WAVERLY — Late in the second half of Saturday’s Division III district final at Waverly’s Downtown Arena, sisters Abbie and Ellie Kallner shared a moment.
The pair, visibly engaged with each other’s words, made a pinky promise. With fingers interlocked, senior Abbie asked sophomore Ellie a simple question.
“She said, “Promise me you’ll continue to give me 110 percent and that you won’t stop what you’re doing,’” Ellie Kallner said. “It was a special moment for us.”
The day, as a whole, was special for Wheelersburg’s entire roster.
Behind the play of Abbie and Ellie, alongside teammates Kaylee Darnell, Alaina Keeney, Karlie Estep and Lauren Jolly, the Pirates handed top-seeded Eastern Brown a 50-39, winning their first district crown since 2015.
“We stayed together throughout the whole thing,” Abbie Kallner said. “I think that’s what makes the difference for our team. We’re best friends. We’re all rooting for each other and that’s boosts your confidence.”
One again, the Pirates (21-4) entered Saturday’s contest as underdogs and once again, they hushed their doubters.
“I think [Eastern Brown] was the bigger team,” Estep said. “We were just physical. We worked hard. We didn’t give up and even when we messed up, we shook it off and kept going.”
It was a game the Pirates never trailed in. After darting out to a 6-0 lead, Wheelersburg used that bit of momentum to wear down the Warriors’ zone defense with quickness and shot selection.
And when the Pirates had open shots, they hit them.
“The effort we all put into the game is what helped me,” Ellie Kallner said. “Seeing my teammates succeed gives me the confidence to do that myself. This win is just awesome. It’s just awesome to put this program back in regionals.”
And … there could be another pinky promise in the future.
“I could see how bad [Abbie] wanted this,” Ellie Kallner said. “We won it. That’s what matters to me most.”
Tale of the tape
Behind two 3’s via Alaina Keeney and Kaylee Darnell, the Pirates took an early 6-0 lead with 5:51 left in the first quarter. That was the start of a wire-to-wire district championship win.
Darnell hit two free throws to make it 10-3 before Eastern’s Camryn Pickerill hit a 3, cutting the lead to 10-6. Later Keeney scored with 57.2 seconds left, producing the quarter’s final of 12-8.
In the second, the Pirates continued to hit open shots. Kallner scored at the 6:51 mark, Ellie Kallner hit a 3 with 2:55 left, and Keeney scored at the buzzer, giving Wheelersburg a 26-17 lead at halftime.
Keeney hit two free throws to begin the third, just before Darnell gave the Pirates their largest lead of the day at 31-17 with a deep ball. That double-digit advantage stayed intact until the beginning of the fourth as the Pirates led 36-24 after three.
Not much changed in the fourth. The Warriors got to within six at 42-36 but down the stretch, Wheelersburg nailed down its free throws, and with them, a win.
Darnell led all scorers with 17 points while Abbie Kallner had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. Keeney also had 11 points, and Ellie Kallner finished with six points and eight boards.
For the Warriors (23-3), Allison Malott had 12 points and eight rebounds, Mackenzie Gloff added nine points and eight boards, Pickerill scored six points, and Alexa Pennington ended the day with three points and seven rebounds.
What’s on tap
Wheelersburg advances to take on McConnelsville Morgan in a Division III regional semifinal at 8 p.m., Wednesday at Logan High School.
The Raiders were 46-44 winners over Bellaire Saturday afternoon. The district title is the first in Morgan’s school history.
“It’s going to take the same things that it took today,” Abbie Kallner said. “We’ve got to have grit, we’ve got to be tough and we’ve got to stick together. Boxing out is extremely important for our team. Other than that, we just have to be us.”
Wheelersburg: 12-14-10-14 — 50
Eastern Brown: 8-9-7-15 — 39
Wheelersburg: 15-38 FG, 14-21 FT, 6-18 3pt. (E. Kallner 2, Darnell 2), 22 rebounds (E. Kallner 8), 4 turnovers, 8 assists (A. Kallner 4). Scoring: Darnell 17, A. Kallner 11, Keeney 11, E. Kallner 6, Jolly 3, Estep 2.
Eastern Brown: 15-40 FG, 5-11 FT, 4-10 3pt. (Pickerill 2), 32 rebounds (Malott 8, Gloff 8), 13 turnovers, 5 assists (Malott 2, Reynolds 2). Scoring: Malott 12, Gloff 8, Pickerill 6, Pennington 6, Reynolds 4, Frost 3.