WAVERLY — All Wheelersburg wanted was a second chance.
A second opportunity at the Waverly Tigers, a second shot at scoring machine Trey Robertson, a second crack at taking sole possession of first-place in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
Finally, on Thursday night inside Waverly’s historic Downtown Arena and in seemingly one fell swoop, the Pirates got that second chance —and ended up making the absolute most of it.
That’s because the underclassmen-heavy Pirates, in building a nine-point second-half advantage before fending off the hard-charging host Tigers and going to overtime to do it, posted an epic and thrilling 60-54 victory to capture at least a share of a second consecutive SOC II championship.
Last season’s outright crown was Wheelersburg’s first division title in boys basketball since the 2010-11 campaign, as the Pirates played their regular-season finale at South Webster on Friday night —with a win clinching another outright league championship and with a roster consisting of only one senior.
With the hard-fought win in Thursday night’s makeup matchup, the Pirates raised their record to a stellar 19-2 —and secured their SOC II share with a mark of 14-1.
They also avenged their only league loss — a 69-58 decision against the then-visiting Tigers back on Jan. 7 — in which Robertson, the son of Waverly coach Travis Robertson, erupted for 36 points.
Their loss to Wheelersburg left the Tigers at 13-2 in the league, as Waverly also lost at home against Oak Hill on Dec. 20.
Waverly is now 16-5, and traveled to Valley on Friday night for its regular-season and SOC II finale, but needed to win —combined with a South Webster victory over Wheelersburg — in order to earn a championship split.
Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater admitted it was rewarding for this band of Pirates to follow up what last season’s squad accomplished.
The Pirates are loaded with juniors and even sophomores, and lone freshman Kenny Sanderlin started several games this season.
After graduating five seniors, including the Division III Southeast District Player of the Year and current Wright State regular Tanner Holden, perhaps Wheelersburg — per some subjective observers — was too young and way too inexperienced to repeat as SOC II champions.
Especially with Waverly and Robertson, and Oak Hill and senior standout Chase Hammond and legendary head coach Norm Persin.
“It’s weird to me because it seems like everybody gives attention to so many other teams. This team lost five seniors from last year with one of those being a Division I player, and they just won back-to-back SOC II titles. I think people should really give these guys credit for stepping up as leaders and basketball players and the chemistry they have formed has been tremendous,” explained Ater. “They deserve some credit for that and it’s been a fun team to coach this regular season.”
Perhaps the Pirates were eyeing the return match ever since that defeat, although they most definitely were once they completed the sweep of Oak Hill on Jan. 28.
The rematch had been set for Friday, Feb. 7, but was postponed when Waverly City Schools closed late last week — with the area-wide flu outbreak.
But once Thursday was figured out as the makeup date, all the Pirates had to do was find a way to get Robertson under control.
Robertson still poured in 27 points — on six twos, two threes and 6-of-7 free throws —but he took 28 total shots, 14 from inside the arc and 14 from outside of it.
But while all of Robertson’s foul shots were in the fourth quarter and overtime, he didn’t score from the field after making Waverly’s first two baskets in the opening two minutes of the fourth.
He missed his final nine shots which included six three-pointers, as he and his Tiger teammates had spent so much energy throughout the game getting back into it — after Wheelersburg went for 22 third-period points and eventually led 46-37 with 5:38 remaining.
“He (Robertson) only got 27,” said Ater, with a laugh. “But when you’re expending that much energy and having to be their primary ballhandler and creator and scorer, and you’re shooting deep threes and pull-up jump shots, that’s tough. I think what their plan was to do the same thing they did to us the first time. Spread us out, get him in the gaps and drive. I just think our guys did a better job of understanding that we can’t give him those looks.”
Robertson attempted all five of the Tigers’ overtime field goals, on two deuces and three treys, but he didn’t make anything except for 3-of-4 foul shots while Will Futhey —Waverly’s fourth-quarter comeback ringleader —split a pair.
The Pirates never trailed in overtime, getting a field goal apiece from Carter McCorkle, Matthew Miller and Eli Swords —and a perfect but steadfast 4-of-4 free throws from Sanderlin.
With Wheelersburg leading 56-54, the Tigers fouled the freshman —and he calmly converted the one-and-one bonus situation in front of an amped-up and stressed-out full house.
Then, the sophomore Swords stole the ball from Michael Goodman — driving directly down the lane and making a layup with only 30 seconds remaining to seal it.
“Those last couple of possessions were such a great example. We were really taking away their drives and we got a hand on a couple of loose balls and Eli (Swords) gets a steal and layup in transition. Kenny Sanderlin, a freshman, steps up and plays a great game off the bench and makes four huge free throws in overtime,” said Ater.
Sanderlin scored a third-quarter field goal for his only other points, as Swords scored 10 of his 14 as part of the Pirates’ 22-point third — including two triples.
Over the final 3:55 of the canto, the Pirates doubled up the Tigers 14-7, leading by as much as 35-27 before holding an eight-point advantage (42-34) at quarter’s end.
Robertson’s final three, with a minute and eight seconds to play in the third, trimmed the Tigers’ deficit to 37-34.
Swords, Miller and J.J. Truitt tallied two three-pointers apiece, as the junior Truitt paced the Pirates with 17 points on seven field goals and a free throw, while Swords scored six field goals and Miller made five towards 12.
“We have four or five options that are all scoring most nights. Like who you are going to take away? Because all of these guys can contribute,” said Ater. “That’s something that’s taken time to develop and grow.”
Carter McCorkle, who grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds as Wheelersburg outrebounded Waverly 31-24, notched four field goals and split a pair of first-quarter foul shots for nine.
Wheelersburg shot a warm 48-percent (24-of-50) from the field including an even 50-percent (18-of-36) from two-point range, as Truitt — who had nine first-half points with four second-stanza baskets — splashed both of his trifectas in the third.
However, it was the one he almost made that would have set off a wild Wheelersburg celebration with a buzzer-beater.
In a crazy final minute of regulation, the Tigers —Robertson specifically — held and dribbled the ball and appeared to play for the final shot.
But when Robertson drove into the lane with a dozen seconds remaining, he dribbled directly into a double-team at the free-throw line — and the ball got away.
After an initial steal by Miller, there was a mad scramble which resembled a rugby scrum for the ball at midcourt, as ultimately the Pirates gained possession — and were awarded a timeout with 1.3 seconds left.
On the final inbound from half-court, Truitt caught the pass on the right wing and had an excellent and open look at the basket —as he squared his shoulders and fired a 25-footer.
The shot went in, but spun sideways out, and thus the drama continued into an overtime session.
The Tigers roared back to double up the Pirates 16-8 in the fourth quarter, reeling off an 11-2 run over a span of three minutes and 17 seconds — and forging a 48-48 tie with 1:55 to play.
Futhey finished with 11 points on four field goals and 3-of-4 foul shots, but was Waverly’s rallying man, scoring twice in the paint and sinking a pair of free throws — prior to nailing a corner pocket three-pointer to complete the Tiger comeback.
Waverly made all five of its fourth-quarter freebies, including a one-and-one by Robertson with a minute-and-a-half left — and after Swords scored to make it 50-48.
“We don’t execute a couple of plays against their press and pressure at the end, and we put them on the free-throw line, they got in the bonus and made some shots there,” said Ater.
There were eight lead changes — all in the opening 17 minutes and 24 minutes — as Wheelersburg never trailed for the final 18:36.
There were also six ties, the final of which was 52-52 on a pair of Robertston free throws, as Futhey and Robertson split a pair from there for the Tigers’ final points.
Waverly was 40-percent from the field on 20-of-50, but missed a dozen three-pointers (29-percent) on 17 attempts.
The Tigers’ Tanner Smallwood added eight points, on four buckets, and a team-high eight rebounds.
While Waverly wishes it now had those two tight home bouts back, all Wheelersburg wanted —and got —was a second tangle with the Tigers.
And, the Pirates made good on their opportunities.
As a result, they are SOC II champions for the second straight season.
“I’m just proud of the way our kids just kept fighting and gutting it out and getting this win. We didn’t make it easy on ourselves at times, and there were a couple of times where we just didn’t execute, and those made us have to play an extra four minutes. No matter what, we told our kids going into overtime that we believed in them, and that they had fought this far and come too far to stop now,” said Ater. “You always want to have your fate in your own hands. When we gave up the game to them (Waverly) at home, we had to either stay clean the rest of the season (in SOC II) or we were going to have to have help somewhere. We didn’t get any help down the road, and that’s where you never want to be, so to just come here and win it and take it back ourselves, that’s a great credit to these guys.”
Wheelersburg will return to Waverly next Saturday night for the Division III sectional championship, as the Pirates are the fourth-seeded squad in the Southeast District’s first-ever super sectional.
The Pirates, which drew a bye for the semifinals, play the winner of Portsmouth West and Meigs —which is a sectional semifinal on Wednesday evening at 6:15 p.m.
Wheelersburg will play its sectional championship game at 8:30 p.m. next Saturday night (Feb. 22).
“Now we have some familiarity playing here. This is a great place to play a sectional game,” said Ater. “For us now having some confidence playing here, hopefully that will give us another shot in the arm.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 10 10 22 8 10 — 60
Waverly 11 10 13 16 4— 54
WHEELERSBURG 60 (19-2, 14-1 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 5 0-1 12, Eli Swords 6 0-1 14, Carter McCorkle 4 1-2 9, J.J. Truitt 7 1-3 17, Gage Adkins 1 0-0 2, Kenny Sanderlin 1 4-4 6; TOTALS 24 6-11 60; Three-point goals: 6 (Matthew Miller, Eli Swords and J.J. Truitt 2 apiece)
WAVERLY 54 (16-5, 13-2 SOC II)
Tanner Smallwood 4 0-0 8, Mark Stulley 0 0-0 0, Jackson Wise 0 0-0 0, Trey Robertson 9 6-7 27, Grayson Diener 0 0-0 0, Will Futhey 4 3-4 12, Zeke Brown 2 0-1 4, Mason Goodman 1 0-0 3; TOTALS 20 9-12 54; Three-point goals: 5 (Trey Robertson 3, Will Futhey and Mason Goodman 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