ATHENS – For the second consecutive season, the Wheelersburg Pirates (24-0) will be heading to the Division III district finals with a district semifinal win over North Adams (18-5) Saturday afternoon at the Convocation Center in Athens, 58-39.
After starting off their sectional against Meigs slower than usual to the tune of a 12-0 deficit that ultimately turned into a 35-28 Pirates win, Wheelersburg was determined to get out the gate on the right foot.
An early three by Connor Mullins, a basket by Tanner Holden, and two free throws for each Mullins and Holden helped make that possible as Wheelersburg held a 9-6 lead after the first quarter and continued to coast from there thanks to their strong defensive play.
“I think that was the key for us,” said Wheelersburg head coach Steven Ater following the Pirates win over North Adams Saturday night. “We were able to cushion our lead and they weren’t able to hold the ball on us like teams are trying to do against us now.”
After just a three point separation following the first quarter, Wheelersburg would win the final three quarters 49-33 over North Adams. The biggest separation between the two came in the fourth quarter, a frame in which the Pirates won 22-14 while playing reserves for the final few possessions.
Trent Salyers’ play on the defensive end was key for Wheelersburg, as was all of the defensive efforts from those who touched the floor in Saturday night’s contest for the Pirates. In the third quarter alone, Salyers made his presence known by grabbing three of his five steals, all of which were crucial in helping Wheelersburg extend their lead.
“I thought Trent gave us a nice boost in the third quarter,” said Ater. “He got in some foul trouble in the first half, comes back out and hits a three in the third. But I was really impressed with him getting out in the passing lanes, deflecting the ball, and getting some steals that helped ignite our break.”
Wheelersburg was led in scoring by, you guessed it, Tanner Holden and J.J. Truitt who finished with 21 and 16 respectively.
Even though the Pirates shot just 20% from behind the three point line at a 4/20 clip, they were still able to hold on and win by a 19 point margin. That statement alone should scare future opponents when preparing for this Wheelersburg team.
A season ago, in their season that resulted in a district championship and a regional semifinals appearance, the Pirates were able to play three games on the Ohio University’s Convocation Center floor, a fact that Ater believes helped his team settle in to their game against North Adams earlier than other teams who hadn’t yet been to that stage might have been able to.
“We knew that this was going to be their first time here,” said Ater on the Green Devils. “The first time you’re here it’s kind of eye opening. You look around, and you’re kind of in awe of all the surroundings. Our kids came out and knew there was business to attend to. Coming to the Convo is always special because you’re able to play in the district tournament, but we have bigger goals. We knew this would be one step we would have to make to be able to check off those boxes down the line.”
Following the Pirates district semifinal win over North Adams, one seeded Wheelersburg will square off against six seeded Alexander next Saturday night with a district title on the line. For Ater and the Pirates, they know what lies in wait next Saturday and what it’ll take to achieve their second consecutive district title.
“Thankful to have another game with these guys, get ready for next Saturday and play for a district championship. I think that’s been our goal all year long. We kind of have our sights set on advancing out of the Convo, and to do that you’ve got to get this next game so you can advance to the regional level. Alexander is a team determined to not let that happen, we’ll get a chance to go get ready for them next week.”
The Pirates and the Spartans will do battle next Saturday from the Convocation Center in Athens, tipoff will be at approximately 8:00 p.m.
Wheelersburg: 9-13-14-22 – 58
North Adams: 6-9-10-14 – 39
Wheelersburg: 19 FG, 4 3PT (Mullins, Salyers, Truitt, Holden 1), 16/24 FT. Scoring: Holden 21, Truitt 16, T. Salyers 7, Mullins 7, Miller 4, McCorkle 2, Maxie 1
North Adams: 16 FG, 4 3PT (S. Meade 2, E. Young 2), 3/4 FT. Scoring: S. Meade 10, McCormick 10, E. Young 8, C. Young 4, Rothwell 4, Hesler 3
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT