JACKSON – In regular season play, the Wheelersburg Pirates outscored their opponents by game’s end at a 23.8 points per game margin of victory.
Maybe that reason, more than any, it was so stunning when the Pirates started their sectional final game vs. Meigs on Friday down 12-0 in the latter stages of the first quarter. Or maybe it was the fact that the Pirates (23-0) capped off a 22-0 perfect regular season, the first at Wheelersburg since 1988, were ranked third in the final Division III AP poll released on Monday. Not only were they expected to win, they were expected to convincingly.
But, after they trailed at the end of the first quarter 12-3, something that is a credit to the Pirates coaching staff, they adjusted.
“I don’t think we got the ball in the paint enough so we settled for jumpers,” said Wheelersburg head coach Steven Ater when asked what prompted such a slow start in their opening postseason game. “They weren’t bad looks, they just didn’t fall. And on the other end, they drove on us one on one, got fouled and got to the basket and had some success there.”
Once the first quarter ended, it felt as if they same team that appeared in each and every contest during the regular season joined the rest of the spectators and started playing their version of Pirate basketball: finding the right shot on the offensive end and clamping you defensively.
In the second quarter, Wheelersburg outscored Meigs 11-1, a dramatic turnaround from the first, to take a 14-13 lead into the half. A big part of that was the play of Tanner Holden who had ten points at the half, and, well, all of the Pirates for that matter. According to Ater, it was a true team effort.
“That’s what you expect out of him,” said Ater on Holden’s performance. “I thought J.J. Truitt had a big three there late, and a charge at the end. I though Connor, Dustin, Trent, and Matthew all guarded the ball really well one on one. Justin Salyers came in and did the same thing. Credit to them, they came in and stuck together through some adversity.”
In the third quarter, it’d be tough to say anything other than it was another defensive slugfest. Wheelersburg and Meigs finished tied in the third 7-7 to push their one point margin at 21-20 into the fourth to decide who would walk away as a winner.
Tanner Holden finishing 4/4 from the free throw line down the stretch in the fourth, J.J. Truitt sacrificing himself to take a charge with 1:11 left in the game, Matthew Miller securing a big offensive rebound after Holden’s miss to put Connor Mullins at the line for clutch free throws, and Mullins’ alley oop off the backboard to Holden with :25 seconds left to put the Pirates up five. All were moments that made Pirate nation stand on their feet, and all moments that were crucial in the Pirates run to close out their win over Meigs, 35-28.
Following their win, Wheelersburg advances to the Division III district semifinals where they’ll face the winner of North Adams and Piketon at the Convo in Athens at 6:00 p.m. Saturday March 2nd.
As postseason play continues into March for the Pirates, Ater continues to remind his team to take their postseason run one game at a time, and keep having a short memory.
“We’re able to work another week,” said Ater. “And that’s what we kind of talked about before. We’re not 22-0, we’re 1-0 now. And really, we’re 0-0 now because last game doesn’t matter anymore. You win, or you go home. Our guys are excited to be able to play together again and being able to play at Athens is a special thing.”
Wheelersburg: 3-11-7-14 – 35
Meigs: 12-1-7-8 – 28
Wheelersburg: 11 FG, 2 3PT (Holden, Truitt 1), 11/18 FT. Scoring: Holden 18, Truitt 8, Mullins 3, T. Salyers 2, Darnell 2, Miller 2
Meigs: 8 FG, 2 3PT (Z. Bartrum, Baer 1), 10/13 FT. Scoring: Z. Bartram 17, Baer 11
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT