg head coach Steven Ater, “They’ve got two long, athletic players, and they’ve got shooters everywhere. At their place, I don’t think we did a good job defensively. I thought the second half tonight we did a great job defensively. They’re going to get a few baskets here or there because they’re talented, but I thought there were several possessions where they were trying to get something started offensively and there was just nothing there.”
Ater couldn’t be more spot on. The Jeeps usual trio of Shiloah Blevins, Braden Bockway, and Tanner Voiers combined for just 27 points as the Pirates pressured the ball, and off the ball, an inordinate amount in their 23 point win.
When told that stat, Ater audibled, “Wow”-ed, as anyone would if you told them three of the most talented scorers in the conference were held to those numbers.
“That’s where we’re best. When we’re able to disrupt the flow of another of another offense and create turnovers with our defense. We didn’t press one possession. That’s kind of the goal, we don’t have to waste any extra energy extending the floor, we can do it in the half court. We didn’t have one guy on them, the way we guard it takes everyone on the court. Give them credit for that defensive lockdown performance.”
With Tuesday being the senior night for six Wheelersburg seniors, (Tanner Holden, Trent Salyers, Dustin Darnell, Connor Mullins, Ashton Clevenger, and Justin Salyers), they leave a lasting legacy for future Pirates in a season where they were outright SOC II champs for the first time under Ater, the number one seed in sectional seeding, and are one game away from a perfect regular season.
“They’re just tremendous kids,” said Ater when asked about what his six seniors mean to him as a coach, as well as to the Wheelersburg program and community. “They’re hard workers, they’re kids that will give up summers in June when it would be easier to hang out with their buddies or at the pool or on vacation. They sacrifice so much, and you can see the results coming out this year. One thing they weren’t able to do until this year is to win the SOC. To lock that up Friday night, and then continue to play well when this game didn’t mean anything to the conference race or sectional seeding, it shows you their character and resolve.”
If you were to ask Ater before the season if a perfect regular season was feasible and one of the goals of this Pirates team, he may have thought there was an outside shot of achieving a lofty goal.
With a road trip to Lucasville to face the Valley Indians standing between his club and perfection through their first 22 games, Ater, nor his team, is focused on achieving something that hasn’t happened at Wheelersburg since 1988. Rather, they’re focused on taking each battle one game at a time and continuing to check off each box on their list of accomplishments, one that in theory has a trip to Columbus in late March near the bottom.
“Our mindset is that we have to continue to stay hungry and get better. We cannot rest for one second because everyone wants to be the one to knock you off. Valley’s a talented team, they’ve got good scorers, size, senior night for them. To fight that off, we have to come in and keep working like these guys have been. They’ll celebrate tonight but come tomorrow they’ll come back in ready to work and get ready for our game. That’s the same mentality even when it comes to the tournament. You have to look at the one in front of you and just keep grinding. Our older guys lead by example in that, and our younger guys follow their lead, and we’re better for it.”
Wheelersburg: 21-19-13-19 – 72
SW: 12-17-7-13 – 49
Wheelersburg: 29 FG, 9 3PT (Holden 3), 5/7 FT. Scoring: Holden 27, Mullins 14, T. Salyers 12, Truitt 10, Miller 4, J. Salyers 3, Maxie 2
SW: 18 FG, 6 3PT (Ruth 2), 7/10 FT. Scoring: J. Ruth 14, Blevins 11, Bockway 9, Voiers 7, Zimmerman 5, G. Ruth 2, Veach 1