LUCASVILLE — Confidence is contagious. Kaylee Darnell oozes confidence.
When she makes the decision to do so, Wheelersburg’s blossoming sophomore standout simply puts her team on her back and kicks her engine into high gear.
In Saturday’s 56-43 win over Huntington in a Division III sectional final at Valley High School, Darnell was certainly in high gear for the better part of 32 consecutive minutes.
Scoring a game-high 29 points alongside five rebounds and three assists, Darnell was an unwanted thorn in Huntington’s side on both sides of the ball.
“I was a little laid back earlier in the season and I wasn’t playing my role the way I should’ve played my role,” Darnell said. “I wasn’t taking control like I should’ve been. I just found confidence in myself and started shooting the ball more. It’s just confidence.”
In the second quarter, Wheelersburg’s defense allowed 17 points. But thanks to Darnell, along with the help of teammates Abbie Kallner and Alaina Keeney, the Pirates put up a 25-spot.
“Kaylee was really good,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “I took her out early to let her catch her breath. But when she came back in, she was super aggressive in that second quarter. Normally, I don’t like giving up 17 in a quarter but it’s OK when you’re scoring 25.”
On the opposite side, Kallner was matched up with Huntington’s Allison Basye — an athletic freshman that’s widely considered as one of the SVC’s best all-around players.
While Basye scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Kallner frustrated her early and continued to be a nuisance all game. Her defensive effort, for the most part, held Basye under wraps … after she scored 31 points in a sectional semifinal.
“Abbie was pretty steady all night, as usual,” Spradlin said. “She had to do a lot of guarding on Basye and we knew going in that someone was going to have to pick up that defensive load. Huntington is good and the Basye girl is going to be around three more years.”
Huntington chose to play a zone defense, a look that the Pirates are getting uber-familiar with.
The Pirates (20-4) picked up where they left off in their previous win over Adena, shooting nearly 40 percent from the floor and 50 percent from inside the 3-point arc.
“We wondered coming in if we were going to play zone again because we struggled in the first half against Adena [in a sectional semifinal],” Spradlin said. “But in that third quarter of that game, we exploded. We came out today and shot the ball really well against another zone.”
Tale of the tape
Basye scored the game’s first points with 5:45 left in the first. 12 seconds later, Abbie Kallner hit a 3 to give the Pirates their first lead. When Kallner scored again at the 3:06 mark, putting Wheelersburg up 5-4, the lead didn’t change hands again.
Darnell tacked on a 3 with 1:26 to go in the first, Ellie Kallner hit her only trey of the night with 31.2 seconds left and the Pirates took an 11-5 lead into the second.
Then, they really started to pull away.
Abbie Kallner and Darnell hit back-to-back triples, stretching the lead to 17-6, Alaina Keeney added two buckets at the 5:06 and 3:49 marks, and Darnell scored again with 1:59 to go. By halftime, Wheelersburg had a 36-22 lead over Huntington.
The Huntsmen (17-7) cut the deficit back to single digits with 6:16 left in the third, but Darnell quickly erased any such hopes of a comeback with back-to-back transition scores.
From that point on, the Pirates coasted to a sectional title.
Darnell added five rebounds and three assists to her game-high 29 points while Abbie Kallner ended the night with 16 points and three assists. Keeney had eight points and four rebounds, and while Lauren Jolly didn’t score, she led the team with eight boards.
Huntington was led by Braiden Collins’ 20 points, five rebounds and two assists while Basye added 14 points and nine boards to the team’s totals.
What’s on tap
The Pirates advance to a Division III district semifinal against Fairland at 1:45 p.m., Saturday at Waverly’s Downtown Gym. The Dragons have size and athleticism, standing at 19-5 overall.
“We get a week off and it’s an opponent we’ve ran into several times,” Spradlin said. “They play a zone, a little bit of a different zone where they’re really active. Offensively, they’ve got kids that can shoot on the perimeter and a big that can put her head down. So we’ll enjoy this for now and but we’ll start working on trying to go and knock off a number two seed.”
Huntington: 5-17-12-9 — 43
Wheelersburg: 11-25-12-8 — 56
Huntington: 16-39 FG, 9-12 FT, 2-10 3pt., 26 rebounds (Basye 9), 17 turnovers, 3 assists (Collins 3). Scoring: Collins 20, Basye 14, Black 4, Haubeil 2, Entler 2.
Wheelersburg: 20-51 FG, 6-9 FT, 5-20 3pt., 25 rebounds (Hamilton 8), 6 turnovers, 7 assists (A. Kallner 3, Darnell 3). Scoring: Darnell 29, A. Kallner 16, Keeney 8, E. Kallner 3.