LUCASVILLE — The Lady Pirates played their first game a week behind almost everybody else.
But, Wheelersburg — easily arguably — already looks like it is at the front of the line.
That’s because the Lady Pirates, in their season and Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball opener on Monday night, visited the Valley Indians — and appeared to play in many points already in mid-season form.
Wheelersburg took advantage of 27 Indian turnovers, and dominated on the boards, en route to pulling away from Valley for a 69-46 victory on the Indians’ reservation.
Wheelersburg started its season late, in part, due to its volleyball team’s tournament run — all the way to the Division III state semifinals in which several Lady Pirates play.
The Pirates graduated just two seniors off last season’s stellar 20-5 club, which included the outright SOC II championship — and a run to the regional championship tilt.
But three solid starters return, Brittani Wolfenbarker is a main move-in from Minford, and some younger Lady Pirates provide exceptional depth to a squad that is favored to repeat as conference champions.
“We played a lot of kids. Even before the fourth quarter. I thought we were going to be able to play that many, but you never know until game one hits,” said Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin. “For game one, I thought we did a lot of good things. We reminded them of a lot of things we can do better, because we need to finish opportunities around the basket better and we need to shoot better from the foul line, but I will take this kind of game one any day. Everybody’s roles are changing, we’re integrating some younger kids, but I thought our kids, for the most part tonight, played hard and well.”
Wheelersburg did score well — with the usual suspects and standouts of Alaina Keeney, Kaylee Darnell and Ellie Kallner combining for 55 of the Lady Pirates’ 69 points.
Keeney went off for a game-high 20 points on eight total field goals and a split of third-quarter free throws, Darnell drained 19 points on six total field goals and 4-of-7 foul shots, and Kallner collected 16 points on six total baskets and 3-of-5 freebies.
The Lady Pirates splashed seven three-point goals, including three apiece by Keeney and Darnell — and one by Kallner off a missed free throw which made it 29-20 with three minutes and 43 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Wolfenbarker and Makenna Walker each finished with five points, as all of Walker’s were in the opening period.
Against Valley, Wheelersburg scored 14 points apiece in the second and fourth quarters — after going off for 20 and 21 points in the opening quarters of each half.
The Lady Pirates did trail 5-0 only a minute-and-a-half in, but a 20-7 run over the final six-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter had Wheelersburg where it wanted to be — in control of the situation.
Two areas that absolutely stood out included turnovers and offensive rebounds, as Valley was beset by its 27 giveaways — which led directly to several Pirate points, or at least shots, off steals in transition.
When Wheelersburg wasn’t running through the passing lanes or intercepting the ball from Valley, it was crushing the Indians on the glass — including a staggering 16-0 offensive advantage in the first half.
Yes that’s correct.
Not a single solitary first-half offensive rebound for the Lady Indians, part of a 24-8 total tripling up in the opening 16 minutes.
“I thought we rebounded really well, especially offensively,” said Spradlin. “I thought our kids used their quickness to get to some second shots, even some third shots.”
Valley coach Mark Merritt said his team’s turnovers and second-shot chances by Wheelersburg “were just pitiful”.
“It was killing us. I think they had 14 offensive rebounds in the first half. We knew they were going to shoot long shots and there are going to be long rebounds, but we just didn’t execute our plan. You can’t give ‘Burg second chances. Then our passing was terrible. They were in the passing lanes, and we couldn’t get a back door cut or anything. Wheelersburg is a quick team, and were playing right with them until we started throwing the ball away,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do, starting back up tomorrow.”
Karsyn Conaway, playing sick and unable to start the third quarter, kept the Lady Indians in the game in the opening half — scoring 15 points on six field goals and a split of second-stanza free throws.
She didn’t score again until six minutes remained in the fourth — with Wheelersburg winning at that point 59-45.
“Karsyn showed a lot of courage going out there and playing sick. She threw up right before the start of the third, but came back out and gave us everything she had,” said Merritt.
Conaway opened with a trey and a deuce for Valley’s 5-0 lead, and then connected for her other three on the opening possession of the second quarter — making it 20-15.
However, her illness kept her on the bench until almost the five-minute mark of the third — as the Lady Pirates opened up a 41-27 advantage after a three-ball by Darnell and a basket by Kallner.
Eight unanswered — deuces by Keeney and Darnell and a three from Keeney — ballooned the lead to 49-29, before Bre Call with one three and Caitlin Kennard with three triples got the Lady Indians to within 52-41.
“A couple of times, we were slow to get to some of the shooters, but give them credit because they made the shots,” said Spradlin.
However, Keeney answered Kennard’s final trifecta with one of her own — beating the third-quarter buzzer off the wing and hitting a huge shot to give the Lady Pirates momentum entering the fourth.
“We got it down to 11 (52-41) by hitting some nice shots, but not going out and guarding Keeney on that last shot was a missed assignment. Especially with three seconds left in the quarter, you make her go around you. You don’t let her shoot an open three,” said Merritt. “That was a big bucket.”
In the fourth frame, all the Lady Indians amounted were a pair of Brooklyn Buckle free throws at the 6:23 mark, Conaway’s bucket just 23 seconds later, and finally Lucie Ashkettle splitting a pair of foul shots at the three-minute point.
In addition to Conaway’s 17 and Kennard’s 12, Buckle and Call added eight points apiece on three field goals — as Call canned two threes.
Kennard’s first-quarter three at the six-minute mark answered a Keeney basket and gave Valley its largest lead at 8-2, but Keeney’s first three — followed by a Kallner free throw and a fancy spin-move by Darnell in the lane that produced an old-fashioned three-point play 45 seconds later — put the Lady Pirates in front at 9-8.
Wheelersburg would not trail for the final 29 minutes and 15 seconds, as Darnell’s corner-pocket three, Walker’s three-point play, and another Darnell downtown goal made it 18-10.
Conaway actually scored seven straight for Valley, capped off by her three for the 20-15 deficit only a dozen seconds into the second quarter, but the Indians never got closer the remainder of the way.
“Give Wheelersburg credit,” said Merritt. “They were quicker than us, they outplayed us and they outhustled us.”
The Indians are now 1-2 — but already 0-for-2 in the SOC II.
Valley returns to league play on Thursday, as the Indians are at undefeated Northwest.
Meanwhile, Wheelersburg will host West — with that feeling that the Lady Pirates, despite starting a week behind, are already in front of the proverbial line.
Although, Spradlin said there is always room for improvement — and that Wheelersburg will get everybody’s best shot.
The Pirates play a pair of three-game weeks to open the season — with SOC II affairs for Monday and Thursday and against Ohio Valley Conference opponents on this (at Chesapeake on Dec. 7) and next (at South Point on Dec. 14) Saturday.
“We have several kids who can play. We challenged them at the start of the preseason and we’re going to challenge them again. We told them that we HAVE to keep getting better, and if they want to get better, then we’re going to coach them,” said Spradlin.”Our kids, right now, are very excited about the opportunity that they have and we have to just keep getting better each day.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 20 14 21 14 — 69
Valley 12 13 16 5— 46
WHEELERSBURG 69 (1-0, 1-0 SOC II)
Annie Coriell 0 0-0 0, Lauren Jolly 0 0-0 0, Madison Whittaker 0 0-0 0, Brynley Preston 1 0-0 2, Brittani Wolfenbarker 2 1-2 5, Lani Irwin 0 0-0 0, Alaina Keeney 8 1-2 20, Isabella Hamilton 0 0-0 0, Ellie Kallner 6 3-5 16, Kaylee Darnell 6 4-7 19, Lindsey Heimbach 0 0-1 0, Makenna Walker 2 1-1 5, Lexie Rucker 0 0-0 0, Macee Eaton 1 0-0 2; TOTALS 26 10-18 69; Three-point goals: 7 (Alaina Keeney and Kaylee Darnell 3 apiece, Ellie Kallner 1)
VALLEY 46 (1-2, 0-2 SOC II)
Brooklyn Buckle 3 2-4 8, Lucie Ashkettle 0 1-2 1, Bre Call 3 0-0 8, Caitlin Kennard 4 0-0 12, Natalie Buckle 0 0-0 0, Karsyn Conaway 7 1-2 17, Haley Whitt 0 0-0 0, Emma Fitch 0 0-0 0, Rylee Johnson 0 0-0 0, Nichole Gilliland 0 0-0 0, MacKenzie Wright 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 17 4-8 46; Three-point goals: 8 (Caitlin Kennard 4, Bre Call and Karsyn Conaway 2 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved