Burg still perfect


Lady Pirates battle back, sweep Jeeps

By Paul Boggs - [email protected]



South Webster senior Bri Claxon splits Wheelersburg defenders Madison Whittaker (5) and Lexi Rucker (31) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School.

South Webster senior Bri Claxon splits Wheelersburg defenders Madison Whittaker (5) and Lexi Rucker (31) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School.


Paul Boggs | Daily Times

Wheelersburg’s Makenna Walker (25) drives the lane on South Webster’s Skylar Zimmerman and Faith Maloney (2) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School.


Paul Boggs | Daily Times

Wheelersburg’s Madison Whittaker (5) made six three-point goals for a team-high 18 points in the Lady Pirates’ 55-47 Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball victory over South Webster.


Courtesy of Ruth Boll

WHEELERSBURG — Madison Whittaker made her three-point shots.

Makenna Walker converted on her free throws.

And, in the second half, Alaina Keeney simply made the Lady Jeeps’ lives miserable.

If they say that things come — and even go — in threes, then that Wheelersburg triumvirate simply spearheaded the undefeated Lady Pirates to a hard-fought yet key come-from-behind Southern Ohio Conference Division II triumph on Monday night.

The trio of Whittaker, Walker and Keeney combined for 48 points —and the Lady Pirates played a much better second half and especially defensively, as Wheelersburg completed the season sweep of South Webster with an important 55-47 win in Pirate Country.

Wheelersburg is the three-time defending division champion (2019, 2020 and 2021) —following a four-of-five league titles stretch since the 2012-13 campaign (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017).

With Monday’s matchup that resembled a rockfight first quarter followed by physicality and three-point and free-throw shooting contests the remainder of the way, the Lady Pirates’ perfect records remained intact —at 12-0 and 9-0 as they began the back half of SOC II play.

The Lady Pirates also gain the season sweep of the Lady Jeeps —observed along with West as one of the immediate challengers to the Orange and Black’s crown.

Wheelersburg won the first meeting 66-56 on Nov. 29 —which was South Webster’s season opener, and after advancing all the way to the state volleyball tournament only three weeks earlier.

In that affair, Wheelersburg burned the first-half nets on South Webster’s shooter-friendly stage end of its gymnasium —splashing seven of its 10 three-pointers at that basket, as Keeney finished with five three-balls while Walker hit three and Whittaker another two.

This time, the perimeter-oriented Lady Pirates got a half-dozen trifectas from Whittaker, which allowed them to take a 9-5 first-quarter lead — and rally back in it after the Jeeps jumped out to a 20-11 second-stanza advantage, thanks to 10 points from senior scoring machine Bri Claxon.

In the second half, the Lady Pirates’ depth —and defensive tenacity —got to the Lady Jeeps, and Keeney connected for a three off the wing with 22 third-quarter seconds left for a 34-32 lead.

That would be the first of seven lead changes and two ties over the next 4:22 —as the third and final tie stood at 43-43 with an even four minutes remaining.

But that’s when Wheelersburg won out, outscoring South Webster with a 12-4 game-closing run.

Keeney came up big in the final 5:13 —scoring all eight of her fourth-period points, including a top-of-the-key triple with 3:32 to go, and which gave the Lady Pirates the lead for good.

That made it 46-43, as her cutting layup off Macee Eaton’s assist made it 53-45 with 56 seconds showing.

Keeney and Walker then split a pair of free throws over the next 27 seconds —as Wheelersburg had ultimately erased its nine-point deficit (20-11) with a nine-point advantage (55-46) of its own.

Indeed, it may have taken almost the final 18 minutes and eight seconds to pull that off, but Burg’s bigger picture was another SOC II win.

And, in fact, for those into counting, that’s now 53 consecutive conference victories for the Lady Pirates.

Oh, it’s also worth mentioning —for what it’s worth —Wheelersburg was the top-ranked girls team in all of Ohio’s Division III, according to the opening release of the 2022 Associated Press statewide poll.

But longtime Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin was only concerned about Monday’s outcome, and his charges overcoming offensive struggles.

