ATHENS — It wasn’t quite the Wheelersburg Pirates’ day on Sunday at the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens.
Despite outrebounding Chesapeake, their opponent in a Division III district semifinal 39-23, the Panthers simply capitalized on more of their opportunities than ‘Burg did.
For the game, the Panthers shot 19-for-50 from the field with a 7-for-22 mark from behind the three-point line — a sign that Wheelersburg’s defense more than did its job.
The offense, however, was where Wheelersburg’s problems stemmed from.
After shooting 1-for-15 from the field during the first quarter, the Pirates somewhat improved their field-goal percentage to 36-percent by game’s end, shooting 19-for-53 as Wheelersburg suffered a season-ending loss to the Panthers, 54-51.
“Their defense was great, give Chesapeake a ton of credit,” Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater said following the season-ending loss. “I think we were prepared for what we wanted to do, I don’t know that we necessarily executed. And we rushed some shots; the momentum and stuff, the environment, the atm0sphere. You come out ready to go-go-go, and I don’t think we could settle down and get in a rhythm. I think we rushed our shots, and give them credit, they got deflections and that’s what their speed and length does.”
Ater, a 1998 graduate of Chesapeake after playing under OHSBCA Hall of Famer Norm Persin, had to give his Pirate team props for going toe-to-toe with his alma mater — as Eli Swords’ three with four seconds left cut the Pirates’ deficit to three just before time on the game clock ran out.
“We fought, the whole game all the way to the final buzzer our kids are fighting it out, and I’m proud of them for that,” Ater said. “It certainly wasn’t a clean game in any way, shape, or form, but it was a hard-fought game. Give Chesapeake a lot of credit.”
Sunday’s contest marked the second time in his seven-year coaching career at Wheelersburg that Ater was slated against his alma mater — the other being a 57-52 Pirates’ win over ‘Peake in 2014 at the same stage in the postseason.
Junior Matthew Miller led the Pirates in scoring with a team-high 15 on six field goals — with nine coming in the first half as Wheelersburg held a 22-20 lead.
Junior J.J. Truitt scored his first points on a mid-range jumper to take a 24-20 lead as the second half opened.
Attempting to get Truitt going to start the second half was a key part of the Pirates’ gameplan coming out of the break.
With just eight points by game’s end, the season-ending loss marked just the third time the junior has scored less than 10 points in a game this campaign.
“We wanted to get him driving baseline, bring the zone up a little bit,” Ater said. “He pulls up and hits a jumper and it’s like we’re trading baskets there. They come right back and got a few buckets, eventually the tide starts to turn. Then we’re trailing and trailing against them is tough to do because it’s tough to get back in it. We just couldn’t execute — could not get those a couple shots to fall to feel comfortable.”
Chesapeake sophomore Levi Blankenship scored a game-high 20 points on six field goals, while also going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Swords scored 11 on four field goals, three being of the three-point variety as the Pirates shot just 5-for-17 from behind-the-arc as a team.
Freshman Kenny Sanderlin scored 11 on five field goals, including the go-ahead putback score to give ‘Burg a two-point halftime lead.
There were seven ties and six lead changes in the Panthers’ narrow three-point victory.
Chesapeake also won the turnover battle versus Wheelersburg, as it surrendered possession just four times while the Pirates finished with 14 turnovers.
Wheelersburg graduates six-foot, six-inch Corey Maxie as the lone senior from this season’s district semifinalist team.
As a four-year senior, Maxie has been a part of back-to-back outright SOC II championships and two Division III district titles during his time in the Orange and Black.
“Appreciate everything he’s done for us,” Ater said of Maxie. “He’s a four-year guy, stuck it out. Proud of him for his hard work, for being around. Been part of two district titles and back-to-back league titles. You don’t get to win without some guys like that to play big roles for your team.”
The season-ending defeat marks the first time Wheelersburg will not play for a Division III district title since 2017.
Aside from Maxie, players one-through-14 return from this season’s rather young Pirates’ squad — as Ater believes the season-ending loss can be a source of motivation to strive for in a new year.
“I think as individuals and as a team, this should burn in our bellies a little bit,” Ater said. “Obviously take some time off, but get back to work. Improve skill level to be more complete as a team. Just some things today that if we come back improved, we’ve got a great opportunity to win a game like this.”
Chesapeake advances to a Division III district final versus Ohio Valley Conference rival Fairland on Friday at 6:15 p.m.
Chesapeake 8 12 16 18 — 54
Wheelersburg 6 16 12 17 —51
Travis Grim 1 0-0 2, Nathan Cox 1 0-0 2, Levi Blankenship 6 8-8 22, Dilen Caldwell 3 1-3 8, Trent Dearth 2 0-1 4, Josh Cox 1 0-0 2, Ethan Taylor 5 0-2 14; TOTALS 19 9-14 54; Three-point goals: 7 (Ethan Taylor 4, Levi Blankenship 2, Dilen Caldwell 1)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 6 2-2 15, Eli Swords 4 0-0 11, Carter McCorkle 2 2-2 6, J.J. Truitt 2 3-4 8, Gage Adkins 0 0-0 0, Kenny Sanderlin 5 1-1 11; TOTALS 19 8-9 51; Three-point goals: 5 (Eli Swords 3, Matthew Miller and J.J. Truitt 1 apiece)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved