IRONTON — Unfortunately for the Lady Pirates, the threes just weren’t falling on Monday night like New Year’s party confetti.
As a result, Wheelersburg won’t be turning the calendar into 2020 as an undefeated girls basketball team.
That’s because, after attempting 20 three-point shots but making just three — and overcome by Ironton’s size, strength and length — the Lady Pirates suffered their first loss of the season with a narrow 46-43 defeat inside Ironton High School’s Conley Center.
Wheelersburg is now 8-1, as the Lady Pirates played their first game since Dec. 19 —after opening the season with eight games over two-and-a-half weeks.
Ironton, meanwhile, raised its record to 9-1 — with its only loss coming at Ohio Valley Conference rival Coal Grove by a single point (52-51) in overtime.
The host Lady Fighting Tigers took to the floor just a week ago, so any “rust” from the often-disjointed Christmas holiday schedule seemed to have less impact upon them.
In a defensive slugfest, and at a pace better suited for the half-court, the usually three-point proficient Lady Pirates shot just 15-percent from distance —and could never get one to fall for them at a crucial time.
None more critical than in the second half, as Wheelersburg made all three of its threes in the first 16 minutes.
They missed all eight in the final two quarters, including six in the final stanza — with the best look being by Kaylee Darnell with a minute-and-a-half remaining.
“We were frustrated offensively. Just with the physicality and with the way they were guarding Kaylee (Darnell),” said Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin. “We took some quick shots and forced some bad shots because we were trying to make a play and get back in the game quickly. I felt like we had the mentality, especially early, that we had to score in eight seconds. There are a lot of things we can learn from this game, because Ironton is very good and well-coached.”
“We came up with some big defensive stops,” said Ironton coach Doug Graham. “They (Pirates) are a perimeter-oriented team. They play five guards and they bring somebody in off the bench who is a guard. That’s their bread-and-butter. They are going to shoot on the perimeter, they are going to run that dribble-drive and dribble-handoff and try to catch you sleeping and helping too much in the paint. They like to kick it out for a step-in three. If you let them do that, they are dangerous and can score 60 or 70 points.”
Ironton, with its height anchored by five-foot, 10-inch Lexie Arden and six-foot tall Samantha LaFon, indeed impacted the Lady Pirates’ perimeter shooting.
Ironton also played without guard Riley Schreck, who was out with an injured knee.
Wheelersburg shot 34-percent on 17-of-50, as the Lady Fighting Tigers limited Darnell — the Lady Pirates’ leading scorer — to just eight points on 3-of-10 from the field.
“Several girls did a good job on her (Darnell). She is a tremendous player and one of the best in the area. To hold her to eight points is a testament to our defense,” said Graham. “Elli Williams was really tough on her for a large part of the game. And Lexie (Arden) and Samantha (LaFon), with their size and their athletic ability and their basketball ability, that really helped us tonight.”
But while Wheelersburg wasn’t making threes, Ironton left the door open for the Lady Pirates by not making foul shots.
As the Fighting Tigers missed four out of five free throws over the final five minutes, their 45-38 advantage evaporated into a 45-42 edge with 3.4 seconds left.
Rather than allow a possible made triple, the Fighting Tigers decided to foul Darnell — who shot the one-and-one bonus situation, but had to make the first but intentionally miss the second to keep the Lady Pirates’ possession for the tie or even the win.
Darnell drained the first for the 45-43 deficit, and her second shot missed — but Arden amounted her seventh and final rebound, and was fouled with 2.1 tics showing for the Lady Pirates’ 10th team foul.
Arden did miss on the first of the double-bonus foul shots, but did sink the the all-important second freebie — making it 46-43.
Ellie Kallner, who paced the Lady Pirates and all scorers with 14 points including nine in the second quarter, launched a desperation three-quarters court shot which fell short.
The Lady Fighting Tigers led from tipoff to final buzzer, holding a seven-point lead on four occasions (8-1, 13-6, 16-9 and 45-38) — as the contest was tied four times (16-16, 21-21, 23-23 and 37-37) as well.
“We have to start better. I thought we played hard, but we have to play better. You fall behind against a good team, and usually the story is you work so hard to try and catch up. That’s what we had to do,” said Spradlin. “I am proud of the way we played and how we competed. But you can’t put yourself in those situations.”
“Good teams are going make runs and Wheelersburg wasn’t going to roll over and get beat by 20 points. Wheelersburg is a good team, and was going to fight back from seven points down. To my girls’ credit, we withstood some of their punches and extended the lead again,” said Graham.
Wheelersburg battled back from each seven-point deficit — relying on first-half three-pointers from Kallner, Lani Irwin and Makenna Walker — but Ironton answered with first-half trifectas from Kirsten Williams, Evan Williams, Elli Williams and Arden.
Kirsten Williams rained in two treys, as Ironton ended up making 5-of-12 from three-point range in the opening half — part of 5-of-15 for 33-percent for the entire game.
In the second half, the Fighting Tigers maintained their lead by going 8-of-13 at the foul line — combined with tough underneath baskets by LaFon, either on offensive putbacks or by her simply clearing out space for herself.
LaFon, who was just 2-of-7 in the first half with three fouls, finished with a double-double 13 points and a dozen rebounds — making five field goals and 3-of-4 foul shots.
Arden added 10 points on three field goals and 3-of-5 foul shots — as she, Elli Williams and Lydia Hannan had seven rebounds apiece.
Ironton outrebounded Wheelersburg 35-26, as Alaina Keeney with eight and Kallner with seven were the top boarders for the Lady Pirates.
“We finished the defensive possessions better by rebounding better in the second half as opposed to the first,” said Graham. “We weren’t getting them off the floor in the first half. I bet they had five-to-seven offensive rebounds, so that is something we wanted to correct in the second.”
Kallner collected six total field goals and converted a fourth-quarter free throw, as Keeney chipped in 10 points on four field goals and 2-of-2 second-stanza foul shots.
Her driving basket tied it at 37-37 with 54 seconds remaining in the third, but Ironton opened the first five minutes of the fourth with an 8-1 run — making it a seven-point cushion for the final time at 45-38.
The Lady Pirates return to the road, and return to Southern Ohio Conference Division II action, on Thursday night at Pike Eastern.
Wheelersburg — the defending division champion — continues to lead the league at 6-0.
The loss at Ironton, Spradlin said, is a lesson learned.
“You either win or you learn,” he said. “The fight was good and the energy was good, but we have to find a way to execute better.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 9 14 14 6 — 43
Ironton 16 10 13 7— 46
WHEELERSBURG 43 (8-1)
Lauren Jolly 1 1-2 3, Brittani Wolfenbarker 0 0-0 0, Lani Irwin 1 0-0 3, Alaina Keeney 4 2-2 10, Ellie Kallner 6 1-4 14, Kaylee Darnell 3 2-3 8, Makenna Walker 2 0-0 5; TOTALS 17 6-11 43; Three-point goals: 3 (Lani Irwin, Ellie Kallner and Makenna Walker 1 apiece)
IRONTON 46 (9-1)
Samantha LaFon 5 3-4 13, Lydia Hannan 1 3-4 5, Elli Williams 2 0-0 5, Kameron Arden 0 0-0 0, Kirsten Williams 2 0-0 6, Evan Williams 3 0-1 7, Lexie Arden 3 3-5 10; TOTALS 16 9-14 46; Three-point goals: 5 (Kirsten Williams 2, Elli Williams, Evan Williams and Lexie Arden 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved