LOGAN — Lani Irwin didn’t call “bank.” But in the final seconds of Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal, she was straight money.
With 10.9 seconds left in regulation and Wheelersburg trailing McConnelsville Morgan 55-53, Abbie Kallner brought the ball up the floor and found Kaylee Darnell in the high post.
Darnell, dribbling through traffic, found a cutting Ellie Kallner with 4.8 seconds remaining.
With under three seconds remaining, Ellie Kallner, unable to find an open shot, found Lani Irwin on the left shoulder … and Irwin signed, sealed and delivered a trip to a regional final.
“I knew the clock was low, I knew we needed a shot,” Irwin said. “I yelled to Ellie, ‘Shot!’ She threw it to me and I just threw it up there, and it went in. I honestly didn’t see it go in. I saw it hit the backboard and I heard everyone scream. So I figured I should start jumping. It was crazy.”
Yes, yes it was.
Irwin’s buzzer-beater gave the Pirates a 56-55 win and their first lead since early in the second quarter. What makes it better? She scored three points all night long.
“When Lani hit that shot, I took her hand and asked her if she wanted to get married,” senior Abbie Kallner said. “Like, oh my goodness. Then, I was just making sure she wasn’t going to fall with everybody surrounding her.”
Kallner was huge in her own way Wednesday evening. The senior ended the night with a game-high 20 points, 15 of which came in the second half alone.
“My last game was on the line,” Kallner said. “My dad [Aaron] and I had a talk at halftime and he was like, ‘You’ve been working so hard and you’ve done all this … this is not going to be your last game. This is not where you stop. He was right. I was just motivated I guess.”
The same could be said of sophomore Kaylee Darnell.
Darnell was held scoreless in the first two quarters. She erupted for 10 in the third and added five more in the fourth.
“Coach [Dusty Spradlin] just told us to never stop fighting,” Darnell said. “He told us we were the underdogs in this game and to not stop fighting. Keep pushing, keep punching. It means so much to get one more game with these girls. So happy for Lani. Biggest shot of her life.”
Tale of the tape
Kallner and Alaina Keeney teamed up to give Wheelersburg (23-4) a 4-0 lead right off the bat. Kallner then hit a 3 with 3:30 left before Ellie Kallner nailed two free throws, putting the lead at 9-2. But Morgan ended the quarter on a 4-0 run, cutting the lead to 9-6, and starting a trend.
The Raiders (18-8) ripped off nine straight points to start the second, pushing the run to 13-0 and given themselves a 15-9 lead. Ellie Kallner ended the run with a 3 at the 5:34 mark but Morgan wasn’t quite done throwing punches.
By halftime, the Raiders’ lead was 26-17 after outscoring Wheelersburg by a 20-8 margin in the second.
“We’ve never been down nine at halftime in a win this year,” Abbie Kallner said. “The message at halftime was to keep our heads up. We were made for that. Everyone expected us to be down anyways. People predicted that we’d lose by 12. We took that to heart.”
Abbie, alongside Darnell and Keeney, did the swinging in the third.
Darnell made it 26-20 with a 3 before hitting another triple at the 2:33 mark to cut the deficit to five at 33-28. Keeney kept the lead at five, 39-34, thanks to a jumper at the one-minute mark, but the Pirates eventually headed into the final eight minutes down seven at 42-35.
With 6:09 left in the fourth, Abbie Kallner made it a four-point game at 44-40 before Darnell hit two free throws with 3:51 left, making it 46-44. When Abbie Kallner scored at the 3:31 mark, the Pirates forced the first tie score, at 46-46, since the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Still, Morgan went up 52-48 with 1:26 remaining. Abbie Kallner hit a bucket on the other end, but the Pirates were forced to foul. Trailing 54-50, Darnell drilled a deep ball with 17.6 seconds left.
That set the stage for Morgan to hit one of two free throw tries and for Irwin to step into the hero role.
Abbie Kallner led all scorers with 20 points alongside three assists while Darnell finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Keeney had nine points, six rebounds and three assists, and Ellie Kallner ended with eight points.
Riley Coon paced the Raiders with 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds while Kaylie Apperson added nine points. Kara Hopkins also had nine points and seven rebounds.
What’s on tap
The Pirates advance to a Division III regional final, where they’ll face Berlin Hiland — a 59-30 win over Alexander Wednesday. That contest is slated for 1:30 p.m., Saturday at Logan High School.
“Season’s not over,” Darnell said. “We just have to be us and keep fighting. We’re always the underdog. So we just have to keep going.”