WHEELERSBURG — It took roughly eight minutes for the Wheelersburg Pirates to shake off their “rust” following a 13-day layoff.
In Friday night’s Division III sectional championship versus Zane Trace, the Pirates outscored the visiting Pioneers by a whopping 45-8 in the game’s middle two quarters — simply coasting to a 70-32 win and the program’s fourth consecutive sectional crown.
As is the case with higher-seeded teams in the 2020-21 postseason, ‘Burg began its march by hosting the sectional title tilt — and will get yet another home game for Tuesday’s Division III district semifinal.
“Our kids loved being able to play here,” Pirates coach Steven Ater said, after the win. “They were excited for that opportunity and still have another game to play here. Our guys came out with a lot of energy. We missed some opportunities early, maybe rushed some shots, but defensively I thought we were really good. That was able to sustain us and when we make that run in the second quarter, you feel like you’ve done your work and able to build that lead.”
The Pirates, as Ater alluded to, really hit their stride in the game’s second period.
Outscoring the visiting Pioneers 21-2 in the second while using an eight-man rotation in the early goings, Wheelersburg was able to turn missed opportunities by ZT into its favor.
‘Burg senior Matthew Miller led the charge offensively, scoring a game-high 26 points — each coming in the game’s first three frames.
Miller’s final three points came on a buzzer-beating 70-foot heave from the opposite free-throw line, giving the Pirates a 59-19 lead with eight minutes to play.
It was a shot that one almost had to see to believe, yet the way the ‘Burg senior played and has been playing down the stretch in wins over Northwest and ZT, hardly made it a surprise.
“There’s not been a team at Wheelersburg that’s gotten to play at home in a sectional final,” Miller said. “To be able to play here in front of our home crowd and get to cut down some nets was great.”
Miller’s stat line was also bolstered by eight steals, seven assists, and six rebounds in the 38-point victory.
‘Burg senior Carter McCorkle added 12 points on five field goals and 2-of-3 free throws, 10 of which came in the game’s first 24 minutes.
The Pirate seniors accounted for 48 of their 70 points, a welcome sight for both Ater and Miller — after the team’s last game prior to Friday was played on Saturday, Feb. 13 in a win over Northwest.
“The leadership, the energy he (Miller) and our seniors are bringing to the locker r0oom and practice, everyone feeds off that,” Ater said. “He and J.J. Truitt and Carter (McCorkle), they’ve been major pieces here and been a part of a lot of battles together.”
“We were excited. Right after we played Northwest, we knew we’d have a long break, but we take every practice like it’s a game,” Miller said. “We go after each other and stay competitive, and that kind of keeps us on our toes and ready to go when it’s game time.”
The Pirate reserves scored 23 points in the win, including Kenny Sanderlin and Jonah Lawson — who scored 10 and six, respectively.
Sanderlin, Lawson and Aaron Jolly were the first Pirates off the bench to relieve their starting five — and helped supplant ‘Burg’s lead over the course of the contest.
“We felt like Jonah, Aaron and Kenny off the bench, the way they’ve practiced these last two weeks, they needed to get early playing time and they earned it,” Ater said. “They played well and it confirmed what we thought could happen.”
The Pirates will get one last home game in Tuesday night’s Division III district semifinal — when they’ll welcome SOC (Southern Ohio Conference) II rival Portsmouth West to Pirate Country for another renewal in their rivalry.
Tip time is set for 7 p.m.
From there on out at the district and regional level, games will be played at a neutral site that is yet to be determined.
Since the beginning of the 2018-19 football and basketball seasons, West and ‘Burg have met on the gridiron or on the basketball court a combined 10 times — with Tuesday’s tilt being the 11th time in three years they’ll square off.
A win over West would place the Pirates into their third district championship game in the last four seasons — the previous two times resulting in the program’s most recent district titles.
Wheelersburg won both meetings against the Senators this regular season — a 69-42 win in West Portsmouth back on Dec. 11 and a 62-43 win at Tuesday’s site on Jan. 22.
“Facing team for the third time, it’s always unique when you do that — a conference foe,” Ater said. “They present some challenges with their size, length, physicality. They play a lot of guys and they’ve had a lot of success this year. Getting another game on their home court, no matter what, it’s our seniors last game here. We’ve talked about embracing the challenges in front of us, and each challenge gets tougher along the way.”
Zane Trace 11 2 6 13 — 32
Wheelersburg 14 21 24 11 — 70
ZANE TRACE 32 (8-12)
Kanin Johnson 0 0-0 0, Trey Miller 3 0-0 8, Trey Edler 1 0-0 2, Carter Hill 1 0-0 2, Brayden Jarrell 0 0-0 0, Joey Gay 1 0-0 3, Ben Nichols 0 1-2 1, Austen Ison 0 0-0 0, Carter Langley 0 0-0 0, Xzander Ream 1 2-2 4, Nalin Robinson 1 2-2 4, Caiden Stewart 0 2-2 2, Kyle Stonerock 3 0-2 6, Ethan Nelson 0 0-1 0, Brock Jarrell 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 11 7-11 32; Three-point field goals: 3 (Trey Miller 2, Joey Gay 1)
WHEELERSBURG 70 (20-1)
Aaron Jolly 0 0-0 0, Jackson Schwamburger 1 0-0 2, Matthew Miller 11 2-4 26, Eli Swords 2 0-1 5, Nolan Wright 0 0-0 0, Jonah Lawson 3 0-0 6, Carter McCorkle 5 2-3 12, J.J. Truitt 1 0-0 2, Gage Adkins 1 0-0 2, Braxton Rase 1 1-2 3, Tyler Sommer 0 0-0 0, Kaden Johnson 0 0-0 0, Caleb Arthur 0 0-0 0, Cooper McKenzie 1 0-0 3, Kenny Sanderlin 4 1-2 9; TOTALS 30 6-12 70; Three-point field goals: 4 (Matthew Miller 2, Eli Swords and Kenny Sanderlin 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