WEST PORTSMOUTH — They say that the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same.
If you can remember merely one year — and one full week — ago, Wheelersburg won at West 50-46 in a key early-season Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt, a victory spearheaded by the Lady Pirates’ thievery on defense.
It was the closest challenge the Lady Pirates met inside the division, as Wheelersburg went on to capture its third consecutive SOC II championship — and seventh in the last nine years.
A year later — at least in early December again — the Lady Pirates are still doing the driving, still undefeated, and still leading the pack in the SOC II.
And, once again on Thursday night, Wheelersburg won at West with an almost identical score —this time a 51-46 count, as both clubs entered the affair unbeaten.
The Lady Pirates, unlike last season when they trailed the Lady Senators by six points twice and erupted for 21 points in the final 10 minutes and 52 seconds, never trailed this time —as the game’s only tie was a 7-7 lock, on a Lexi Deaver three-pointer with two-and-a-half minutes left in the opening quarter.
Simply put, Wheelersburg survived a first-half rockfight at “The Rock”, before winning a second-half free-throw shooting contest.
The Lady Pirates eventually led by nine twice (34-25 and 36-27) late in the third canto —before the Lady Senators stormed back and first got to within 36-35, then 38-37, and finally 44-43 with a minute-and-a-half to play.
But West, tried hard as it did, could never quite pull even again —or better yet seize that coveted lead.
Deaver, with another excellent three-point look, went for a 43-42 lead with two-and-a-half to play —but like it was most of the night to the Lady Senators, the iron was unkind.
With both teams in the double-bonus free-throw situation in the final four-and-a-half, it truly came down to the final 1:21 —when Wheelersburg outscored the Lady Senators 7-3, sinking 7-of-10 and with Alaina Keeney converting 4-of-4.
With the win, which was Wheelersburg’s believe-it-or-not 48th straight in SOC II play, the Lady Pirates’ perfect records are now 5-0 and 4-0 —while the Senators (6-1, 3-1 SOC II) lost for the first time in seven tries.
And, while it was a conference affair, it sure felt like way more than that to veteran Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin.
The two will meet again in Wheelersburg in January, and who knows —just like last season’s sectional championship bout, they could be on a collision course for a Division III district tournament tilt.
Spradlin said, of course, playing West again is “all down the road”, but the focus for the here and now was winning at “The Rock” on Thursday.
“It’s still early, but I would rather be in the driver’s seat then be games back,” he said. “Our goal was to come over here and get a win and continue to get better, and take that next step in our development. Several of these girls are still figuring themselves out and what their roles are, and that’s going to evolve and take a while.”
The coach also concurred that while not exactly a work of art offensively, just like last season, the Lady Pirate defense does travel well.
“It was a tournament-like atmosphere in here, and you have to find ways to score enough points and we found enough tonight,” said Spradlin. “We battled and even though we weren’t great offensively, I know it wasn’t pretty a lot of times, we still found a way and were pretty sound on the defensive end the whole game.”
That Wheelersburg was, as missed shots and turnovers trended upwards as the game progressed.
The Lady Senators shot 32-percent from the field on 16-of-50 and had 15 turnovers, but West was most impacted by only making four of 18 three-pointers.
That’s only 22-percent, as the Lady Senators needed to make more in order to win.
“We had some shots just not go down tonight. Some were in and spun back out. We had opportunities I thought, but we didn’t do a good job of controlling our emotions at all times,” said West coach Megan Artrip. “Wheelersburg has been involved in a lot of games like this, and that’s something we’re still learning to deal with.”
West’s Abby Adkins canned two clutch winged threes for 42-40 (3:28 to play) and 44-43 (1:31) deficits within a matter of two minutes — but whether it was another miss and Lady Pirate defensive rebound, or an offensive foul on a moving screen, the Lady Senators simply could never move in front.
Then there was Keeney, the Lady Pirates’ top scorer and overall performer.
Last season against these same Senators, and in the same gymnasium, Keeney caught the hot hand with three trifectas over a span of three-and-a-half minutes — giving the Lady Pirates the lead back at 41-39.
This time, she bookended a game-opening trey with a first-quarter concluding deuce, then withstood both squads’ second-stanza sleepwalk — by swishing a pair of third-frame threes for a pair of six-point advantages at 25-19 and 29-23.
In the final canto, in addition to her 2-of-4 freebies before that and 4-of-5 in the fourth alone — Keeney accounted for both of the Lady Pirates’ field goals, which were a rebound putback to make it 42-37 and a good driving bucket to make it 44-40.
She finished with four twos, three threes, and shot 6-of-9 at the charity stripe for a game-high 23.
“She (Keeney) has been fantastic,” said Spradlin. “I know we’ve only played five games, but she has been fantastic so far. That’s been a challenge. With (former Wheelersburg standout guard) Kaylee (Darnell) gone, Alaina is drawing a lot of attention. She’s gladly stepped into that role and she’s played well.”
Also stepping into a new role, and stepping up on Thursday night, was Lexie Rucker — who dropped in 13 points on six field goals and a split of fourth-quarter foul shots.
“Lexie Rucker really had a nice game, made some shots early around the baseline, in the lane” said Spradlin.
Makenna Walker wound up with seven —on a third-quarter basket and 5-of-6 foul shots.
As part of the Lady Pirates’ parade to the line in the final minute — Rucker, Walker and Kiera Kennard, with their splits, all aided in the 51-point total.
Madison Whittaker and Macee Eaton added second-quarter baskets, and Annie Coriell chalked up a three-pointer to make it 32-25 midway through the third.
The Lady Pirates also overcame 15 turnovers, a 33-percent (4-of-12) three-point performance, and most noticeably missing 10 foul shots (13-of-23).
Adkins, despite the 10 team fouls for both clubs and with the bonus beginning with 5:48 remaining, made the only pair of West fourth-quarter free throws —as Deaver had the only other attempt.
Adkins, on her two second-period deuces and fourth-quarter treys and freebies, led the Lady Senators with a dozen points.
Deaver finished with 11, including 4-of-5 at the line, as Emma Sayre scored nine — including her triple which made it 50-46.
Maelynn Howell had eight on four field goals, as two key Senator players —Keima Bennett and Eden Cline —both fouled out with only five combined points.
Cline missed last season’s first meeting with Wheelersburg, while West was without another returnee —Charlie Jo Howard —this time.
Artrip is already looking forward to playing the Lady Pirates again.
“The good thing about conference play is we get to see them again,” she said.
As for Spradlin, the Pirates have now won both at South Webster and at West, as the Lady Jeeps just have that one league loss.
But, the more things change, they more they stay the same —with Wheelersburg out in front once more.
“There’s a ton of games left, and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Spradlin. “West is certainly more than capable of coming to our place and winning. So is South Webster. So we have to keep getting better.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 11 9 16 15 —51
Ports. West 8 11 12 15 — 46
WHEELERSBURG 51 (5-0, 4-0 SOC II)
Madison Whittaker 1 0-0 2, Annie Coriell 1 0-0 3, Lyndsay Heimbach 0 0-0 0, Kiera Kennard 0 1-2 1, Alaina Keeney 7 6-9 23, Makenna Walker 1 5-6 7, Lexie Rucker 6 1-2 13, Macee Eaton 1 0-4 2; TOTALS 17 13-23 51; Three-point field goals: 4 (Alaina Keeney 3, Annie Coriell 1)
WEST 46 (6-1, 3-1 SOC II)
Maelynn Howell 4 0-0 8, Abby Adkins 4 2-2 12, Eden Cline 1 1-2 3, Sydney McDermott 0 1-2 1, Emma Sayre 3 2-2 9, Lexi Deaver 3 4-5 11, Keima Bennett 1 0-3 2; TOTALS 16 10-16 46; Three-point field goals: 4 (Abby Adkins 2, Emma Sayre and Lexie Deaver 1 apiece)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved