LUCASVILLE — For the Lady Pirates, it indeed was a Sunday fun day.
That’s because Wheelersburg, the second-seeded squad in the Division III sectional tournament, went on a proverbial Sunday stroll against winless Wellston — easily rolling the overmatched Golden Rockets 85-17 in a semifinal tilt at Valley High School.
In addition to the cakewalk win, Wheelersburg was the very first winner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Southeast District girls basketball super-sectional, as ALL of the Southeast District teams —for Divisions II, III and IV — are no longer seeded and separated into two or three sectional sites.
Instead, with 31 Division III schools for girls basketball in the district, all 31 are seeded first thru 31st — with Wellston being that 31st seed.
Only top-seeded and 21-1 Eastern Brown received a bye, and thus does not have to play in the sectional semifinal round.
Hence, Wheelersburg is the second seed and Ironton the third, as those two are on a collision course for a rematch in the district championship tilt on Saturday, Feb. 29.
But that’s over two weeks down the road, and the Lady Pirates needed to take the first step in the first tournament bout for 2020 on Sunday.
They hadn’t played since Monday and a 63-31 win over visiting Eastern, and had their remaining two Southern Ohio Conference Division II games —at Waverly (Monday, Feb. 10) and at South Webster (Tuesday, Feb. 18) get postponed.
So it would have been easy for the Lady Pirates, especially on a Sunday afternoon and against an overwhelming underdog opponent in Wellston, for them to look lackluster — and simply go through the motions.
Not the case at all, though, as Wheelersburg played well and appeared sharp — both defensively and offensively.
They made several steals and layups, and shot the ball well from the perimeter in the form of 11 three-point goals.
They scored the opening 33 points, pitched a 23-0 first-quarter shutout, ran away to a 57-4 halftime advantage, extended the margin to 76-9 following three frames, and eventually staked their largest lead at 70 points (85-15).
In fact, the contest took exactly 53 minutes to play —as the entire second half was played under the OHSAA’s running-clock rule for postseason tournament games.
Wheelersburg — the ninth-ranked team in the fifth weekly Associated Press Ohio high school girls basketball Division III poll —raised its record to 19-2, while the injury-ravaged Golden Rockets ended their season at 0-23.
Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said Sunday’s outing was a balance of just getting a game in, shaking off any doldrums, properly executing on both ends of the floor, getting as many substitutes and reserve players as much experience as possible, and still respecting the opposition.
The heavily-favored Lady Pirates played all of their players multiple minutes, remained in a half-court defensive set, and substituted liberally throughout.
“There were two concerns. We hadn’t played since Monday, and this time of year, you want to be playing as often as you can. And with an opponent that you are supposed to win against, you worry that your kids might go through the motions. But I thought our kids came out with rebounding and defensively, we were as good as we wanted to be and hoped to be,” said Spradlin. “For a game like this, it’s difficult, because you have to and want to be playing at a high level, but at the same time, you want to respect your opponent. It was good for us that we got a lot of our young kids in. You want them to be able to run our stuff and play hard and gain some of that tournament experience. A lot of good things came out of this.”
One of those was that all 15 of the Lady Pirates on the roster played, and all but three scored at least one field goal for two points.
Kaylee Darnell led the way with 16 points on five total field goals and 3-of-4 first-half free throws, as Ellie Kallner and Alaina Keeney canned a dozen points apiece on three twos and two threes.
Makenna Walker was a fourth Lady Pirate in double figures — tallying 10 points on two deuces and two treys.
Speaking of threes, senior Brittani Wolfenbarker bagged three for nine points, while freshman Madison Whittaker —like Darnell —drained one en route to six points.
Whittaker also split a pair of fourth-quarter free throws, and added a two-pointer in the last quarter.
Macee Eaton and Lexi Rucker registered three field goals for six points apiece, as four other Lady Pirates posted one basket each.
“We shot the ball well, and we have multiple people that can shoot it,” said Spradlin. “Ever since the Russell (Ky.) game (Wheelersburg loss 62-57), we’ve been preaching that we have to make sure it’s possession by possession. That’s what we wanted to see today, and I thought our kids did a pretty good job of taking each possession as important as we wanted them to take it. We had good results.”
For the Golden Rockets, not so much.
They finally scored at the 5:19 mark of the second stanza on a pair of Daycee Clemons free throws, as Taylar Spencer scored their first field goal just 30 seconds later.
By then, they trailed 33-0.
Exactly eight minutes after their first basket, Makenna Kilgour scored their second —before Emma Jadrnicek with two and Lexi Bouska with one made three-pointers.
Clemons concluded the game with a pair of foul shots — giving them a perfect 4-of-4 at least.
But otherwise, it was all about Wheelersburg’s Sunday fun day.
The Lady Pirates will now play 18th-seeded Chesapeake for the Division III sectional championship —right back at Valley on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Chesapeake defeated 15th-seeded Leesburg Fairfield 52-45 in Sunday’s second sectional semifinal at Valley.
The Lady Pirates played at Chesapeake on Dec. 7 in their third game of the year —and won 51-27.
Already armed with an outright SOC II championship, Wheelersburg will play for yet another sectional title on Saturday.
“We wanted a chance to play for another championship, and hopefully we can continue to keep playing,” said Spradlin. “You just want to be playing still come this time of the year.”
* * *
Wellston 0 4 5 8 — 17
Wheelersburg 23 34 19 9— 85
Haley Rafferty 0 0-0 0, Emma Henry 0 0-0 0, Makenna Kilgour 1 0-0 2, Gracie Simpson 0 0-0 0, Macie Lambert 0 0-0 0, Daycee Clemons 0 4-4 4, Jayla Sawyer 0 0-0 0, Taylar Spencer 0 0-0 0, Lexi Bouska 1 0-0 3, Emma Jadrnicek 2 0-0 6; TOTALS 5 4-4 17; Three-point goals: 3 (Emma Jadrnicek 2, Lexi Bouska 1)
Annie Coriell 0 0-0 0, Lauren Jolly 0 0-0 0, Madison Whittaker 2 1-2 6, Brynley Preston 1 0-0 2, Brittani Wolfenbarker 3 0-0 9, Lani Irwin 1 0-0 2, Alaina Keeney 5 0-0 12, Isabella Hamilton 0 0-0 0, Ellie Kallner 5 0-0 12, Kaylee Darnell 6 3-4 16, Lyndsay Heimbach 1 0-0 2, Makenna Walker 4 0-0 10, Kiera Kennard 1 0-0 2, Lexie Rucker 3 0-0 6, Macee Eaton 3 0-0 6; TOTALS 35 4-6 85; Three-point goals: 11 (Brittani Wolfenbarker 3, Alaina Keeney, Ellie Kallner and Makenna Walker 2 apiece, Madison Whittaker and Kaylee Darnell 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved