OAK HILL — You can’t quite call it a Christmas miracle, but what the Wheelersburg Pirates pulled off on Tuesday night at Oak Hill had to come close.
As the Oaks attempted to steal the Pirates’ proverbial Christmas, and earn a leg up in the early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship chase, the Pirates pulled off an impressive fourth-quarter comeback — and ultimately a key victory in their quest to go back-to-back atop the SOC II.
Trailing by nine entering the final quarter, and out of sorts at that juncture after adversity all throughout, Wheelersburg stunned Oak Hill by outscoring the Oaks 14-2 in the fourth — and escaped “The Nuthouse” with an improbable but gigantic 50-47 ‘W’.
With the victory, Wheelersburg — the defending division champion after Oak Hill held the title for two years — raised its record to 3-0 both ways, while the Oaks (5-1, 3-1 SOC II) are no longer undefeated.
It was also the Pirates’ fourth consecutive win over Oak Hill — which has one of the top workhorse players in Southeastern Ohio in six-foot, four-inch senior center Chase Hammond and longtime legendary head coach Norm Persin, who ranks third all-time in career coaching victories in the Buckeye State with 753.
However, for the here and now, Wheelersburg and Waverly are tied for the SOC II lead at 3-0 — with the Oaks now a game back in the loss column.
And, you have to consider this one an early Christmas present for the Pirates.
“We talk to our kids all the time about winning the moment. The moment tonight was winning each individual possession and getting each individual stop, and combine those up to that one moment to win the game. We did that,” said Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater. “In the fourth quarter, we put ourselves in position because we kept winning a few more little battles. We flipped to that 14-2 finish, and I really liked the way we came together tonight. We had a lot of great performances from a lot of different guys.”
The Pirates, prior to leading or being tied for the final two minutes and five seconds, had led only once at 14-12 at the five-and-a-half minute mark of the second quarter — after trailing 10-3 just four minutes and 53 seconds into the opening period.
In fact, Oak Hill had Wheelersburg down by nine on four occasions, including 28-19, 30-21, 43-34 and finally 45-36 at the end of the third frame — following Hammond’s first field goal of the second half after amassing 18 first-half points on a spectacular 9-of-10 shooting.
However, Hammond — and the Oaks — only amounted two more points the rest of the way, and those weren’t until only a minute and 40 seconds remained.
Meanwhile, the Pirates “pulled together” as Ater admitted — and put together a 14-point period that, truth be told, was really remarkable.
“I thought we saw a group come together after struggling to find our identity. We have a lot of new faces, mixing together for the first time. And that’s a whole lot of adversity we faced,” said the coach. “The ball started moving and we started trusting one another. I was really proud of how we came together like that, playing unselfish.”
Through the first three-and-a-half minutes, Eli Swords sank a three-pointer, J.J. Truitt split two free throws, and freshman Kenny Sanderlin scored off a Matthew Miller assist to get within 45-42.
Finally, a minute and 15 tics later, Truitt — the standout junior who had scored 18 points apiece in each of the Orange and Black’s opening two tilts — tagged the Oaks with arguably the shot of the night.
Truitt pulled up just inside the volleyball line, and from well outside the arc splashed the game-tying three-pointer.
Call it the shot heard ‘round Oak Hill, but you could hear the celebration all the way back in Wheelersburg.
“That’s just the confidence and the work J.J. has put in. He starts to step into that shot, and we all felt like it was going in,” said Ater. “For him to step through, and clear his mind and have the confidence to knock that down, just really proud of him.”
But, the Pirates weren’t done.
With 2:05 to play, the Pirates pushed in front 47-45 — only their second lead and first in 19 minutes and 25 seconds after initially leading for only 17 seconds.
Carter McCorkle made the go-ahead bucket — right underneath the rim and on a drop-off dump-off pass from Swords.
After Hammond had the game-tying basket 25 seconds later, which turned out to be the Oaks’ only points of the entire quarter, Sanderlin sank a pair of clutch free throws for a 49-47 Wheelersburg lead at the 1:06 mark.
Swords then made the Pirates’ primary defensive play — blocking the shot of Oak Hill’s Keaton Potter as he drove down the lane with 26 seconds to go.
Truitt then split a pair of free throws five seconds later, which gave the Oaks an opportunity for the tie and force overtime tied at 50 apiece.
After an Oak Hill timeout with 13.7 seconds showing, Drew Hanning had a great look for the tie off the left wing but missed, although Potter grabbed the rebound with the final seconds ticking away.
Potter raced right back to the other wing and attempted a contested three, but his trey try also didn’t fall — and Wheelersburg was the winner in unlikely fashion from just eight minutes earlier.
But while Wheelersburg’s offense produced 50 points, with Sanderlin scoring 14 on five field goals and 3-of-5 foul shots and Truitt tallying 13 on four field goals and 4-of-7 free throws, it was the Pirates’ second-half defense on Hammond that made the biggest difference.
Hammond, the Oaks’ excellent scorer and offensive rebounder, had a game-high 22 points on 11 field goals — including eight of the team’s 10 first-period points followed by 10 of the team’s 20 in the second stanza.
Hammond has a superior drop-step move when posted up, and executed it to perfection as the Pirates simply had no answer.
Ater explained that the 6-4 McCorkle started on Hammond, but he picked up a quick foul, and the Pirates played primarily Sanderlin on Hammond until the start of the second half.
With McCorkle manning Hammond, he only scored in the waning seconds of the third — followed by his and the Oaks’ only points of the fourth.
“We did a great job defensively in the second half. Carter (McCorkle) adjusted to how he was playing him (Hammond). We took Carter off him after he got that foul, saving him for the second half. I thought Kenny (Sanderlin) and Gage (Adkins) and J.J. (Truitt) all battled with him, but he got a lot of clean looks. That’s just how good of a player he can be. But Carter’s length, in the second half, certainly bothered him,” said Ater. “Give Carter credit, or we wouldn’t even have a chance in that ballgame.”
But Persin said Wheelersburg didn’t do anything different defensively in the second half as opposed to the first.
“Chase (Hammond) made the same moves he made all night, but in the fourth quarter he just doesn’t finish them. They kept switching men on him, but it was just about him not finishing. He made some good moves around the basket, but look how many shots rolled around the rim and wouldn’t fall for him. We get to the rim a couple of times, and we don’t make them,” he said. “We played the game hard for three quarters, and we played it hard for the fourth, we just didn’t finish things.”
Fouls and foul shooting also impacted the Oaks, which only go about seven-deep, as Oak Hill had foul trouble all throughout.
In the first half, Potter, Noah Donley and Landon Hines had three fouls apiece, as Potter — on a double-technical situation with Truitt that stemmed from a loose-ball battle with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter — played the final 10:26 with four personals.
Wheelersburg benefited from attempting 18 free throws and making 11, while Oak Hill had only eight attempts and connected on four.
Three of those misses, in fact, were crucial front ends of the one-and-one bonus situation — in the final three-and-a-half minutes.
Hammond missed his before Truitt tied it at 45-45, as Potter and Hanning had their misses on the possessions prior to the Pirates seizing the 47-45 lead.
“You have to make your free throws. Let’s say if we split those three free throws, that’s three points, and we probably win the game somewhere along the line,” said Persin.
Hanning, on four field goals and 4-of-6 free throws including three third-period baskets and 2-of-3 foul shots, had a dozen for the Oaks.
Luke Stewart sank two triples as part of the 20-point second stanza, while Potter posted five in the 15-point third on a deuce and a trey.
Donley dropped in a field goal in the second quarter.
Persin said the Oaks’ opportunity at a key conference victory simply got away, but that it is indeed a long season, especially in the SOC II.
Oak Hill has a chance to rebound on Friday night when it travels to Waverly.
“We go to Waverly on Friday and let’s see what we do there. We can bounce back and get one on the road. This is a long season in the league. There’s a lot of good teams in our league, so I don’t think anybody is going to walk through it undefeated,” said Persin. “So we shall see.”
Miller added eight Pirate points on two field goals and 4-of-6 first-half foul shots, which kept the Pirates within striking distance at halftime trailing 30-25.
Swords scored seven on three field goals, McCorkle mustered six on three baskets, and Gage Adkins added a bucket in the third frame.
Ater explained that every Pirate point of the 50 was necessary — in being able to pull off what was close to a Christmas miracle on Tuesday night.
“We traded punches with them for a half, but we were able to deliver the last one in the fourth. It was just our guys’ heart and resolve to simply not lose this game,” he said. “At different points throughout the night, we could have just folded it up, said good job by Oak Hill and gone on home. But our guys had a lot more spirit and fight in them tonight and I am really proud of them.”
Wheelersburg will return to the road, and will return to SOC II action, on Friday night at winless Northwest.
* * *
Wheelersburg 7 18 11 14— 50
Oak Hill 10 20 15 2— 47
WHEELERSBURG 50 (3-0, 3-0 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 2 4-6 8, Eli Swords 3 0-0 7, Aaron Masters 0 0-0 0, Carter McCorkle 3 0-0 6, J.J. Truitt 4 4-7 13, Gage Adkins 1 0-0 2, Kenny Sanderlin 5 3-5 14; TOTALS 18 11-18 50; Three-point goals: 3 (Eli Swords, J.J. Truitt and Kenny Sanderlin 1 apiece)
OAK HILL 47 (5-1, 3-1 SOC II)
Keaton Potter 2 0-1 5, Drew Hanning 4 4-6 12, Luke Stewart 2 0-0 6, Noah Donley 1 0-0 2, Landon Hines 0 0-0 0 Chase Hammond 11 0-1 22, Jordan Morgan 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 20 4-8 47; Three-point goals: 3 (Luke Stewart 2, Keaton Potter 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