WHEELERSBURG — When the Wheelersburg Lady Pirates take the court in Wednesday night’s Division III regional semifinal against Belmont Union Local, they’ll have experience on their side.
Experience matters in the postseason, and the Lady Pirates (23-0) have plenty of it.
This will be their third trip to the D-III regional tournament in four seasons and in both previous trips, they’ve won their first game.
Someone who can speak to that experience is senior Alaina Keeney — a four-year starter for coach Dusty Spradlin’s Lady Pirates.
“We’ve been here before — me, Makenna (Walker), Madi (Whittaker), Lexie (Rucker), Macee (Eaton),” Keeney said. “I think the experience helps a lot when you’re in big games, you don’t get worked up or nervous. We’ve done great keeping ourselves together this season.”
Wednesday’s regional semifinal will be Wheelersburg’s 100th game since Keeney’s debut as a freshman.
During that time, they’ve built an 88-11 record while still holding a 59-game winning streak in the Southern Ohio Conference Division II — with four outright league championships and made three regional tournaments.
She said Coach Spradlin’s message of playing for championships, and the coaching staff’s game-planning and preparation, are major parts of their success.
“It motivates us. He (Spradlin) does a great job at preparing us, helping get our minds right. That’s our mentality every year — that’s ‘Burg’s mentality in general. Play as tough as you can — everyone knows we’re not going to back down,” Keeney said. “(Tom) Kaskey and Dirk (Hollar) our two assistant coaches both play in practice — pose as players on the other team and help us get prepared for that. It’s great to have coaches that watch film, know the tendencies of the other team to prepare us for that in games.”
In preparing for Union Local, recognizing their own strengths and limiting their opponents’ tendencies has been a focus.
The Lady Jets’ starting lineup features two-time all-Ohioan Reagan Vinskovich (6-foot-2), who is averaging 16.2 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, and Torre Kildow (6-foot-1), who averages 18.5 points a contest.
Union Local defeated Tusky Valley 49-40 to earn their first-ever trip to the regional stage.
Keeney led top-ranked Wheelersburg in scoring this season with 15.9 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.
Earlier this year, she surpassed the 1,000-point mark, was recently named District 14 Division III Player of the Year, is a likely OPSWA (Ohio Prep Sports Writers Association) all-Southeast District first-team member this season — and has earned second-team twice before in her career.
Using the offseasons in the weight room to help build strength has been a focus for Keeney from her freshman year until now — which in turn has meant an improved, aggressive approach on both ends of the court.
“I honestly think being in the weight room. I’ve always been pretty tall, but I look back and I was super scrawny. Now I feel like I’m more aggressive on the offense and defensive ends and that helps a lot,” Keeney said.
Makenna Walker scored an average of 13.0 points a game, and Lexie Rucker scored nine points while pulling in 5.1 rebounds a game as members of the ‘Burg starting lineup.
The Lady Pirates can go seven or eight deep in their rotation, and feel confident in their production thanks to their experience.
That isn’t something unique about this season, either.
Their ability to keep sustained, yearly success despite major losses to their rotation is a testament to their team’s trust and belief in one another, Keeney believes.
“The togetherness we’ve had has been huge,” she said. “We’ve had great players here every year and the team chemistry has been great. You have to play together to win, played with some great scorers in Kaylee (Darnell) and Abbie (Kallner). We help lift each other up and the best thing is we trust each other.”
Wheelersburg has arguably had the best run in program history during the last four seasons.
Two wins in this year’s regional tournament and the program’s first trip to state would solidify that mark.
“Coach Spradlin does a great job of making sure we keep a level head, and I think that’s what helps us most. I’m very confident going into the regional tournament. We’re playing a great team in Union Local. I think we’re just as good, hopefully we can get the job done and make it to the finals.”
The Lady Pirates will play Union Local (23-3 and East District champ) on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. inside Logan’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
The winner between Wheelersburg and Union Local will face the winner of the other D-III regional semifinal — between Fairland and Fort Frye in a regional final on Saturday, March 5 at 1 p.m. at Logan.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved