LOGAN — While some strange — and even spooky — things tend to happen on Halloween, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates weren’t about to allow any such to actually occur.
As a result, the Lady Pirates are still playing “perfect” volleyball into November.
That’s because undefeated Wheelersburg, despite pushed to its limit unlike any other match in all 26 this season, won in straight games on Thursday night in the Division III regional semifinals — sweeping the underdog Adena Warriors 25-23, 28-26 and 25-23 inside Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
With the victory, the Lady Pirates pressed on to a now 26-0 record, added on to their historic and astonishing sets played and sets won mark — and most importantly advanced to their first “Elite Eight” appearance in school history.
For those into counting, the Lady Pirates extended their sets-played and sets-won streak — as they have now played 73 games this season…with 73 wins.
Of those 73, exactly a dozen are along this tournament trail — but Wheelersburg coach Allen Perry said simply, with a smile, “these were the toughest three”.
“For us to be pushed like that to that limit and to still come out on top, it says a lot about the character of our girls,” said Perry. “I was just really pleased with how we maintained our focus when we had our backs against the wall. We just pushed through it. That’s what’s so special about this team.”
By this point, the thought of the Lady Pirates losing a match — or even a set — seems scary, but the young Lady Warriors went right to the wire with Wheelersburg in all three games.
Indeed, the first and third games were tied at 23-23, and Adena even had set point at 24-23 in the middle game.
But the Lady Pirates pulled off the final two points in both the opening and closing sets, sandwiched around rallying for an incredible 28-26 overtime triumph in the second.
In the end, all that matters is that Wheelersburg lives to play another day — which will next be on Saturday and right back at Logan, for the right to play next week at the coveted Division III state tournament.
The Lady Pirates play Berlin Hiland in the Region 11 championship match, as the Hawks — which swept Huntington 25-13, 25-10 and 25-17 in Thursday’s other semifinal at Logan — hold an equally-impressive record of now 26-1.
First serve is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday in Jim Myers Gymnasium.
The Hawks’ lone loss is against Tuscarawas Valley, a name which Wheelersburg fans probably consider a ghost.
That’s because Tusky Valley has eliminated the Pirates from the past two tournaments, including in last season’s regional semifinals — in which Wheelersburg was 27-0.
But with no Tusky Valley anywhere near Logan this year, the Pirates’ plans for a regional final berth looked more realistic — assuming they could get past the determined and upset-minded Lady Warriors.
That they did, although Adena made Wheelersburg work for it unlike any opponent has all season.
Prior to Thursday, only Southeastern in the district championship match had scored 23 points in any one set on the Lady Pirates.
The Lady Warriors accomplished that in all three sets, and twice trailed 16-9 while trailing 15-9 in all three games.
In fact, in game three, Wheelersburg led 19-12 after a pair of kills by standout middle hitter Kylee Barney— sandwiched around a Warrior hitting error.
An Alli McQuay kill gave the Lady Pirates a 22-16 advantage, but seven straight stunning Warrior points and two Wheelersburg timeouts later, Adena amounted a 23-22 lead following the fourth kill in that stretch by Makenna Lovely.
But with the tall 6-foot-2 and long Barney out of the rotation at the time, sophomore Ryleigh Meeker made sure the Pirates played no more sets on Thursday night.
She nailed down three consecutive kills, the final of which clinched the match — and for straight set win 73.
Meeker mustered 11 kills, and took over the offense along with the senior co-captain McQuay when Barney was on the bench and out of the rotation.
“She (Meeker) is a special sophomore. She can come up with big kills at any time,” said Perry. “We can’t say enough good things about her. Her maturity as a sophomore has been key.”
But Barney, of course, was the center of attention whenever she was on the floor.
She paced the Lady Pirates with 16 kills and eight blocks, as McQuay followed right behind with 15 kills and three blocks.
The tallest Lady Warrior was 5-foot-11, but the Pirates played a different style on Thursday against defensive-minded Adena— employing easier tip kills or basic blocks at the net.
“We knew Adena was going to be tough with that defense. We had to play different and we weren’t swinging away as much. We were trying to find some holes that they had which weren’t very many, and we just played a shorter game,” said Perry. “Kylee (Barney) came up with some big blocks. And not only did she have her big swings tonight, she actually had a couple tip kills that she doesn’t usually have. When she comes back on the floor, we not only get an uplift of energy, but also confidence.”
Lauren Jolly set for 48 assists, as Mallory Bergan bagged three blocks in addition to a team-high 16 defensive digs.
McQuay and libero Kaylee Darnell delivered 14 digs apiece.
The third game was likely closer than it needed to be, given the Pirates’ dramatic second-set win — and a fast 5-1 start in the third before a 10-minute power outage.
A Meeker kill and ace made it 2-0, before kills by Barney and Bergan and an Emily Boggs ace made it 5-1.
Boggs actually should have been awarded a second ace point, as her serve landed over the net unreturned at the exact moment the lights in Jim Myers Gymnasium went out.
Once power was restored, the Warriors scored three consecutive points to get within 5-4, but Wheelersburg regained its focus to eventually extend its advantage to seven points twice — at 16-9 and 19-12.
It then had to really refocus after the Warriors surged ahead with five straight points to take their only lead of the game at 23-22.
“When we get behind in a game, it’s really simple how we get it back tied or back ahead. We execute and get that one point and then it’s a new game for the next point. When we ask these girls to dig deep, they respond,” said Perry.
The Lady Pirates really had to dig deep in the second game, which featured seven lead changes — and ties of 2-2, 3-3, 6-6, 16-16, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20, 22-22, 23-23, 24-24, 25-25 and finally 26-26.
Bergan’s back-to-back aces gave Wheelersburg its largest lead of the set at 15-9, as Adena’s largest lead was only two points four times, including at 18-16 after the Warriors went on a 9-1 run — including a pair of Lovely aces.
The two teams exchanged leads once more, as Lovely kills made it 23-22 and 24-23 — and with Barney out of the rotation.
But Meeker booked-ended kills with McQuay to put the Pirates back in front 27-26, as Barney promptly returned — and smashed a hard cross-court kill for the emphatic game-winner.
“In that second set, we went back to our strength of executing our offense and swinging away more,” said Perry. “Let’s swing and make them react. But again, it was our focus. All we have to do is execute two points. Let’s execute these two or three points. We didn’t get those big runs that we normally get, so we had to get it back by a point or two or three.”
The Pirates got those two closing points in the opening game, as they never trailed — but saw a 16-9 lead evaporate into ties of 20-20, 21-21 and finally 23-23 on back-to-back kills by Hannah Burns.
But Wheelersburg called a timeout, and after Adena returned with a hitting error, a beautiful Barney kill off a picture-perfect set by Jolly ended the game.
“I think every girl we gave a gameplan to, they were able to pick and choose their shots and find some of those holes in Adena’s defense. We didn’t have those big spike kills like we usually do, but you’re not going to against a team like this,” said Perry.
The tradition-rich Warriors, which graduate just one senior, finish the year at 18-8.
Wheelersburg, meanwhile, will get its shot at the regional championship against a powerful Hiland squad — and an excellent opportunity at playing volleyball well beyond Halloween.
“Hiland is a good team, isn’t it?,” said an impressed Perry. “We got a good scouting report in, but we have our work cut out for us. They are a good team without too many weaknesses. But we’re going to give it our best and see how the dice come out.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved