WAVERLY — Indeed, Wheelersburg brought its “Swords” — and its lockdown defense — with it to Waverly on Saturday night.
That’s because Pirate sophomore Eli Swords poured in a career-high 22 points, and Wheelersburg stymied the Meigs Marauders’ two-headed scoring monster to nine points apiece, as the Pirates pulled away in the second half to capture a 55-32 triumph in a Division III sectional championship tilt inside Waverly’s Downtown Arena.
Yes, that is correct.
The sophomore Swords, probably thought of as the fourth scoring option for the underclassmen-heavy Pirates, went off for five two-point goals and four three-point goals —outscoring Meigs senior Weston Baer AND sophomore Coulter Cleland combined by himself.
But credit the entire Pirate defense for that, as Bear —the Marauders’ all-time leading scorer —and the athletic Cleland combined for only six total field goals, including only one two-pointer apiece in the entire second half.
With the victory, it marked the second straight season —and on the exact same date (Feb. 22) —that the Pirates defeated Meigs for the Division III sectional championship.
This season’s Pirates — the outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II champions — are now a stellar 21-2, as Wheelersburg was the fourth-seeded squad out of 27 total in the Southeast District’s Division III super-sectional.
The 13th-seeded Marauders defeated Portsmouth West 55-38 in Wednesday’s sectional semifinal to earn a return match with Wheelersburg, but the Pirates press on with another sectional title — and another trip to the Ohio University Convocation Center and the Division III district tournament.
Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater explained that winning sectional championships, regardless of record and what the seedings say, are difficult.
The Division II top-four seeds are already eliminated, and in Division III, second-seeded Zane Trace was pushed by 15th-seeded Piketon before prevailing — while third-seeded Eastern Brown trailed 14th-seeded Portsmouth at halftime and fifth-seeded Chesapeake trailed 12th-seeded Minford by as much as 15 before rallying and winning (see related story).
Speaking of Chesapeake, Wheelersburg will play the now 19-3 Panthers in Sunday’s Division III district semifinals at The Convo —with tipoff time set for 3:45 p.m.
“You look around at all the sectional finals, and higher-ranked teams are being tested. Just to win tonight, any win tonight is a great win. We don’t care what it looks like, we’re just happy with the win and happy to have a chance to go to the ‘Convo’. A lot of guys are going to be playing there for the first time, but it’s an experience you always want to have as a program,” said Ater. “We have had a lot of success there, and we would like to start another trend this year. We knew coming back with J.J. (Truitt), Matthew (Miller) and Carter (McCorkle) as the core, those guys played minutes last year. But our other guys, as first-time starters and regular rotation players, have really responded and been fantastic for us.”
With Wheelersburg leading 24-18 at halftime, and after his nine-point first half, Swords scored the first 11 Pirate points in the third period — which included three three-pointers.
His first trifecta came just a minute and 55 seconds into the second stanza, as he then scored at the 2:42 mark to make it 23-15.
Swords shot 9-of-16 from the field, and tallied the Pirates’ opening basket before another one made it 9-5.
“Eli was fantastic. He got a couple of easy baskets driving to the rim early, which got him going. The lane just opened up for him, and he has really been working on that part of his game to be more than just a shooter,” said Ater. “We’ve seen that everybody has scouted him all year as a shooter, but when he adds that (dribble-penetration) dimension to his game, and with the defense he plays and the athleticism he has, he can really be a great player for us over the next two years and as we continue our tournament run this year.”
The Marauders, meanwhile, turned the ball over twice and missed their first four shots of the third frame —before Bobby Musser scored twice in a matter of 50 seconds, but with the Pirates already leading 32-18.
The Pirates opened the third with an 11-2 run to lead 35-20 at the 4:45 mark, as Swords’ second three of the quarter made it 30-18 just a minute and 10 seconds in —and Wheelersburg’s advantage never dipped back into single digits from there.
For the final 11 minutes, the Pirates led by at least 14 points —with Matthew Miller converting an old-fashioned three-point play for Wheelersburg’s largest lead (55-30).
In addition to Swords’ scoring — and J.J. Truitt tacking on 16 points on two twos, three threes and 3-of-3 third-quarter free throws along with a game-high nine rebounds —the Pirates limited the Marauders to 10 points or fewer in each quarter.
Wheelersburg, which never trailed, outscored Meigs 31-14 in the second half —as the Marauders only tied the game once (2-2) and were within one point only twice (11-10 and 12-11).
The Pirates held Meigs to only 26-percent shooting on 12-of-46, including an even colder 21-percent (3-of-14) from deep.
And, the Marauders made all three triples in the first half —with Cory Cox canning one with 20 seconds left in the opening quarter followed by two in the second by Bear, including his second with 27 seconds remaining that made it 24-18.
Baer didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, as he shot 3-of-17 from the field, including only 2-of-10 from long range.
Cleland, who finished with three field goals and 3-of-5 free throws and was coming off a 28-point performance against West, connected on 3-of-8.
“Both Bear and Cleland are unbelievable individual players. You knew coming in that is who their offense is going to run through. They run every set to get them the ball. They run a lot of ball screens and double-and-triple screens that our guys were going to have communicate on and fight through. I thought our guys, for the most part, did a really good job executing on them,” said Ater.
Musser and Morgan Roberts registered four points apiece for the Marauders, which were also outrebounded 35-26.
The Pirates began to separate from Meigs in the second quarter when the six-foot, five-inch Musser was whistled for his second personal foul —and Wheelersburg went on an 8-0 run over a span of four-plus minutes to lead to 21-12.
Swords and Truitt hit treys, and Truitt got a rebound putback for a deuce.
“No size equals driving lanes, so we took advantage of that and also offensive rebounding in that stretch,” said Ater.
Gage Adkins added eight rebounds and six points, while Miller scored seven points on three field goals, corralled six boards and dished out eight assists.
Kenny Sanderlin in the second quarter and Carter McCorkle in the fourth finished with a field goal apiece.
Meigs, with a Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division makeup matchup at Vinton County remaining on Monday night, is now 13-10.
Meanwhile, Wheelersburg will aim to bring its “Swords”, clubs and whatever other arsenal it has against Chesapeake.
Ater assisted Chesapeake coach Ryan Davis for two years, and called Davis “one of the very best coaches in Southeastern Ohio”.
“Ryan Davis runs a great program and a storied program and his kids are going to compete as hard as anybody we’re going to play all year long” he said. “They play hard, they are scrappy, they are skilled, they have good basketball IQs, and they are as fast as can be and athletic. We’ll learn this week as much as we can, and try to work on that in practice and get ready for them. We’ll see, but it’s going to be a big test.”
* * *
Meigs 10 8 7 7— 32
Wheelersburg 11 13 16 15—55
MEIGS 32 (13-10)
Cameron Burnem 0 0-0 0, Coulter Cleland 3 3-5 9, Cory Cox 1 0-0 3, Weston Baer 3 1-2 9, Zach Searles 0 0-0 0, Caleb Burnem 1 0-0 2, Ethan Stewart 0 0-0 0, Wyatt Hoover 0 1-3 1, Morgan Roberts 2 0-4 4, Jake McElroy 0 0-2 0, Bobby Musser 2 0-0 4; TOTALS 12 5-16 32; Three-point goals: 3 (Weston Baer 2, Cory Cox 1)
WHEELERSBURG 55 (21-2)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 3 1-1 7, Eli Swords 9 0-0 22, Aaron Masters 0 0-0 0, Jonah Lawson 0 0-0 0, Carter McCorkle 1 0-0 2, J.J. Truitt 5 3-3 16, Gage Adkins 2 1-2 6, Mason Montgomery 0 0-0 0, Brayden Wilson 0 0-0 0, Corey Maxie 0 0-0 0, Kenny Sanderlin 1 0-0 2; TOTALS 21 5-6 55; Three-point goals: 8 (Eli Swords 4, J.J. Truitt 3, Gage Adkins 1)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved