WHEELERSBURG — For the Wheelersburg Pirates, experience paid off in the biggest of ways —and in the earliest of games on Tuesday night.
In a close and hotly-contested encounter all throughout, and with Wheelersburg opening its season, the upperclassmen-heavy Pirates finally got their games — and grooves — going in the decisive fourth quarter.
Against the young and visiting Valley Indians in an early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II showdown, the Pirates found some late breathing pockets and held off a furious Indians’ last-minute rally — earning indeed a hard-fought 65-60 victory.
Truth be told, and despite December’s beginnings and crowd capacity drastically restricted inside Wheelersburg High School, Tuesday’s tilt had an intense tournament feel to it — and the experienced Pirates prevailed.
However, the young Indians —and legendary head coach Norm Persin — more than made Wheelersburg work.
After the opening three quarters in which the Pirates’ largest lead was four (4-0, 19-15, 30-26 and 32-28) four times, and while Valley took two (34-32 and 37-35) two-point third-quarter cushions before finally a three-point (40-37) push, the Pirates put together a 10-2 run over a span of three minutes and 45 seconds to seize the lead for good.
Then, with Wheelersburg leading 51-50 with three-and-a-half minutes to play, the Pirates pushed out to a pair of nine-point margins (60-51 and 62-53) — over the next two-and-a-half.
The Indians did slice the deficit to four points twice (62-58 and 64-60) inside the final 40 seconds, but the Pirates calmly sank 5-of-7 double bonus foul shots over that same span — and began defense of their back-to-back division championships under eighth-year head coach Steven Ater.
Ater played for Persin, coaching his third game at Valley out of 983 for his illustrious Hall of Fame career, when Persin coached at Chesapeake in the late 1990s.
It actually marked Ater’s sixth consecutive coaching win over his mentor, as the Pirates have won five in a row over Oak Hill — where Persin coached the past 14 years prior to taking over at Valley.
But ask Ater, or any of his Pirate players, and Wheelersburg was thrilled to not only just play amid this coronavirus situation, but simply win by even a single point.
Despite their experience advantage among their top seven or even eight in the rotation, the Pirates shot just 3-of-15 from three-point range —and committed nine first-half turnovers while being neutralized in rebounding (24-21 WHS edge).
“We have a lot of work to do, and you can tell it was our first game. A lot of things to work on. Then we were very sped up and turning the ball over. You chalk that up to where we haven’t played live five-on-five competition in two weeks, and that was their (Indians) third game. But I would rather learn through a win,” said Ater. “We had some defensive errors, letting them catch and shoot and getting some shots and not guarding the basketball. It took us some time to settle in. But offensively, we got in the middle and Matthew (Miller) and J.J. (Truitt) did a really good job of attacking and taking opportunities when they had them.”
Pirate seniors Matthew Miller and J.J. Truitt tag-teamed for 20 points apiece, as Miller scored half of his total in the fourth quarter alone — including three field goals and 4-of-4 free throws inside the final minute.
Miller missed all six of his three-point attempts, but more than made up for it with 6-of-6 foul shots in addition to seven deuces.
Truitt’s 20 included eight field goals with a first-quarter three-ball and 3-of-5 free throws, as Miller made a free-throw jumper and a baseline drive for a 60-51 Pirate lead —sandwiched around a Truitt transition basket.
“Their seniors, especially Miller, made shots down the stretch for them. When you are a four-year starter, that’s going to happen,” said Persin.
The Indians, also, were playing their third bout — dipping to 1-2 as both losses have now come, on the road, by a combined seven points.
Speaking of seven, Valley splashed that many three-pointers to not only keep pace but put itself ahead at times, as Bryce Stuart and Jace Copley canned three apiece —while George Arnett’s lone trey gave the Indians their largest lead at 40-37.
But the Indians missed eight of their 17 free throws, with 13 attempts coming after halftime including nine in the fourth quarter.
Valley missed two in the second stanza, went 2-of-4 in the third, and finally made 5-of-9 in the last.
“We didn’t shoot free throws well, and that’s not going to win games against a good team,” said Persin.
Aside from that, the underdog Indians played right with Wheelersburg until early in the fourth quarter — when Wheelersburg’s upperclassmen experience took over.
Valley shot almost 50-percent (22-of-45) from the field, including 7-of-16 from long range.
Stuart scored 19 and Copley 13 on seven and five total field goals respectively.
“I thought this was a measuring stick for our team tonight and it was. We came out and played well and even led a lot of times, until we got into the fourth quarter. We handled the ball, we didn’t turn it over and I thought we neutralized them on the boards. Then we got down seven or eight, and we made another run at them,” said Persin.
The Pirates’ other trifectas came courtesy of Eli Swords, who nailed one early in the fourth for a 47-42 advantage —and the other with 2:40 to play that made it 54-50 and sparked nine unanswered points.
Besides’ Swords six, Carter McCorkle managed nine on three field goals and 3-of-5 foul shots —while sophomore Kenny Sanderlin scored seven (two field goals and 3-of-3 free throws).
“What makes us tough to defend and scout is that we have so many different weapons and ways we can hurt you,” explained Ater. “Eli (Swords) hits two threes late and hadn’t gotten anything going before that. Carter (McCorkle) started off well and then scored around the rim in the third. Kenny (Sanderlin) comes in and gives us some baskets. Matthew and J.J. go for 20 apiece tonight. The diversity is pretty good, but we want that balance because it makes us tougher to guard.”
Ty Perkins posted 14 points on four field goals and 6-of-9 free throws for Valley, as Arnett —amid first-half foul trouble —netted nine.
The 6-4 Perkins pulled down a game-high seven rebounds, as —once again —of all eight Indians which played, the six scorers were all underclassmen.
Persin praised his squad’s start to the season, as Valley hosts Northwest on Friday night in another SOC II affair.
“With our athleticism and our kids playing that way, they are really buying into what we’re doing and having fun with it,” said the coach. “We’ve played three games and lost two very close games on the road against two very good teams. Wheelersburg is one of the premiere teams, and we played pretty well here tonight.”
That the Indians did, but the Pirates played the experience card —and opened up with another win.
“This game gives us a lot to learn from and work on. We’re not where we want to be yet, but these guys have played in a lot of games and have a lot of minutes to them,” said Ater. “It’s good to play, it’s good to win, and we’ll look forward to the next one.”
That next one for Wheelersburg will be at West on Friday night in the SOC II.
Valley 15 9 17 19 — 60
Wheelersburg 15 11 18 21 — 65
VALLEY 60 (1-2, 1-1 SOC II)
George Arnett 4 0-0 9, Jace Copley 5 0-0 13, Ty Perkins 4 6-9 14, Dylan Ellis 0 0-0 0, Carter Nickel 1 1-2 3, Colton Buckle 1 0-0 2, Jacob Greathouse 0 0-0 0, Bryce Stuart 7 2-4 19; TOTALS 22 9-17 60; Three-point field goals: 7 (Jace Copley and Bryce Stuart 3 apiece, George Arnett 1)
WHEELERSBURG 65 (1-0, 1-0 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 1 0-0 2, Matthew Miller 7 6-6 20, Eli Swords 2 0-0 6, Jonah Lawson 0 1-2 1, Carter McCorkle 3 3-5 9, J.J. Truitt 8 3-5 20, Gage Adkins 0 0-0 0, Kenny Sanderlin 2 3-3 7; TOTALS 23 16-21 65; Three-point field goals: 3 (Eli Swords 2, J.J. Truitt 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