WAVERLY — Trailing by a dozen early in the third quarter on Tuesday night, the Wheelersburg Pirates — finally — pushed the power-on button.
From there, it was full-go for the undefeated Pirates —as they quickly turned that 12-point deficit into almost a near runaway from the host Waverly Tigers.
In a key early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt, the Pirates — the two-time defending division champion and winners of five SOC bouts already — prevailed by a 60-51 count inside Waverly’s historic Downtown Arena, thanks to scoring two-thirds of those 60 points in the second half.
In fact, Wheelersburg’s final 40 points came over the final 14 minutes and 15 seconds, as the Pirates first faced a 27-20 halftime deficit — that turned into a 32-20 hole just a minute and 15 tics gone by in the third quarter.
But at that point, the gong went off —and the Pirates played some of their best basketball of the entire season.
After only four second-period points, they scored 15 in the third — and sliced the deficit down to 38-35 by the end of the quarter.
Wheelersburg’s J.J. Truitt tied the game at 38-38 on the opening possession of the fourth following a corner-pocket three-pointer, as the Pirates finally —as part of their 25-point frame — went ahead with 5:53 remaining, when Matthew Miller made a three for a 45-44 lead.
A minute later, the Tigers tied it at 45-45, but scored just six points over the final 4:54 —compared to 15 for the Pirates, which even staked a 59-49 advantage with only 43 seconds showing.
With the win, Wheelersburg wins at Waverly once again — and takes over sole possession of first-place in the SOC II.
The Pirates are now 7-0, and atop the division again at 6-0.
The Tigers, which were the runners-up to the Pirates last season and lost an overtime affair to visiting Wheelersburg in mid-February, fell for the first time in five games — and are 2-1 in the league.
Tuesday’s game was Waverly’s second since mid-December, when the program was put on a two-week shutdown due to a coronavirus quarantine.
Meanwhile, Wheelersburg was doing what it continues to do as the calendar turned to January — just winning SOC II games.
Steven Ater, the eight-year Pirates bench boss, alluded to his charges “keeping calm and playing on”.
“I thought we just calmed down, didn’t freak out or panic when we got down. We just stayed with it and kept playing. That’s the experience of this group showing up. They weren’t rattled by it, it was just the fact first half we weren’t being ourselves. In the second half, things started going our way as far as us finding open spots when they were trapping and getting passes out of them. They sped us up in the first half, but I thought the second half, we corrected that,” said Ater. “And we made some shots.”
The Pirates shot just 33-percent in the opening half on 9-of-27, including not making any of their six first-half three-point attempts.
Wheelersburg also committed nine first-half turnovers, while Waverly made half (12) of its 23 shots, including 6-of-10 by standout Trey Robertson —the reigning SOC II Player of the Year and Division II all-Ohio second-teamer from a season ago.
The scoring machine Robertson, who went off for 36 points in Waverly’s win at Wheelersburg last season, scored 13 of the Tigers’ 27 first-half points as he — for the second straight meeting with Wheelersburg — posted 27 total.
But the Pirates started shooting the ball better in the final 15-plus minutes, and only committed three second-half turnovers.
Wheelersburg whittled the deficit down to 32-28 by the four-minute mark and to 35-31 by the three-minute juncture —as Miller made his only two-point bucket before Truitt tallied his first of two three-pointers.
Carter McCorkle converted a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left in the canto, reducing the deficit down to 38-35 in a matter of six minutes and 15 seconds.
There were eight total lead changes and four total ties, including three in the final quarter —the last of which was a 45-45 deadlock.
But the Pirates put together seven unanswered points — started by a putback basket and split of free throws by Kenny Sanderlin, a rebound stickback by McCorkle off his own missed free throw, and finally a dramatic and acrobatic left-handed over-the-head hook shot by Truitt in the lane.
Truitt’s tough but massive make made it 52-45 with 1:49 remaining, and Eli Swords sank a left-wing three-ball to answer Robertson’s trifecta for a 55-48 score only 29 seconds later.
Miller, in the final 51 seconds, made five of eight free throws as the Pirates reached the bonus situation.
Ater said his Pirates offensively attacked the rim much better, and got some second-half defensive stops which led to some runouts and easier baskets.
Waverly scored just three points in the final 1:40 —a split of Mark Stulley free throws and another Robertson bucket with 41 tics to play.
“We made some plays, made some stops defensively, strung them together and we were able to run out off of them,” said the coach. “We did a nice job of attacking the rim in the second half. J.J. had that huge finish with his left hand, but it took all of our guys making shots and making stops. I’m really proud of them and happy for them.”
Only seven Pirates played, but the balance was exceptional —spearheaded by Truitt scoring a team-high 17 on six total field goals and 3-of-4 free throws.
Swords’ six field goals, which included an old-fashioned three-point play, resulted in 14 points —as both Miller and McCorkle (four field goals and 2-of-3 foul shots) mustered 10 points apiece.
Swords posted a double-double with 11 rebounds, as Wheelersburg outrebounded Waverly 31-23.
The sophomore Sanderlin scored seven fourth-period points, as Gage Adkins added a basket in the second quarter.
The Pirates, in addition to meshing 14-of-20 free throws, made 21-of-48 from the field for 44-percent.
Beyond Robertson’s 27, no other Tiger scored more than eight.
The two teams will rematch at Wheelersburg in February, but for Tuesday night, it was the Pirates pushing the power button on —and pushing past the Tigers after trailing by a dozen.
“I’m so proud of these guys because their work ethic and determination paid off in the second half tonight. It took all 32 minutes, and we could have folded down 12 in the second half,” said Ater. “Our kids, though, I never that look of panic or quit in their eye one time.”
The Pirates play their next two games —both SOC II encounters —at home.
Wheelersburg will host Eastern on Friday night and Northwest in makeup matchup on Saturday night.
“The most important games are these next two right now,” said Ater. “You can’t be thinking big picture. You have to be thinking one game at a time. We just have to keep working every day.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 16 4 15 25 — 60
Waverly 12 15 11 13 — 51
WHEELERSBURG 60 (7-0, 6-0 SOC II)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Matthew Miller 2 5-8 10, Eli Swords 6 1-1 14, Carter McCorkle 4 2-3 10, J.J. Truitt 6 3-4 17, Gage Adkins 1 0-0 2, Kenny Sanderlin 2 3-4 7; TOTALS 21 14-20 60; Three-point field goals: 4 (J.J. Truitt 2, Matthew Miller and Eli Swords 1 apiece)
WAVERLY 51 (4-1, 2-1 SOC II)
Mark Stulley 1 2-4 5, Gage Wheeler 4 0-0 8, Trey Robertson 11 0-1 27, Wade Futhey 0 0-0 0, Will Futhey 3 1-2 7, Zeke Brown 1 2-4 4, Phoenix Wolf 0 0-0 0, Eli Crabtree 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 20 5-11 51; Three-point field goals: 6 (Trey Robertson 5, Mark Stulley 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