WEST PORTSMOUTH — Sometimes, as good as it often is, Wheelersburg won’t experience a good night shooting the basketball.
However, defense —as always — does travel.
And, of course, Pirates are renown for their thievery.
For the visiting Lady Pirates, they indeed needed their defense to shine through at crucial times on Thursday night —and it did just that as Wheelersburg rallied from a six-point third-quarter deficit to capture a key 50-46 early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II victory over the West Lady Senators.
Trailing twice by six points late in the third period, including at 35-29, the Pirates posted 21 points in the game’s final 10 minutes and 52 seconds.
But the best things often occur in threes — and while Alaina Keeney caught the hot hand with three three-point goals over a span of three-and-a-half minutes to give the Lady Pirates the lead back at 41-39, it took them three steals to truly put the anchor down.
Wheelersburg turned three takeaways in the final two minutes and 20 seconds into six of its final seven points —as Kaylee Darnell with two and Ellie Kallner with the clincher cinched the Lady Pirates’ 30th consecutive SOC II triumph.
The Pirates, which are the two-time defending division champion including winning all 16 SOC II tilts last year, are now 2-0 this year —both in the league.
The ever-improving Lady Senators, under second-year head coach Megan Artrip, are an even 2-2 —and 1-1 in the SOC II.
West almost pulled off the upset and snapped the Lady Pirates’ win streak, doing so without starter Eden Cline in the process.
After Wheelersburg’s Lexie Rucker split a pair of one-and-one bonus free throws for a 48-44 advantage and 58 seconds remaining, West’s Charlie Howard hit two of her own — with 53 seconds showing.
Darnell then missed the front end of another one-and-one 10 tics later, but Kallner came up with the steal of Howard with 23 seconds left —and converted the layup for the 50-46 lead.
Kallner’s swipe, drive and hoop highlighted the Lady Pirates’ late-game defensive gems —as Darnell did just two minutes earlier with her two steals and left-handed layups that gave Wheelersburg the lead for good.
Her first made it 45-44 with 2:18 to play, followed by her second to make it 47-44 at the 1:41 mark.
There were eight lead changes including five in the fourth quarter alone —but turning turnovers into points is what Wheelersburg did best at times.
The normally potent Pirate shooting display was off its mark, as they were 5-of-23 (22-percent) on three-point attempts —part of 19-of-56 (34-percent) overall.
“You have to do stuff defensively to sometimes get yourself going. We’ve been, over the last few years, pretty fortunate that we have shot the ball well. We had some good looks, but we just didn’t shoot well tonight. But what needed to happen is what happened late. In the second half, we extended a few presses. We got a couple of deflections and steals and got layups off them,” said Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin. “That was really the difference in the game.”
While West made five steals of six Lady Pirate giveaways, the Senators turned the ball over 19 times.
That offset a sizzling Senator shooting performance, which was a 58-percent clip on 18-of-31 —including half of 10 three-point attempts.
“You know that any night they (Pirates) are going to bring that. It’s just hard to prepare for the kind of defensive intensity they bring. They turn it on when they have to,” said Artrip. “We handled it well until the fourth quarter. We just needed to be more patient with the ball, but we got a little excited. Their experience turned into our turnovers.”
Indeed, the Lady Pirates’ previous big-game experience of the past two years — with the likes of all-Southeast District Division III standouts Darnell (first team), Keeney (second team) and Kallner (third team) —factored in.
So too did the defense of senior point guard Lauren Jolly, who didn’t score but whom Spradlin said “was huge defensively tonight”.
“Those are the ones we expect to make the most plays for them, and we tracked them well the whole game. But their experience in big games is just so much more than ours,” added Artrip.
Lexi Deaver, who paced West with 16 points including 13 in the first half with three trifectas, drained her fourth and final three-pointer only a minute and 35 seconds into the third quarter —giving the Senators a 31-26 advantage.
With Wheelersburg leading 22-14 following Makenna Walker’s corner-pocket three-ball, Deaver heated up —scoring 11 in the second stanza and spearheading a 12-4 run over the final 5:11 to forge the 26-26 halftime tie.
But she cooled off in the second half with Jolly drawing the defensive assignment, as Deaver didn’t score for the final 14:25.
The Senators led 33-27 with 3:47 left in the third, but Wheelersburg’s 8-2 run tied the game again (35-35).
West then led 44-41 with four-and-a-half minutes to play, but the Pirates ended the contest on a 9-2 spurt.
“She (Jolly) gives great effort and brings great energy. It’s hard to take her off the floor when she can change gears so good and do different defensive things for us, and go from guarding a post player to a point guard,” said Spradlin. “We put her on Deaver a little bit to try and slow her down. Lauren just provides that flexibility and being a tough competitor.”
Offensively, it was Wheelersburg’s usual suspects scoring when they had to.
Besides her three second-half threes, Keeney canned two first-quarter deuces and a trey to buoy ‘Burg out to the 17-10 advantage.
Keeney actually tied Deaver for a pair of game-highs (16 points and four three-point goals).
Darnell had four points in every quarter sans the second —scoring a dozen points on four field goals and 4-of-8 free throws.
Kallner added six on three baskets — a rebound putback for an 11-5 lead in the first followed by her two buckets in the fourth.
Her first fourth-quarter field goal, which made it 44-43 West with 3:12 to play, also occurred off a Senator turnover.
“The kids that have been in our program for three or four years now with Kaylee (Darnell) and Ellie (Kallner) and Alaina (Keeney) and Lauren Jolly, this is a testament to them,” said Spradlin.
Rucker and Walker, with three field goals apiece, scored seven points each —as Macee Eaton added a pair of first-quarter foul shots.
For West, Howard had seven points to follow Deaver —including a three-pointer to get the Senators on the scoreboard at 3-2.
Keima Bennett bagged three second-half field goals for six points, followed by five from Maelyn Howell and four apiece from Haley Coleman, Emma Sayre and Abby Adkins.
Artrip said her Lady Senators taking Wheelersburg to the wire will only help her growing group down the road.
The Senators passed the basketball well, highlighting their unselfish approach.
“I think the more we’re in situations like this, the second half of the season into the postseason, only helps us,” she said. “The loss really hurts tonight, but it’s a growing experience. Lexi (Deaver) controlled our offense very well, but we don’t have a selfish kid on our team. These girls don’t care, game in and game out, who scores. And we kept them off balance. When you can keep Wheelersburg off balance, you’re on the right track.”
Spradlin said he knows his Lady Pirates, playing some younger charges themselves, are getting all teams’ best games.
That’s where the defense still travels —as Wheelersburg begins defense of another SOC II title.
“Our kids expect that. Being the defending champion, you’re going to get that. For us, it’s getting these younger kids more confident. I know we have some older kids that have been around, but we also played some sophomores a lot of minutes tonight,” said Spradlin. “We’re going to take people’s best shots, but we’re going to be ready.”
Both clubs return to SOC II action on Monday —with West visiting Northwest while Wheelersburg hosts Oak Hill in a varsity-only affair at 7 p.m.
* * *
Wheelersburg 17 9 9 15— 50
Portsmouth West 10 16 9 11 —46
WHEELERSBURG 50 (2-0, 2-0 SOC II)
Ellie Kallner 3 0-0 6, Madison Whttaker 0 0-0 0, Lauren Jolly 0 0-0 0, Kiera Kennard 0 0-0 0, Alaina Keeney 6 0-0 16, Kaylee Darnell 4 4-8 12, Lyndsay Heimbach 0 0-0 0, Makenna Walker 3 0-1 7, Lexie Rucker 3 1-2 7, Macee Eaton 0 2-4 2; TOTALS 19 7-15 50; Three-point goals: 5 (Alaina Keeney 4, Makenna Walker 1)
WEST 46 (2-2, 1-1 SOC II)
Maelynn Howell 2 1-1 5, Abby Adkins 2 0-0 4, Haley Coleman 2 0-0 4, Emma Sayre 1 2-2 4, Lexi Deaver 6 0-2 16, Charlie Jo Howard 2 2-2 7, Keima Bennett 3 0-0 6; TOTALS 18 5-7 46; Three-point goals: 5 (Lexi Deaver 4, Charlie Jo Howard 1)
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