WHEELERSBURG — Before Saturday night’s snowstorm socked southern Ohio, it was simply the perfect storm for the undefeated and host Wheelersburg Pirates.
The Pirates, playing pristine basketball this season but because of scheduling situations, hadn’t played in a week —and thus were fresh for their much-anticipated non-league matchup against the Division II Jackson Ironmen.
The Ironmen, on the other hand, have been true road warriors since returning to play following a coronavirus quarantine — but Saturday’s showdown was their third game in four nights and all on the road, with it also being their fifth game in eight days.
Finally, in third quarter, it was another Wheelersburg blitzkrieg.
This one was in the form of a whopping 20-4 outdoing of the Ironmen, as the Pirates pulled away from a 36-29 halftime advantage — and captured a 76-50 victory inside a socially-distant Wheelersburg High School gymnasium.
With the win, Wheelersburg raised its unblemished record to 15-0, while Jackson —a drastically-improved program over the past few seasons under former Ironmen standout and current head coach Max Morrow — dropped to 10-3.
It was actually the Ironmen’s second trip to Scioto County in four days, as the Red and White won at Minford on Wednesday night in a non-league nail-biter —by a 47-44 count.
And on Saturday, the Jackson Countians did stay within striking distance of Wheelersburg for a half —despite never leading and trailing by as much as 36-27 with 40 seconds remaining in the second stanza after a J.J. Truitt three-pointer.
But stop if you’ve heard this before, because Wheelersburg went off once again in the third period.
Just 10 days ago, it was a 25-9 output against West, as that tilt was tied 23-23 at halftime.
The Pirates went on to cruise to a 62-43 runaway win, before sticking South Point 66-44 in another non-league encounter the following night.
Saturday’s win was Wheelersburg’s third consecutive over a 10-win team, fueled by a third quarter in which the Pirates punished the Ironmen with their transition attack — in addition to their overly-high levels of athleticism, experience, length, skill and speed.
The Ironmen’s only third-period points were a Drew Bragg split of free throws at the 4:58 mark, followed 51 seconds later by a Logan Miller field goal — and finally a split of Evan Spires foul shots.
Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater attributed the quarter’s kamikaze to “guarding” and turning the Ironmen over —whether in the half-court or even a full-court press.
“We guarded and got defensive stops and that’s going to feed our transition game. We got out, we did great job of running, we threw the ball ahead well in transition and multiple guys got opportunities to score. We also pressed a little bit, and that was able to speed them up. Once we adjusted to the game, I thought played pretty well there. It was an unbelievable third quarter,” said Ater.
That it indeed was.
Eli Swords sank a corner-pocket three-pointer off a Truitt assist to make it a double-digit (39-29) lead on the canto’s opening possession — where it remained for the remainder of the game.
Carter McCorkle got inside post positioning for a basket which made it 41-29, as Matthew Miller scored for the seventh straight points to begin the second half.
The Ironmen then scored three of their four points for a 43-32 deficit, but the Pirates poured on eight unanswered —prior to Spires stopping the Jackson bleeding with his free throw.
But Swords, in classic bookend fashion and off an inbounds play, splashed another three-ball to beat the third-quarter buzzer —making it 56-33 in favor of the Pirates and a 20-point period after a pair of opening-half 18s.
If you’re a fan of the Pirates, it was fun team basketball to bear witness to.
Swords scored all eight of his points in the frame, as Truitt followed with five in the salvo —including all three of his free throws.
“The ball moves and when it moves like we did in the third quarter, guys find extra shots,” said Ater. “We have a lot of guys who understand the value of making that next pass. You are trusting the guys who you are throwing the ball to, can make shots or just drive to the rim and score. When you come out and stretch a seven-point lead like we did, it’s going to be tough for a team to respond and come back.”
In the fourth, the Pirates posted another 20 points, as Miller made his three foul shots while Kenny Sanderlin scored three baskets —as part of his eight points on four field goals.
With Cooper McKenzie making a three-pointer with 50 seconds remaining, the Pirates put up their largest lead at 76-48.
In all, 10 Pirates scored at least a single point — paced by 19 from Truitt on seven total field goals, including another three-pointer in the final quarter.
Miller followed with 14 points which included five field goals, as McCorkle scored 11 of his 13 points in the opening half — which included three twos, a first-period three, and 4-of-4 free throws.
While Jackson tied the game at 2-2, trifectas from McCorkle and Miller got the Pirates off and running — with leads of 11-5 and 14-6 before Morrow called for a timeout.
The Ironmen, off a Drew Bragg triple at the three-minute mark, made it 28-26 —but never got any closer.
The Pirates finished off the first half on an 8-3 run — thus tripling up Jackson 28-7 over a span of 11 minutes.
“We’re not going to make any excuses, because they beat us. We couldn’t score the basketball and lost complete momentum in the third quarter, and they were being the aggressor and playing more physical and turning us over,” said Morrow. “They were taking better shots and getting easy buckets. Wheelersburg is a really good half-court defensive team, and when you’re a good defensive team and can score in transition, you’re even more dangerous. They really hurt us in transition.”
Spires, on four first-half field goals and 5-of-8 free throws, paced the Ironmen with 15 points —as Miller, on four field goals and 4-of-4 fourth-quarter foul shots —added a dozen.
Nate Woodward made three fourth-period three-pointers for nine points, as the Pirates pumped in eight altogether —including a second-quarter trey from Gage Adkins, who chipped in two deuces towards seven.
Morrow praised the performance of the Pirates and Ater as “a great team that probably has high hopes for a Division III district championship”.
That the Pirates do, although their first goal is for their 16th triumph in as many tries on Tuesday night —back at home against Minford in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
Right now, and amid wild and wacky winter weather, Wheelersburg is playing a perfect storm of basketball.
“These kids have played together forever. It’s years and years of experience and knowing where each other is on the court and knowing how to play off one another. Practices are so competitive as can be and they are always pushing each other. It’s fun to watch and is really enjoyable to work with and coach these guys every day,” said Ater. “And when you have experience, sometimes the best thing you can do is let them go play. It’s a fun group and we want to keep it going for as long as possible.”
* * *
Jackson 13 16 4 17 — 50
Wheelersburg 18 18 20 20 — 76
JACKSON 50 (10-3)
Boston Kuhn 2 0-0 4, Nate Woodard 3 0-0 9, Trey Mercer 0 0-0 0, Logan Miller 4 4-4 12, Drew Bragg 2 1-2 6, Tristan Prater 1 0-0 2, Evan Spires 4 5-8 13, Braxton Hammond 2 0-2 4, Chris Hughes 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 18 10-16 50; Three-point field goals: 4 (Nate Woodard 3, Drew Bragg 1)
WHEELERSBURG 76 (15-0)
Aaron Jolly 1 0-0 2, Matthew Miller 5 3-4 14, Eli Swords 3 0-0 8, Jonah Lawson 0 1-2 1, Carter McCorkle 4 4-4 13, J.J. Truitt 7 3-4 19, Gage Adkins 3 0-0 7, Braxton Rase 0 0-0 0, Kaden Johnson 0 1-2 1, Cooper McKenzie 1 0-0 3, Kenny Sanderlin 4 0-1 8; TOTALS 28 12-17 76; Three-point field goals: 8 (Eli Swords and J. J. Truitt 2 apiece, Matthew Miller, Carter McCorkle, Gage Adkins and Cooper McKenzie 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved