LOGAN — All good things must come to an end.
With a 61-23 loss to state-ranked Berlin Hiland in a Division III regional final, Wheelersburg’s magical, drama-filled — and some would say improbable — tournament run reached its conclusion Saturday afternoon.
But not before a doubted, questioned group habitually hushed its critics en route to an Elite Eight berth. When it comes down to it, the Pirates were the last Scioto County team standing.
“People doubted us and really questioned whether or not we had enough to win our conference,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “We were told the sectional title was a little bit of a stretch and, certainly, the district title was out of reach. Then we win in dramatic fashion to get to this matchup … I’m just really proud of our girls.”
The Hawks (25-2) darted out to a 6-0 lead early, never trailed, and used their size to bully the Pirates (23-5) on the glass. Put simply, Wheelersburg was outmatched on paper and it showed on the floor as Spradlin’s group was outrebounded by a 38-14 count.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Spradlin said. “We knew coming in that we needed to play well early. The problem was that we were trying to replicate [Hiland’s] physicality and that pace. We struggled with that. They gave themselves a pretty good cushion. When we have to go out and guard a little bit further, it opens us up and they have kids in the post. Just a nightmare.”
After taking an early 6-0 lead, the Hawks built advantages of 14-4 and 35-7. However, as they have all year long, the Pirates kept fighting. Thanks to 3-point field goals from Ellie Kallner, Alaina Keeney and Abbie Kallner, Wheelersburg went into halftime down 35-16 after a 9-0 run.
But in the end, the Hawks’ offense, led by sophomore and the Division III East District Player of the Year Zoe Miller, was too much to handle.
“We worked so hard on defense to try and get a stop. Then we had to go on the other end and work just as hard, or harder, to get good shots,” Spradlin said. “That’s the story of the whole game. We didn’t play enough bodies and they rotated a bunch of kids. They all can shoot it.”
The loss forces the Pirates to say goodbye to seniors Abbie Kallner and Karlie Estep … two names who have been instrumental in the program’s success.
“Those two kids have been our heart and soul all year long,” Spradlin said. “The real rewarding thing is, those two have displayed great toughness and leadership. They just get along with each other and have shown great love for each other. At the end of the day, what more could you want? Those two will be so successful going forward in life. They’ve represented our team, our school and our community well. You can’t be anything but proud of what they’ve done here.”
Looking towards the future
While Kallner and Estep’s absence will leave two big holes to fill, the cupboard is certainly not bare.
Kallner’s sister Ellie, alongside the team’s top scorer Kaylee Darnell and fellow starter Alaina Keeney, will all return. The same goes for Lauren Jolly, Lani Irwin and Isabella Hamilton.
This year, the Pirates were doubted. Next year, they’ll be favored.
“The one thing that will definitely be different next year is the expectation,” Spradlin said. “When the time is right, we’ll worry about that. We have to get better. All of our girls have been heroes in some way at some point this season. What we have to do, which we always have to do … roles change. Someone will have to step up and be a leader.”
Abbie Kallner led the Pirates with eight points, three rebounds and two assists while Darnell added seven points, two boards and two assists. Keeney also helped out, scoring three points and bringing down a team-high four rebounds.
Miller led the Hawks with 16 points and 18 rebounds while Morgan Yoder had 16 points as well.