Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — No matter the score and no matter the situation, when Wheelersburg starts to see the ball go through the net, the Pirates are like sharks in the water.
After absorbing an early punch Thursday night and immediately digging a 10-2 hole, the Pirates received three consecutive buckets from freshmen Macee Eaton and Makenna Walker, and junior Kaylee Darnell.
From there, they took an 11-10 lead and never looked back in a 56-42 win over Northwest.
Confidence. Confidence. Confidence.
When Wheelersburg (15-1, 12-0 SOC II) gets just a dash of it, all bets are off.
“Coach [Dusty Spradlin] said to just keep going at them,” sophomore Alaina Keeney said. “That’s our mentality. We’re a pretty tough team and we don’t back down. That’s for sure. So he said just keep playing tough and go out there and do what we know how to do.”
With Thursday’s win, the Pirates now have a stranglehold on the league’s title race — they lead the second-place Mohawks (16-2, 11-2 SOC II) by two games with four left on their schedule. Next week, ‘Burg will play at Minford before hosting Waverly.
Two wins clinch at least a share of the SOC II title.
“This is huge. We’ve been working in practice [to be in a situation like this] since day one,” Keeney said. “We’ve got a lead in the SOC but we’re still not done. We’ve still got a couple of tough games left, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Thursday’s win was based around defense. After the Mohawks took a 10-2 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter, they scored just eight throughout the next 12 minutes.
En route to forcing 20 turnovers, the Pirates clogged passing lanes, contested shots, and translated a stingy defense into points on the other end.
“Turnovers is the thing that has hurt us all year long. Decision-making,” Northwest coach Dave Frantz said. “To Wheelersburg’s credit, they’re a great defensive team. But we have to get better at taking care of the ball. You work and work and work on it, and we’re not going to stop. We’ve been doing better and tonight, we get back to 20 turnovers. So we’ll get back to work.”
The Pirates took their first lead with 44.3 seconds left in the first quarter when Brittani Wolfenbarker hit the first of seven team triples.
Wolfenbarker then hit another 3 with 6:42 left in the second, making it 16-12. Ellie Kallner and Lani Irwin followed with 3’s of their own, stretching the edge to 24-16 at the 3:07 mark … remember that part about confidence?
Keeney later closed the first half with a bucket and sent her team to the locker room with a 28-18 lead. But in the third, she really began to have her way with the Mohawks’ defense.
After a score from Darnell, Keeney scored to make it 35-21 before later dialing long distance for a 43-28 count. She tallied another bucket with 6:24 left in the fourth, making it 47-33, before Northwest attempted to rally.
The Mohawks went on a 7-2 run, cutting the deficit to 49-40 with less than four minutes remaining.
But on the ensuing possession, Ellie Kallner pushed the lead back to double digits with a 3 to ultimately provide the dagger.
A triple from Makenna Walker with 1:17 left put the finishing touches on a Pirate win.
“I can’t say enough about my kids. They’re fighters. We make a few mistakes here and there but we never give up,” Frantz said. “We came out hot tonight and we had a game plan. But Wheelersburg is the most athletic team we’ll see all season. Towards the end, I could see fatigue hitting us a little bit. I told the girls this hurts and it’s supposed to hurt. But the measure of a good team is how it bounces back.”
Keeney finished with a game-high 14 points alongside a team-high seven rebounds. Kallner added nine points, Eaton finished with eight points and five rebounds, and Darnell had seven points and six assists.
Keirah Potts led Northwest with 11 points and five rebounds while Haidyn Wamsley had nine points. Valerie Copas ended the night with six points and six rebounds, and Ava Jenkins tallied five points, seven boards, and three assists.
The Mohawks will try and bounce back, as Frantz alluded to, on Monday at South Webster. Next up on Wheelersburg’s agenda is a trip to Greenup County (Ky.) on Saturday.
“We work hard in practice on defense and that’s our main goal,” Keeney said. “We know offense is going to come to us. We all have pretty good shots. But our main focus is defense and getting stops. I also think our freshmen have stepped up really well and clashed real well with the team. They’re going to be really good add-ons come tournament time.”
Northwest: 10-8-17-7 — 42
Wheelersburg: 11-17-17-11 — 56
Northwest: 18-50 FG, 2-7 FT, 4-11 3 pt., 35 rebounds (Montgomery 9), 20 turnovers, 6 assists (Jenkins 3). Scoring: Potts 11, Wamsley 9, Copas 7, Montgomery 6, Jenkins 5, Lewis 4.
Wheelersburg: 20-58 FG, 9-13 FT, 7-21 3 pt., 25 rebounds (Keeney 7), 5 turnovers, 11 assists (Darnell 6). Scoring: Keeney 14, Kallner 9, Eaton 8, Darnell 7, Walker 7, Wolfenbarker 6, Irwin 3, Jolly 2.