Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
McDERMOTT — As Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin walked off the court into his locker room Thursday night, he muttered a word to describe what had just transpired.
“Woof,” Spradlin said with a slight smile.
Spradlin’s Pirates didn’t play to the best of their abilities, they had trouble guarding an athletic Northwest team at times, and they weren’t always on the same page offensively.
But what the group did do was find a way to win, which is the mark of a good team.
In the end, Wheelersburg (5-0, 4-0 SOC II) left McDermott with a 44-35 win over Northwest, staying perfect this season and adding one more lesson learned to its repertoire.
“I thought our effort was great tonight,” Spradlin said. “We still don’t know when to attack, we missed some opportunities and we forced some opportunities. But we’re still learning. Those are things that just take time. We just have to have patience.”
For the better part of three quarters, Northwest (5-1, 4-1 SOC II) hung right with the defending conference champions. Ava Jenkins and Valerie Copas both pieced together solid efforts for the Mohawks while Haidyn Wamsley and Keirah Potts both played well defensively.
The Mohawks’ athleticism and size forced Wheelersburg to settle for low-quality shots on numerous occasions.
“We told our kids coming in of the challenges that Northwest created with their athleticism and their length,” Spradlin said. “I thought our kids did a pretty good job. We struggled guarding a little bit but we got better as the game went on. We mixed up a few things and just tried to bother them a little bit, tried to make them work a little harder.”
After Wheelersburg’s Kaylee Darnell gave her Pirates a 6-5 lead with her first 3 of the night, Jenkins connected with nylon to put Northwest on top 7-6. The Mohawks then split a pair of free throws before the first quarter ended, taking an 8-6 lead into the second.
That’s when the Pirates made their run.
Leading 9-8 after a bucket from Macee Eaton, Darnell converted a three-point play with 4:13 to go, stretching the lead to 12-8. After Northwest tied the game with buckets from Jenkins and Reagan Lewis, Wheelersburg ended the half on a 7-2 run to take a 19-14 lead into halftime.
Then, in the third, Wheelersburg used Darnell to pull away for good.
Leading 19-17, Darnell hit a 3 to make it 22-17 and then hit another to make it 25-17. With 4:16 left in the third, Ellie Kallner hit a triple of her own to stretch the lead to 28-17 and force Northwest to call a timeout.
At that point, Darnell had 17. She ended the night with a game-high 23 points and unquestionably carried the Pirates offensively through the second half.
“[Darnell] has played a ton of basketball and at different levels,” Spradlin said. “Her instincts are what make her so good. I thought she made a lot of good decisions today and she was in the right spots, helping us defensively. Offensively, she had to work, but she did a lot of good things. She’s a catalyst with the ball and she makes people around her a lot better.”
Still, Northwest didn’t give in.
Behind Copas and Wamsley, the Mohawks battled back to cut the lead to 33-24 with 31 seconds left in the third. In the fourth, Northwest got to within five at 38-33. But the Pirates hit their free throws down the stretch to seal an imperative road win.
Spradlin praised his team’s effort in the third quarter, and the halftime adjustments it was able to make.
“When you work so hard defensively, it takes a lot out of you offensively,” Spradlin said. “But we talked at halftime about missing opportunities. This is a group that has to learn to be patient. We were trying to drive the lane the entire way where, some of those, you stop short and kick it out. We did that in the third quarter.”
Darnell added four rebounds to her 23 points while Eaton had seven points and three boards. Alaina Keeney also chipped in with four points, six rebounds and three assists while Kallner ended the night with five points.
Copas led Northwest with 13 points and five rebounds while Wamsley had eight points. Kloe Montgomery ended with a team-high six rebounds while Jenkins finished with eight points, six boards and three assists.
The win allows Wheelersburg to move into first place, alone, in the SOC II.
“[The last two wins] are huge. They’re huge when you win on the road in this league,” Spradlin said. “We’re five games in and it’s going to be interesting how our league plays out. You win at Oak Hill, at Northwest, and this one was probably a little bit more important given the fact that [Northwest] had already won at Oak Hill. You try to win as many as you can. Our league is really good this year. If you don’t bring it every night, you could walk away with a loss.”
Wheelersburg: 6-13-14-11 — 44
Northwest: 8-6-10-11 — 35
Wheelersburg: 14-47 FG, 10-15 FT, 6-16 3pt., 18 rebounds (Keeney 6), 10 turnovers, 9 assists (Keeney 3). Scoring: Darnell 23, Walker 7, Kallner 5, Eaton 4, Keeney 4, Irwin 1.
Northwest: 15-59 FG, 4-9 FT, 1-5 3pt., 27 rebounds (Lewis 6, Jenkins 6), 21 turnovers, 8 assists (Jenkins 3). Scoring: Copas 13, Jenkins 8, Wamsley 8, Potts 3, Lewis 2, Montgomery 1.