WAVERLY — A slow start, and an equal struggle to the finish on Saturday, unfortunately meant a shorter than desired 2020 tournament trail for the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates.
That’s because the Lady Pirates ran into a longer, taller, and more physical squad in the North Adams Lady Green Devils — and were outscored by a combined 31-15 in the opening and closing quarters, en route to suffering a season-ending 45-37 loss in the Division III district semifinals inside Waverly’s Downtown Arena.
Despite committing 25 turnovers, the seventh-seeded Green Devils did to the Lady Pirates what Ironton and Russell (Ky.) were able to do to them in Wheelersburg’s only two losses prior to Saturday.
Wheelersburg — against two taller and longer clubs in the Fighting Tigers and Red Devils — struggled shooting, especially early on and from long range.
However, the second-seeded Lady Pirates’ season was able to continue after those two tilts —unlike after Saturday, when a tournament loss marks the end.
Wheelersburg, which steamrolled through the Southern Ohio Conference Division II and ended up ranked ninth in the final Associated Press Ohio High School girls basketball Division III poll, saw its successful campaign conclude at 22-3.
North Adams, now at 21-4 and the only club to hand top-seeded and 23-1 Eastern Brown a loss, advances to Saturday’s (Feb. 29) Division III district championship game —where it will play now 22-3 and third-seeded Ironton.
The Pirates and Fighting Tigers were actually on a collision course for a much-anticipated rematch in the district final, but the Green Devils didn’t let it happen.
They jumped out to a 9-2 advantage after the opening quarter, withstood a total of 11 lead changes —and doubled up the Lady Pirates 14-7 over the final four minutes.
Braylie Jones drilled a three-pointer from the corner, Mary Sonner drove right down the lane and scored, and the Green Devils drained 13-of-17 fourth-quarter foul shots —most of those in the final minute when Wheelersburg fouled them into the bonus situation.
Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said North Adams was going to be a difficult matchup for his Lady Pirates, given their smaller size and perimeter-oriented three-point shooting style.
He was right, as the Lady Pirates shot just 13-of-43 from the field for 30-percent, including a frigid 2-of-18 (11-percent) from three-point range.
They also endured full-court pressure, and committed 18 turnovers, including 13 in the opening half.
North Adams also outrebounded the Lady Pirates 27-17, as the smallest Pirate on the floor often times —Lauren Jolly —was their leading board-getter with four.
“They were bigger at every position, and we felt like we put our kids in the best position possible in practice to prepare for their different presses and trapping, but it’s hard for us to duplicate that because we just don’t have the size that they have. We spent the entire first quarter trying to adjust the physicality and the length,” said Spradlin. “Those things really bothered us.”
In fact, in the first quarter, the Lady Pirates’ points came on two Ellie Kallner free throws just a minute and 42 seconds in.
But the Green Devils scored the next nine, including a three-pointer by Karissa Buttelworth, as the Lady Pirates finally hit from the field when Kaylee Darnell dropped in a three-ball just 50 seconds into the second stanza.
However, Darnell — despite a game-high 16 points as she was the Lady Pirates’ leading scorer this season —shot just 6-of-18, including only 2-of-10 from long distance.
She netted the team’s only other triple, but not until only 51.6 seconds remained.
That was after the Green Devils staked a nine-point lead for their largest of the game, as Wheelersburg got as close as 40-36 on a Darnell drive with 38 seconds to play.
But the Lady Pirates still struggled shooting all the way to the end, as four players — Kallner, Alaina Keeney, Lani Irwin and Makenna Walker —went 0-of-2 from three.
Irwin’s attempt with 22 tics to go could have made it a one-point game at 40-39, but she missed and Sonner secured the rebound — and split a pair of double-bonus free throws as Wheelersburg got no closer.
Keeney was 2-of-8 and Kallner was 3-of-9, as Keeney contributed seven points and Kallner another eight.
Walker in the third frame and Jolly in the fourth both had one basket, while Macee Eaton made a pair of third-quarter free throws.
“We just struggled to shoot the ball, and we had turnovers at critical points,” said Spradlin. “The effort was fantastic from our girls, but we just had to execute better than we did. We didn’t get enough shots and we didn’t make enough shots. We were 2-of-18 from three. That’s not normally us, and some of that is their speed, athleticism and length, and some of that is we start pressing a little bit. Everything is quicker in this game with this matchup. Just because of their length, you have to be ready quicker and get that shot off a little quicker. Some of them we rushed, some of them were good looks. You just have to trust that those will go in, and today unfortunately they didn’t.”
They did for the Lady Green Devils, which shot 13-of-29 for 45-percent, including 10-of-19 (53-percent) from inside the arc.
DeLaney Harper, the six-foot one-inch junior center, scored four field goals and made 7-of-7 fourth-quarter free throws for 15 points — and almost outrebounded (12) the Lady Pirates (17) by herself.
Buttelworth added eight points, while Jones went 4-of-4 from the line in the fourth in addition to her back-breaking trifecta —and Wyatt Shipley scored six points on three field goals.
With Wheelersburg forced to foul late, the Green Devils made more free throws (16) than the Lady Pirates even attempted (12).
North Adams attempted three first-quarter foul shots and none in the second, as Wheelersburg battled back with the opening eight points of the period to take its first lead at 10-9.
Following Darnell’s three, she scored a three-point play the old-fashioned way —before Keeney connected against the Green Devils’ zone defense to take the lead at the 2:40 mark.
North Adams only scored six points in the second quarter and eight in the third, as the teams took turns trading the lead — nine more exchanges to be exact over the next 11-and-a-half minutes.
North Adams led at the half 15-14 and Wheelersburg after the third 24-23, but Harper hit her first of two fourth-quarter field goals just 20 seconds in —and the Green Devils didn’t trail again.
Darnell scored with 4:02 to play to make it 31-30, then Jones immediately answered with her dagger of a triple from the corner pocket — followed by two free throws and Sonner scoring right at the rim.
“They scored seven straight to push it to eight, and it just deflates you. Our kids fought so hard to get it back to one point (31-30),” said Spradlin. “We knew we had to help on Harper so much that we were going to give up some shots. They were going to make some, and the shot from the corner was big. And we struggled down the stretch just getting baskets. It’s hard for us to get up and press people when we’re not scoring. They did a good job at the line too, but we were in a position where you have no choice but to extend the game.”
However, time ran out on the Lady Pirates, which were the regional runner-up a season ago.
They were appearing, on Saturday, in their 24th all-time district tournament —having won seven district championships and four times being the runner-up.
Irwin, with her memorable banked-in buzzer-beater to send Wheelersburg to the Elite Eight, was one of two seniors along with Minford transfer Brittani Wolfenbarker.
Wolfenbarker has already announced her intention to play softball at Shawnee State University.
“Lani has been in the program since the seventh grade and has just been a phenomenal piece here. She’s a kid that just does things the right way. Brittani is a senior who came into a new program with a new coach and she had only one year with us. But she did everything we asked of her and she hit some big three-point shots throughout the course of the season,” said Spradlin. “Both Brittani and Lani bought into everything we do and were so committed. We’re going to miss those two kids. They were a big part of what we did this year in winning the SOC II at 16-0 and another sectional championship.”
But, the nucleus of Darnell, Kallner and Jolly will be seniors with Keeney coming back as a junior — as Eaton and Walker will be sophomores.
“We gained a lot of experience again this year with this group,” said Spradlin.”The future is bright.”
* * *
North Adams 9 6 8 22— 45
Wheelersburg 2 12 10 13 —37
NORTH ADAMS 45 (21-4)
Mary Sonner 1 1-3 3, Sierra Kendall 0 1-2 1, Wylie Shipley 3 0-1 6, Karissa Buttelworth 3 1-2 8, Carolyn Shupert 0 0-2 0, Braylie Jones 1 4-4 7, Marah Call 1 0-0 3, DeLaney Harper 4 7-7 15, Faith Howell 0 2-2 2; TOTALS 13 16-23 45; Three-point goals: 3 (Karissa Buttelworth, Braylie Jones and Marah Call 1 apiece)
WHEELERSBURG 37 (22-3)
Lauren Jolly 1 0-0 2, Brittani Wolfenbarker 0 0-2 0, Lani Irwin 0 0-0 0, Alaina Keeney 2 3-4 7, Ellie Kallner 3 2-2 8, Kaylee Darnell 6 2-4 16, Lyndsay Heimbach 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 1 0-0 2, Lexie Rucker 0 0-0 0, Macee Eaton 0 2-2 2; TOTALS 13 9-12 37; Three-point goals: 2 (Kaylee Darnell 2)
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