ATHENS – It wasn’t easy by any means. Alexander even took the lead for a brief period early in the fourth quarter.
But, like this Wheelersburg team has done so far this postseason and through each of their regular season games that has helped lead to their perfect 25-0 start, they fought through adversity, and did so to the tune of a 53-43 district title win over Albany Alexander, their second consecutive district title win and the program’s 20th district title.
“We were really locked in defensively, as a group,” said Pirates head coach Steven Ater following Wheelersburg’s double digit win over the Spartans Saturday at the Convo. “Teams are going to score on you every now and then cause you’re facing good opponent’s so they got some things we would have rather not let them get. But all of our guys really stepped up defensively.”
Wheelersburg’s defensive efforts Saturday night didn’t just help the Pirates win, it was the main reason they won. After Alexander took a 39-37 lead in the early portion of the fourth, Wheelersburg finished the game on a 16-4 run to help secure their double digit victory.
The Pirates shot just 2/19 from behind the arc, but that fact is irrelevant in the course of Saturday’s win as they were able to hold Alexander to just 18/59 from the field.
“Everyone asked me how you guard the big kid (Caleb Terry) inside, and honestly I don’t know because we don’t play 6’11” kids too often,” said Ater. “But I told our kids, we face a lot of that in the summer time. That’s when you try and challenge your kids in the offseason so when we see that in tournament time, it’s not a shock to us. So we tried that, and one of our key’s was taking away #3 (J.K. Kearns, Alexander’s point guard who finished 1/14 from the field) and making sure we took away their corner threes from their catch and shoot guys.”
Sophomores Carter McCorkle and Matthew Miller may have only combined for four points on 2/9 shooting from the field, but it’s the valuable minutes in the other aspects of the game that M&M gave that helped propel the Pirates to their second consecutive district title. Without them and their production on the defensive end and ability to facilitate on the offensive end, Wheelersburg may have saw the Spartans cut down the nets at the Convo instead of themselves.
“Carter, in the past two weeks, hasn’t gotten a lot of time,” said Ater. “He didn’t get in during our sectional final because of the pace of that game and got in the last two or three minutes of the North Adams game, that’s just an example of a kid being ready when called upon and working his butt off in practice. We’ve been talking to our younger guys about the value of getting on the floor during tournament play and getting a full week to prepare for teams, and it’s been great to see them excel in their minutes tonight.”
Tanner Holden was the best player on the court for either team, again. That’s been the case all season long and may be the case for the rest of the Pirates postseason run as the Wright State signee finished with a ho-hum 27 points and a game high 14 rebounds, both game highs, including going 8/10 from the free throw line over the course of Saturday night’s contest.
Following their win over Alexander, Wheelersburg advances to the regional semifinals where they’ll meet Sandy Valley following their 67-53 district final win over Garaway Friday night, the school’s first since 1990.
“We don’t want to make it one more step, we want to get two more. If you look at the next step being Columbus, that’s been our goal all year long,” said Ater. “We’re not going to hide from that fact. And to do that, you’ve got to go through a really good Sandy Valley team, and a team that we don’t really know that much about really except that they’ve fought through and had a really tough and convincing win over Garaway who’s here almost every year. You’re going to know have to learn about them, get to know them, and turnaround and come back right here on Thursday and play.”
Wheelersburg and Sandy Valley will do battle next Thursday night in Athens at the Convo with a spot in the regional finals on the line.
Wheelersburg: 17-10-10-16 – 53
Alexander: 11-8-17-7 – 43
Wheelersburg: 20/55 FG, 2/19 3PT, 11/19 FT. Scoring: Holden 27, Salyers 12, Truitt 7, McCorkle 4, Darnell 3
Alexander: 18/59 FG, 4/24 3PT, 3/4 FT. Scoring: Mecum 13, Riley 12, Terry 10, Kearns 3, Brown 3, Markins 2