LOGAN — Simply put, you didn’t need a complex analysis of this one.
That’s because, with Wheelersburg’s 56-45 loss to the Union Local Lady Jets in Wednesday night’s Division III girls basketball regional semifinal game, it started —and ended —with the previously-undefeated Lady Pirates not making shots.
Grant it, the Lady Pirates (23-1) played the tallest team they have encountered all season —given the Lady Jets’ (24-3) top two on-paper players of juniors Reagan Vinskovich (6-2) and Torre Kildow (6-1).
Vinskovich, a two-time all-Ohio performer for 2020 and 2021 and likely another honor in 2022, did score a game-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting —and amounted a double-double by hauling in 11 rebounds.
But the perimeter-oriented Lady Pirates, usually a live mas and die less three-point shooting squad — greatly contributed to the Lady Jets’ 30 boards, by misfiring for their opening 13 three-ball attempts.
They were 1-of-15 for the first half and 2-of-20 total through three quarters —with Madison Whittaker in the second stanza and Alaina Keeney in the third frame finally hitting from beyond the arc.
While Wheelersburg trailed the Lady Jets wire-to-wire, those two triples got the Lady Pirates to within 20-16 and 29-23 —before two more trifectas from Keeney (43-33) and Whittaker (43-38) were part of the Orange and Black’s comeback attack and attempt in the fourth.
The Lady Pirates put together a dozen unanswered points in the opening four minutes and 17 seconds of the final quarter —slicing their deficit to 43-42, which was as close as they got all game.
But, by only splashing five of their 23 three-point attempts, they were forced to play constant catch-up to the soaring Lady Jets.
“The kids battled back and dug out of a hole the whole game, but I knew we were going to HAVE to make shots. The bottom line was we made some in that fourth quarter, but we didn’t make enough,” said Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin, who has now coached the Lady Pirates for two full decades. “We got in a bit of a hurry, but everything is a bit rushed when you’re going against all that size in that matchup zone. Especially our shots and some of our passes. I thought we had them tired at times, but we just couldn’t make enough shots, especially in that first half.”
Whittaker, with 11 points, was 3-of-10 from distance — while the two-time all-Ohio Honorable Mention honoree Keeney canned 2-of-7.
Makenna Walker and Lexie Rucker each missed two attempts, and Macee Eaton and Annie Coriell took one try apiece.
Eaton also had 10 points to tie Keeney, as she too tallied a double-double — with 10 of the Lady Pirates’ 25 rebounds.
Worth her Merritt
While Wheelersburg wasn’t making their trey tries, Union Local’s Hannah Merritt meshed hers.
In the opening two-and-a-half minutes, the 5-7 senior splashed three from the top-of-the key —putting the Lady Pirates in a fast 9-0 hole for their largest, at that time, of the entire tournament.
That deficit turned to double digits just 30 seconds into the second quarter, when Merritt made her fourth three —this one off the wing for an 18-8 advantage.
Merritt missed on her other two three-point attempts, but the damage to the Lady Pirates had already been done.
She finished with 16 points, and had no fear of the power of the Purple Palace that is Logan High School’s Jim Myers Gymnasium.
Spradlin said the Lady Pirates lost Merritt on early screen sets.
“They have so much size, and we got caught on a screen on that first possession where we had to run through two bigs, and she got loose and knocked that shot down,” said the coach. “Then like a good shooter, once you make one, the next one is probably going in too. They did a good job of settling in and locating her. We also lost her once in transition.”
Sometimes, it is all about how you finish.
For the Lady Pirates, with the exception of the opener, the final three quarter ends were all unkind against Union Local.
After falling behind 9-0 only two-and-a-half minutes in, they actually outscored the Lady Jets 8-6 in the first’s final five-and-a-half.
But trailing 20-16 with 3:52 to play in the second, the Jets finished the half on a 9-4 run —and the Lady Pirates can thank Jocelyn Tilley’s tough shot underneath the bucket going in for that 29-20 halftime deficit.
Then, Wheelersburg was within three points twice in the third —at 31-28 and 33-30.
But the Lady Jets jump-started again, and went off for eight unanswered points over the final 3:25 —and the opening minute and five seconds of the fourth.
With Wheelersburg facing its largest of the tournament, and even the season, at 43-30 —the Lady Pirates did storm back with a dozen unanswered of their own.
However, in that final 3:43, the only other Orange and Black basket was Whittaker’s third and final three-pointer —with 29 tics to go.
That made it 54-45, as the Jets enjoyed a fourth-frame free-throw shooting contest — with Wheelersburg forced to foul.
Kildow was 0-of-4 in the first, followed by Vinskovich going 4-of-6 in the middle two cantos.
Union Local landed 9-of-12 in the last —including 2-of-2 by Merritt and 5-of-6 by Emily Kellaway.
Indeed, it’s safe to say that these Lady Pirates played well above expectations this season —given the immense graduation losses of starters Kaylee Darnell, Lauren Jolly and Ellie Kallner off their regional runner-up unit.
All Wheelersburg followed up with was an undefeated regular season of 20 wins, another outright Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, extending their league winning streak to 59 games, a ninth district title in program history, and the Division III Associated Press poll championship.
“How many people really expected us be undefeated, win the league, be number-one in the state, and win another district title and be back in the regionals?” said Spradlin.
Likely, not many.
Spradlin praised his senior leader Keeney —the only 12th grader of the Lady Pirates’ four to be part of the regular eight-gal rotation.
Keeney, unquestionably, was captain of the ship.
Wheelersburg won 88 games, and lost only 12, over Keeney’s four-year outstanding career.
“Alaina was such a great leader, she’s been so good and so successful for us for four years,” said Spradlin. “Super proud of what she’s been able to do. She has started every game since her freshman season and played in three regionals. It’s been quite a run for her.”
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