Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Coming into Saturday’s matchup with Russell (Ky) at Ironton, Wheelersburg’s Kaylee Darnell needed 17 points to reach 1,000 in her already-storied career.
But it wasn’t meant to be that day.
Instead, Darnell notched 1,000 on Monday, in front of a home crowd in a 63-31 win over Eastern … and in a gym where she’s habitually feasted off opposing defenses.
With 5:00 left in the first quarter, Darnell snuck into a passing lane and stole an errant throw. She then went coast-to-coast for her first bucket of the night and Nos. 999 and 1,000.
Also extremely fitting.
“It was really nice getting [1,000] my junior year and having another season to, hopefully, get more points and get up higher on the leaderboard,” Darnell said. “There wasn’t that much pressure. But it is a relief to get it over with. I can just go out and play now.”
Darnell ended the night, after getting the hook early in the fourth, with a team-high 16 points.
Her career point total now stands at 1,014 … and make no mistake about it, there’s many more to come.
“Now that I’ve accomplished this goal, it’s a relief off my shoulders,” Darnell said. “It’s really cool to do it with family from West Virginia, from everywhere, just coming to see me. I’m really blessed with the best friends and family.”
As for the game itself on Monday, after the first eight minutes, it was never close.
Eastern (7-16, 1-15 SOC II) scored the game’s first bucket before the Pirates (18-2, 14-0 SOC II) went on a 5-0 run, a lead they never relinquished.
After Darnell’s 1,000th at the five-minute mark, the Eagles forced an 8-8 tie with 3:07 left in the first quarter. Wheelersburg’s Brittani Wolfenbarker then hit a 3 to make it 11-8, which was the start of a 15-0 run that lasted early into the second quarter.
Eastern’s Abby Cochenour finally stopped the run with her first triple, cutting the deficit to 23-11 with 4:54 until halftime. At the break, Wheelersburg had a 28-16 edge.
In the third, nothing changed.
Darnell scored to make it 30-19 before later burying back-to-back deep balls, extending the Pirates’ edge to 44-21 with 1:44 left. After taking a 46-21 lead into the fourth, Wheelersburg shifted into cruise control before sealing a 32-point win.
The win marks the program’s second straight outright SOC II title.
Wheelersburg, which received a No. 2 seed in this past weekend’s Southeast District tournament draw, has two conference games left on its schedule and will face Wellston in a Division III sectional semifinal at 2 p.m., Sunday at Valley.
“The No. 2 seed, they obviously expect us to be one of the best teams in our district,” Darnell said. “We’re just going to work to live up to that. Hopefully we make it as far as we did last year, if not farther. I believe we can do that as a team. Our defensive pressure has to pick up because on the defensive end, we can be deadly. If that happens, I think we’ll be fine.”
After Darnell’s 16 points, Alaina Keeney posted 12 points and four rebounds for Wheelersburg. Madison Whittaker also helped out, scoring eight points, and Ellie Kallner ended the night with five points and three assists.
Abby Cochenour led Eastern with 16 points while Andee Lester added 11 points and five rebounds.
Wheelersburg is back in action on Thursday at South Webster while Eastern returns to the hardwood next Monday in a Division IV sectional semifinal against Whiteoak.