LUCASVILLE — In more ways than one on Tuesday night, the Wheelersburg Pirates — finally — got things going.
Indeed, the Pirates — at long last — played their boys basketball season opener after everyone else except Ironton, as has become customary given Wheelersburg’s recent run of success throughout the state football playoffs.
In visiting the youthful Valley Indians in their Southern Ohio Conference Division II opener as well, the defending division champion Pirates — eventually — started shaking off the doldrums from last having played an official Ohio High School Athletic Association contest clear back in mid-March of last year.
The new-look Pirates pulled away from the Indians over the middle two quarters — erupting for 18 unanswered points over almost exactly eight minutes and capturing a 63-35 victory on Valley’s reservation.
Wheelersburg went 26-1 a season ago, including a perfect 14-0 in steamrolling through the SOC II — and advanced all the way to the Division III regional championship tilt.
So with some new faces, and only three players returning with any amount of varsity experience in juniors J.J. Truitt (6-3), Carter McCorkle (6-4) and Matthew Miller (6-0), the Pirates pieced together a win — which they performed much better as the game went along.
The Pirates led the Indians 7-5 following the opening quarter, then doubled their point total in the second to lead 21-10 at halftime.
While the Indians scored as many third-period points (10) as they combined for in the first half, so too did Wheelersburg — which went off for 21 in the quarter and eventually ballooned its advantage to 33-10 at the 5:15 mark on a steal, layup and old-fashioned three-point play by Truitt.
“We challenged our older guys at halftime. The third quarter, you can’t ask for a better start,” said Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater. “We jumped out in the first three or four minutes and pushed the lead from 11 (21-10) to 23 (33-10) in a flash. Then we were able to press a little bit, get some turnovers off that, and I thought we did a pretty good job. It took them out of what they wanted to do offensively, and just disrupted their flow and rhythm.”
At that point, the Indians’ three primary freshmen were on the floor, while Wheelersburg only extended the lead from there — tallying 21 more markers in the fourth quarter and leading by as much 30 (57-27) on Truitt’s final points.
That was his third three-pointer, as he finished with a game-high 18 on six total field goals and 3-of-5 free throws.
While Wheelersburg’s offensive execution and sharpness are arguably behind its defense right now — effort, attitude and defense do indeed travel.
Those aspects joined the Pirates on their short trip up State Route 823 to Lucasville on Tuesday.
“I was really happy with what we did defensively. I thought we guarded really well and our quickness and our length bothered them. We sped them up into some easy looks, but they weren’t clean looks. To hold a team like that to 10 first-half points, give our guys a lot of credit,” said Ater. “Offensively, obviously, we were not very smooth, but we knew early that it’s just going to be that way with first-game jitters and anxiety and all that bottled up. We also have a lot of new guys out there on varsity for the first time. It’s guys that have been in the program for a couple of years, but it’s their first real meaningful playing time. They’ve sat behind some seniors that have been pretty successful the last couple of years.”
One of those seniors was Tanner Holden, the Southeast District Division III Player of the Year last season — who is now at Wright State University.
But Truitt was also an all-district performer, and overcame foul trouble to get his 18 points, including his second three-pointer with 6:20 remaining — which put the Pirates up 47-23.
His initial triple gave the Orange and Black its first lead at 3-2 just two-and-a-half minutes in, as Wheelersburg would lead for the final 25 minutes.
The Indians’ only advantages were 2-0 on a Dylan Ellis jumper just a minute and eight seconds in, followed by Ellis landing a three-pointer just two minutes and 40 seconds later.
However, Valley struggled shooting from that point on, missing many short-range shots and making young-player mistakes that frustrated second-year head coach Eric Horton.
The Indians didn’t score for the final 4:12 of the opening quarter, then didn’t score for the final 2:12 of the second — or the opening five minutes and 45 seconds of the third.
“We couldn’t make anything,” said Horton. “With about two minutes left to go in the first half, we were down five (15-10), and I thought we had a couple of shots to close it out. But we got going too fast, which is a freshman mistake, and we should have been coming in at halftime a two-possession game. Instead, we were down 11. We had more than enough opportunities to make easy shots around the basket. They just didn’t go in. If you have that happen against a team like Wheelersburg, they are going to do what they did tonight.”
The Indians’ only points of the second stanza were a George Arnett bucket, a Devin Stiltner split of free throws three minutes later at the 4:07 mark, and finally a driving layup by Kayden Mollette that made it 15-10 at the 2:12 point.
The Pirates then scored the next 18, only stopped when Mollete — who along with Arnett paced Valley with eight points —made his second of a team-high four field goals.
Trailing Truitt was Wheelersburg’s six-foot one-inch freshman Kenny Sanderlin, making his high school debut on Tuesday.
It was actually Sanderlin — and McCorkle — sparking the Pirates’ offense, as Sanderlin scored all 13 of his points in the middle two quarters on five field goals and 3-of-4 foul shots.
McCorkle chipped in a dozen points on four field goals and 4-of-8 first-half free throws, as his deuce with a minute remaining in the first quarter put the Pirates in front for good.
With 1:55 remaining before halftime, he scored off a Truitt assist to make it 17-10, as Sanderlin scored twice inside the final minute and 10 seconds — before McCorkle opened the second half with back-to-back baskets in the first 58 seconds.
Sanderlin sank two freebies for a 28-10 advantage, then got a rebound putback at the five-and-a-half minute mark before Truitt’s three-point play.
“We started getting some stops and running and getting transition baskets. I thought Kenny Sanderlin was really good in that run in the second and third quarters. He got some inside baskets. He is a mismatch for a lot of people,” said Ater. “He is a big strong young man and we have a high ceiling for him. A lot of improvement still to go, but he came out and gave us a lift right there.”
Ellis added seven points for Valley, scoring another basket just 33 seconds into the final period to make it 44-22 in favor of Wheelersburg.
The Indians also converted only 5-of-14 free throws, as freshmen Carter Nickel on two second-half field goals and Ty Perkins on Valley other’s three-ball were among the other Indian leaders.
But Horton hailed his young charges for playing hard against a good Pirate club all the way to the very end.
“Once they were able to pull ahead, they were able to relax and play a lot better than us. We started to push when we got behind. If we would have made our very high-percentage shots, I think it’s a different ballgame coming into halftime and in the second half,” said the coach. “Our kids played hard, regardless of what the scoreboard says. We just did not finish our possessions. We just have to keep competing and eventually some of those shots that we missed tonight are going to fall. Once that starts to happen for us, I think we will be a very good basketball team.”
Valley, which fell to 1-4 and 1-1 in the league, returns to SOC II action on Friday night — when it travels to Northwest.
Wheelersburg will play again on Friday night as well, and hosts Portsmouth West with its home opener.
But finally, the Pirates have got — and likely will continue to get — things going.
“A lot of improvement ahead of us, especially offensively, but this game was a good starting point,” said Ater.
* * *
Wheelersburg 7 14 21 21 — 63
Valley 5 5 10 15 — 35
WHEELERSBURG 63 (1-0, 1-0 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 1 0-0 2, Matthew Miller 2 1-2 5, Eli Swords 0 0-0 0, Aaron Masters 1 0-0 3, Jonah Lawson 0 0-0 0, Carter McCorkle 4 4-8 12, J.J. Truitt 6 3-5 18, Gage Adkins 2 0-0 4, Mason Montgomery 2 0-0 4, Brayden Wilson 1 0-0 2, Corey Maxie 0 0-0 0, Kenny Sanderlin 5 3-4 13; TOTALS 24 11-19 63; Three-point goals: 4 (J.J. Truitt 3, Aaron Masters 1)
VALLEY 35 (1-4, 1-1 SOC II)
George Arnett 3 2-2 8, Breckon Williams 0 0-0 0, Ty Perkins 1 0-2 3, Dylan Ellis 3 0-0 7, Carter Nickel 2 0-0 4, Kayden Mollette 4 0-4 8, Jared Gahm 1 0-0 2, Devon Stiltner 0 2-4 2, Bryce Stuart 0 1-2 1; TOTALS 14 5-14 35; Three-point goals: 2 (Ty Perkins and Dylan Ellis 1)
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