WHEELERSBURG — One team had to come away a winner in this titanic meeting of Southern Ohio Conference Division II rivals.
The second quarter of Tuesday’s Division III district semifinal between Wheelersburg and Portsmouth West was ultimately when the Pirates buttered their bread — outscoring the Senators 19-7 to account for their 12-point margin of victory in the 52-40 win.
Yes, the Pirates and Senators played to an even 33-all tie in the first, third and fourth periods combined, as Wheelersburg took full advantage of West’s offensive struggles to punch their ticket to their third Division III district title tilt in the past four seasons.
Turning West over 19 times and holding them to a 12-of-47 clip from the field, ‘Burg’s final game of the 2020-21 season on its home court in Pirate Country was marked by both teams’ physical play.
“I think we had to match the physicality and what they brought defensively. Defensively I thought we were able to turn them over,” Pirates coach Steven Ater said, after the game. “There was a lot of loose ball, deflections. As physical as the game was, our kids responded well and hung in there.”
“They’re a physical ballclub. I thought our defensive gameplan worked pretty well. Thought we held (Matthew) Miller down and he didn’t hurt us too bad. (J.J.) Truitt got some shots off and hit some shots on us,” West coach Caleb McClanahan said. “Our offense really hurt us tonight. We couldn’t make shots. I thought late in the second half we were getting good shots off, we just couldn’t get many of them to fall.”
West (18-5) and ‘Burg (21-1) combined for 39 turnovers, the Pirates accounting for 20 of those.
When they made their move in the game’s second frame, however, those turnovers came at a minimum — while their shot-making was at a night’s high.
“We cut down turnovers in that second quarter, settled in more than we did in the first. And that’s how it’s been in our games with them this year, takes a little bit to figure out how to attack with the traps and the bumping. We settled in earlier this game and that separation allowed us to breathe a little bit easier.”
Pirates seniors J.J. Truitt and Aaron Jolly combined for 13 of their 19 second-quarter points (Truitt eight, Jolly five) — with the duo combining for three of ‘Burg’s five made threes during that eight-minute stretch.
Truitt made another three in the third — as part of his game-high 18-point performance on seven-made field goals and a lone made free throw.
Junior Eli Swords knocked down the game’s first three, giving the Pirates a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes.
Swords finished the game second in points, adding 13 on four makes and a perfect 4-of-4 foul shooting in the fourth quarter.
“We made some shots in the first half which helped us. We wanted to get inside because the (West 1-3-1) zone is designed to get you to take those bad threes, but I thought the ones we shot were good ones. J.J. hit some big ones — he was fantastic and proud of him for stepping up. Aaron Jolly gets a big corner three in the first half.”
The largest deficit for the Senators came midway through the third — when the Pirates took a 39-22 lead.
West did cut that down to 11 at 39-28 through three quarters, but didn’t manage to cut ‘Burg’s lead to single digits until the last half of the fourth.
The closest the Senators got after trailing by double digits was seven points at 47-40 with 1:40 to play — before the hosts scored the final five points to seal the win.
“Just can’t have bad minutes against good teams. Every single possession matters,” McClanahan said. “But that’s the heart of our kids. There’s not any quit in them — they just fight and fight. That shows you how bad they wanted this, and how hard they played to get back in it.”
“Proud of our kids for hanging on when they made that run, and you knew they were going to,” Ater said. “They’re a team that’s riding a lot of momentum and they weren’t going to roll over and let it happen.”
Wheelersburg won the battle on the glass 28-27, and had a game-high three blocks from senior Jonah Lawson.
Lawson and Jolly were again big in their roles off the bench, as both teams used their rotations to combat foul trouble.
The Senators, coming off a program-high in wins since 1985 and their first sectional title since ‘98 in McClanahan’s first season, will graduate nine seniors from their historic squad.
Luke Howard, Tanner Cantrell, Marion Phillips, Steven Sadler, Luke Bradford, Brandon Koch, Eli Adkins, Andrew Jones and Rodney Moore all drew the praise of their first-year head coach — for helping being the driving force behind one of the best basketball seasons in PWHS history.
“They’ve taken a program that was in a huge slump and turned it around. I had my expectations coming into the year and they blew that out of the water. All the credit goes to those kids, they stepped up to that challenge and wanted to be the difference,” McClanahan said. “That number’s (‘21) going to go up on the wall, and everytime they go in (the gym), they can say that was our team, we were the difference in this program.”
As for the Pirates, their season continues this Friday night in a Division III district championship when they’ll meet Eastern Brown — this year’s outright champions of the SHAC and 60-54 winners over Piketon in their own district semi.
It’s the third time in the last four seasons that the Pirates will play for a district crown, the previous two resulting in championship wins — prior to last season’s defeat in the semis versus Chesapeake.
Tipoff time from Piketon High School for the battle between ‘Burg and EB is set for 7 p.m.
Ater believes his team will be ready to go after feeling short-changed in last season’s postseason run.
“The fact that we didn’t get to play for a district championship last year, we felt like we fell short. Even though we won the league, sectional title, but the goal is to get to the regional and state tournament. To get there, you’re going to have to go through a team that’s been ranked in the state all year, a really good record, played some tough teams,” Ater said, of facing the Warriors. “Thrilled to have another opportunity to keep playing. It’s a team you looked at in the preseason and love to have the opportunity to match up with them and now we get that.”
* * *
Portsmouth West 9 7 12 12 — 40
Wheelersburg 9 19 11 13 — 52
PORTSMOUTH WEST 40 (18-5)
Ryan Sissel 0 0-0 0, Luke Howard 2 2-2 6, Tanner Cantrell 0 0-0 0, Jesse Dixon 0 4-4 4, Marion Phillips 3 0-0 6, Steven Sadler 1 0-0 3, Noah Coleman 4 2-2 11, Luke Bradford 1 2-3 4, Andrew Jones 0 2-3 2, Brennan Overby 0 0-0 0, Jacob Davis 0 0-0 0, Rodney Moore 1 2-2 4, Mitchell Irwin 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 12 14-16 40; Three-point field goals: 2 (Steven Sadler and Noah Coleman 1 apiece); Shooting: 12-47 (2-13 from 3-point); Rebounds: 27 (Andrew Jones 7); Turnovers: 19; Steals: 12
WHEELERSBURG 52 (21-1)
Aaron Jolly 2 0-0 5, Matthew Miller 2 2-3 6, Eli Swords 4 4-6 13, Jonah Lawson 0 0-0 0, Carter McCorkle 4 2-4 10, J.J. Truitt 7 1-3 18, Gage Adkins 0 0-2 0, Kenny Sanderlin 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 19 9-18 52; Three-point field goals: 5 (J.J. Truitt 3, Eli Swords and Aaron Jolly 1 apiece); Shooting: 19-43 (5-14 from 3-point); Rebounds: 28 (Matthew Miller 9); Turnovers: 20; Steals: 8
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