“Gotta give our girls a ton of credit. Look, we struggled. We struggled offensively, we got a little pouty because we weren’t making some shots. Just a lot of things. Defensively wasn’t the problem, it was settling in offensively. I felt like South Webster beat us to the ball a lot on offensive rebounds and 50-50 balls. But our kids still found ways to make enough plays, and that says a lot about them,” said Spradlin. “And it was a bunch of different people. Madi made threes for us all night, Macee Eaton especially came up with big defensive plays, and Alaina hits some big buckets in the second half.”

And, for Wheelersburg, thank goodness for that second half —as the usually prolific Lady Pirates made just four first-half three-pointers on 14 attempts.

Whittaker bagged them all —accounting for all nine first-period points as part of her team-high 18, and then dropping in a top-of-the-key three to make it 20-16 at halftime.

The Lady Pirates’ only other second-period points were four by Walker —with a drive down the lane for two a minute-and-a-half in, followed by two tosses at the 1:18 mark.

But back-to-back Whittaker threes, including her corner-pocket shot on the third quarter’s opening possession, got Burg back to within one (20-19).

“We only had four buckets at that point (before halftime), and three were Madi’s threes. People probably won’t point to it, because it probably didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the basket before halftime was really big. Then we come out to start the third quarter, and they had to help out on penetration, and Madi made another three,” said Spradlin. “When you only have 13 points prior to halftime, six points on back-to-back possessions are huge in this kind of a game.”

SWHS coach Ryan Dutiel concurred.

“We had a couple of possessions with that lead where we had mental breakdowns, which led to them getting an easy bucket and an easy three, and then we had a turnover or missed shot on the other end,” he said. “We still felt confident, and we knew we had to withstand their run, and we did for a while.”

From there, as Riley Raynard rained in a three-pointer to push the Lady Jeeps’ lead back to 25-19, the two traded field goals and free throws throughout the third —until Keeney canned her first of two treys for the 34-32 cushion.

That was the fifth of 11 total lead changes — as Keeney with 2-of-2, Eaton on an old-fashioned three-point play, and Walker with 5-of-6 free throws and one bucket made up the Lady Pirates’ 18 period points.

The only other ties were at 5-5 and 34-34, as Wheelersburg would outscore South Webster 21-13 in the fourth —including that 12-4 game-clinching spree.

Besides Keeney’s fourth-quarter eight, Walker repeated her third quarter with another basket and 5-of-6 free throws, Whittaker made her sixth and final three-pointer in the opening minute, and Lexie Rucker registered two field goals.

The loss left the Lady Jeeps, now at 9-3, at 6-2 in the SOC II.

South Webster did have its basketball legs in this meeting with Wheelersburg, but by only playing six players, fatigue did set in —both physically and mentally.

As both squads shot 35-percent from the field (South Webster 17-of-48 and Wheelersburg 16-of-46), the Lady Jeeps committed 19 turnovers —mostly in the second 16 minutes.

Claxon, who poured in a season-high 30 in the first meeting, collected a game-high 21 on Monday —on six twos, two threes and 3-of-5 free throws including a second-quarter old-fashioned three-point play.

She also posted a double-double with 11 rebounds, and dished out three assists and made off with three steals.

Skylar Zimmerman added 11 points, on four field goals and 3-of-5 free throws.

Raynard registered two treys towards eight points, Faith Maloney mustered a second-half six, and Bella Claxon split a pair of fourth-quarter freebies.

“We’ve improved, I feel, quite a bit since that first time we played them. We didn’t have anything in then, no different sets or quick-hitters. The girls have their basketball legs under them now, and we gave them everything we had. We made some mental errors, being a little bit tired and gassed. We knew they were deeper going in, but we felt like we could expose a couple things and attack them. But just those unforced errors,” said Dutiel. “We designed some things to get Bri or Skylar open, and they just didn’t materialize because of a turnover or a missed assignment. A lot of that is just being tired at the end. Our girls played extremely well defensively for three-and-a-half quarters. We just made critical errors at the wrong times.”

Meanwhile, Wheelersburg wasn’t tired —and didn’t make mistakes late.

“Our depth played a role down the stretch,” said Spradlin. “We tried rotating some kids in to get the right combination offensively, but some of that too is to help us stay fresh defensively. The kids that did get in there gave us very good minutes. These kinds of games, every possession is magnified.”

Walker wound up with 17 on three baskets and 11-of-13 free throws — while Keeney’s two deuces, two threes and 3-of-4 foul shots went for 13.

Keeney also blocked two shots —as Walker with seven and Keeney with five led in rebounds.

There were four lead changes in the opening nine minutes and 52 seconds, with Claxon rattling in a three — and which made it 13-11 in favor of the Lady Jeeps.

But for the final 17:18, the Lady Pirates actually outscored South Webster 44-27.

For both clubs, and both coaches, there is still SOC II basketball to be played —plenty of it to be frank.

“All of us are trying to push them (Lady Pirates) off the top,” said Dutiel. “We want to make sure every night they are going to get everybody’s best shot.”

Spradlin said he knows the challenges — and successfully meeting them — are coming from all angles, including withstanding South Webster now twice.

“When you’re not making shots, you have to find other ways to win and players have to step up and make plays. It’s good to see them not panic down 20-11. It’s good to see them finish the game like they did tied at 43-43. It says a lot about their maturity and their belief in one another,” he said. “When you’re at the top of your league, everybody wants you, and is going to give you their best shot. So you have two options. You can either shy away from it, or you can embrace it for what it is. At the end of the day, you have to go out and win ballgames. We’re just going to try to get better every game.”

* * *

South Webster 5 15 14 13 —47

Wheelersburg 9 7 18 21— 55

SOUTH WEBSTER 47 (9-3, 6-2 SOC II)

Faith Maloney 2 2-2 6, Makayla Raynard 0 0-0 0, Bri Claxon 8 3-5 21, Bella Claxon 0 1-2 1, Skylar Zimmerman 4 3-5 11, Riley Raynard 3 0-0 8; TOTALS 17 9-14 47; Three-point field goals: 4 (Bri Claxon and Riley Raynard 2 apiece)

WHEELERSBURG 55 (12-0, 9-0 SOC II)

Madison Whittaker 6 0-0 18, Annie Coriell 0 0-0 0, Lyndsay Heimbach 0 0-0 0, Kiera Kennard 0 0-0 0, Alaina Keeney 4 3-4 13, Makenna Walker 3 11-13 17, Lexie Rucker 2 0-0 4, Macee Eaton 1 1-1 3; TOTALS 16 15-18 55; Three-point field goals: 8 (Madison Whittaker 6, Alaina Keeney 2)

South Webster senior Bri Claxon splits Wheelersburg defenders Madison Whittaker (5) and Lexi Rucker (31) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/01/web1_Claxon-Burg-SW-2.jpgSouth Webster senior Bri Claxon splits Wheelersburg defenders Madison Whittaker (5) and Lexi Rucker (31) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School. Paul Boggs | Daily Times

Wheelersburg’s Makenna Walker (25) drives the lane on South Webster’s Skylar Zimmerman and Faith Maloney (2) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/01/web1_Burg-SW-Walker-2.jpgWheelersburg’s Makenna Walker (25) drives the lane on South Webster’s Skylar Zimmerman and Faith Maloney (2) during Monday night’s Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball game at Wheelersburg High School. Paul Boggs | Daily Times

Wheelersburg’s Madison Whittaker (5) made six three-point goals for a team-high 18 points in the Lady Pirates’ 55-47 Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball victory over South Webster.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2022/01/web1_Whittaker-_-Burg-SW-2.jpgWheelersburg’s Madison Whittaker (5) made six three-point goals for a team-high 18 points in the Lady Pirates’ 55-47 Southern Ohio Conference Division II girls basketball victory over South Webster. Courtesy of Ruth Boll
Lady Pirates battle back, sweep Jeeps

By Paul Boggs

[email protected]

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved