WAVERLY – Most basketball teams dream of being able to play for a district championship, let alone having a chance to do it in back to back years, but that dream was a reality for the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates Saturday evening. While the Lady Pirates are a different team than they were last year, the result of the district championship game was the same, as the Lady Pirates’ season ends just shy of a trip to the regionals.
In what was one of the most contested basketball games this year, the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates and Albany Alexander Lady Spartans battled into overtime to decide what team would advance in the state tournament, and what team would call it a season. Unfortunately for Wheelersburg, the Lady Pirates were just three points shy of advancing to the regionals, falling to the Lady Spartans 39-36.
The game was not a melee of scoring, but didn’t lack excitement. In fact, Wheelersburg and Albany Alexander played what may have been the best overall game either team has during the season.
There were very few uncontested shots from either team. Defense was key for both teams, causing disruptions in offensive flow and conceiving numerous turnovers.
Wheelersburg had control for most of the game, playing with a lead that would range from five points at the end of the first quarter, 14-9, to nine points, 30-21 about halfway through the third quarter.
Although the Lady Pirates held a lead throughout the majority of the game, the Lady Spartans did not allow them to fall behind by a definitive measure.
At the end of the third quarter, Wheelersburg continued to lead Albany Alexander. Their eight-point lead, 32-24, put the Lady Pirates in prime position to continue to play their style of game to pick up the win and advance to the regionals.
In the most inopportune time, Wheelersburg ran into a scoring drought. The Lady Spartans held the Lady Pirates to only one point in the fourth quarter, a free throw by Kalle Coleman.
As Wheelersburg struggled to score, Albany Alexander took advantage of the situation to erase the Lady Pirate lead and force the game into overtime, as both teams were tied 33-33, at the end of regulation.
The overtime period started off with the Lady Pirates in charge, as Coleman came up with two scores, one two-point field goal and a free throw, to put Wheelersburg up 36-33, with 1:01 left in the extra period.
The Lady Pirates would fail to find the net for the remainder of the game.
Leah Richardson electrified the Lady Spartans in the final minute of the overtime period. She first hit a pair of free throws, and then scored via a layup with 41 seconds remaining in the extra period to give the Lady Spartans their first lead of the game, 37-36.
From there Jala Mace sealed the deal for the Lady Spartans hitting a pair of free throws to give Albany Alexander a 39-36 lead.
The Lady Pirates were unable to score in the few remaining seconds, and saw their season come to an end, losing 39-36.
“It was a great game,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “When it came down to it, we just couldn’t put the ball in the hole. We had some opportunities, and had a few turnovers at times it was unfortunate to be having turnovers. They made some big shots.”
There were times the Lady Pirates were forced to gamble some and leave some players open.
“They made a couple shots in the second half,” Spradlin said.
There was no denying the effort of Wheelersburg Saturday evening.
“The kids played as hard as they could,” Spradlin said. “Defensively, we were very good. I mean when you hold someone to 39 (points), you’re going to win a lot, it’s just we struggled to score.”
Spradlin said that situation has occurred before this year, but it was just too much for the Lady Pirates Saturday evening.
“You go with what you think has got you there, and I told our kids just how proud I was,” Spradlin said. “You know, back-to-back 20 win seasons, and back-to-back trips to the District Finals, that’s something we haven’t done. I know in my career in Wheelersburg, that’s the first time we’ve gone back-to-back to the District Finals.”
In his address to the team after the game, Spradlin told his kids to continue to do things right.
“Some of them will go on to play a spring sport, and some of them will have more basketball to play next year,” Spradlin said. “Some of them are seniors, and they won’t get to come back and play basketball, but we feel confident that all of those kids do the right things, and as long as you continue to do the right things, and as long as you show up, and as long as you give great effort, you’re going to be able to face a lot of challenges. At the end of the day, what we’re supposed to be doing is preparing these kids for what they are going to face in life.
“They can be disappointed right now, but the fact they showed up and they sold out and they gave everything they had, means when they are faced with some adversity in life, I know they’re not going to give up, and they will give it everything they have.”
Wheelersburg will say goodbye to four seniors this year, Sydney Holden, Kendal Warren, Catie Johnson, and Laiken Salyers.
“We have four great kids,” Spradlin said. “We told them in the locker room we appreciate everything they’ve done. Some of them played more than others, but everyone of those kids, I told them I love how they came in and worked so hard for themselves. I love how hard they worked for their teammates. We feel so confident those kids are going to go out and do great things. When you have a great work ethic, it just means you’re set up for successes in the rest of your life.”
Albany Alexander – L. Richardson 4-3-13, Mace 2-5-10, R. Richardson 2-2-8, Hudnall 1-0-3, Mohler 1-0-3, Meeks 1-0-2
Wheelersburg – Holden 2-5-11, Kallner 2-0-6, Coleman 2-2-6, Akers 3-0-6, Swim 1-0-3, Ruby 1-0-2, Salyers 1-0-2
Three-point field goals – Albany Alexander 7 (L. Richardson 2, R. Richardson 2, Mace, Hudnall, Mohler) Wheelersburg 5 (Kallener 2, Holden 2, Swim)
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.