LUCASVILLE — Over the past two postseasons, the rims at Valley High School have been very good to the Wheelersburg Pirates’ girls basketball program in four postseason victories by at least 13 points or more.
That, however, has a lot to do with Wheelersburg’s constant on and off-ball movement — and the overall trust that each player has in each other as well as Dusty Spradlin’s effective four and five-out systems.
On Saturday evening, that trust again came out in the form of Kaylee Darnell and Abbie Kallner, who each put together 20-plus point performances, as well as Alaina Keeney and Lauren Jolly, who stepped up critically with big plays on both ends of the floor as Wheelersburg, despite 35 combined tallies from star players Allison Basye and Braiden Collins, defeated the Chillicothe Huntington Huntswomen on Saturday by a 56-43 tally to take home a Division III Sectional Championship in a contest that was played at Valley High School in Lucasville.
For Dusty Spradlin, the outing was exactly the kind of full, 32-minute performance that he was looking for after Wheelersburg’s sluggish start in its sectional semifinal victory over Adena on Thursday evening.
“We came out today against Huntington’s zone and just shot the ball really well,” Spradlin said. “I thought that we had good energy early. I was hoping to cut down on some more of their dribble penetration, but those two kids that they have can score the ball (Basye and Collins). They’re aggressive and they have that scorer’s mentality where they put their head down and get to the basket. The kids did a really good job. I’d like to see us make a few more shots in the third and fourth quarter. We got some good opportunities down low and just didn’t cash in on some of them, but it was a good performance.”
As for Darnell, who was the game’s leading scorer, the sophomore says that confidence breeds confidence.
“Like Abbie said, ‘Confidence is contagious,'” Darnell said. “Not having confidence is also contagious. If one of us is hitting, everyone’s going to gain confidence, and that’s going to result in us hitting more shots.”
From the opening tip, Wheelersburg was in a different groove than normal as Darnell, Abbie Kallner, and Ellie Kallner immediately came out firing. In fact, the star trio, who have carried the majority of the Lady Pirates’ offensive load, notched each of Wheelersburg’s first 11 tallies to start the affair — with the middle of the three leading the way with five herself — all while holding Chillicothe Huntington to two field goals in the quarter en route to an 11-5 advantage. During that quarter, the Lady Pirates got one trey apiece from each as Wheelersburg jumped out to the six-point advantage early.
“We take our shootarounds really seriously,” Darnell said. “We’re very serious about maintaining our form and going up with it in an actual game motion.”
In the second quarter, however, it was clear that Darnell and Abbie Kallner were in a different zone.
Fueled by two early threes that the duo hit to open up the second quarter scoring for Wheelersburg, Darnell and Kallner continued to relentlessly attack with vigor on the offensive end as the duo combined for 21 of Wheelersburg’s 25 second quarter points, which allowed the Lady Pirates to open the six-point first quarter lead to 14, 36-22, at the halftime break — a margin that Darnell credited to the Lady Pirates’ excellent ballhanding and overall skill at all five positions on the court.
“It’s really nice having trust in each other,” Darnell said. “Everybody’s skilled. Everyone can dribble the ball and shoot it. It’s really nice to swing it around and get that production in all facets of the game from all five players on the court.”
“Kaylee was really good,” Spradlin said. “I took her out early because while I felt she was getting good shots early, you need to assess when is a good time to get players out and allow them to catch their breath. I had that feeling that it was a good time to get her out really quick and get her to settle down really quick. Boy, when she came back in, she was super aggressive in that second quarter. Normally, I don’t like giving up 17 in a quarter, but when you score 25, it’s okay. Abbie was pretty steady all night, as usual. And she had to guard Basye, who, in addition to her scoring abilities, is 5-11. We knew going in that somebody was going to have to come in and pick up that defensive load.”
In the third quarter of action, both players’ action offensively was aided by strong contributions from Alaina Keeney and Lauren Jolly. The former added eight points in a strong offensive contributing performance, while the latter, without scoring a point, made five possessions worth, if not more, with her difference in flying around and hustling for 50-50 balls.
Both, along with Darnell and Kallner, gave the Huntswomen fits in those areas as Chillicothe Huntington, after cutting the lead down to 36-27 early in the third quarter, never came any closer as Wheelersburg extinguished the threat for good behind a 10-3 run in the middle of the third frame that included eight points combined from Darnell and Kallner.
“Lauren Jolly was really, really, really good today,” Spradlin said. “She was very active. She helped us obtain quite a few second chance opportunities on the offensive glass, and did a good job spelling defensively. As for Alaina, she’s had a really good freshman season. I don’t know if a lot of people realize how difficult it is to step in from a junior high program to starting at the high school level. She’s stepped right in and has started every game for us. She presents matchup problems for people, she can shoot the three-ball, and she’s pretty good off of the dribble. She’s given us a lot of good minutes. Moving forward, the sky’s the limit for her.”
“Lauren made some huge plays for us,” Darnell said when asked about Jolly’s hustle and grit. “She always gives it her all and never settles for anything less than 100 percent.”
With the victory, No. 3-seeded Wheelersburg will advance to play No. 2-seeded Fairland on Saturday afternoon at 1:45 p.m. in the Division III, Waverly II District Semifinals, which will be held at the Downtown Arena in Waverly. It’s a matchup that will certainly come down to the wire, but a matchup that Wheelersburg can win given the matchup problems that it presents.
“Fairland’s an opponent that we have run into several times in the past,” Spradlin said. “They play a zone, but are really active in it and cover a lot of space. Offensively, Jon (Buchanan) does a really good job with those kids. They’ve got kids who can shoot on the perimeter, are big, and can put their head down. We’ll enjoy this for now and try to knock off a No. 2 seed. At this point, anything can happen.”
And of course, their regular season schedule has certainly prepared them for this point in the season, as well — like most good teams still left in the postseason.
“We pointed to the West Carter (Ky.) game, specifically, for this matchup because that was one of our more complete games this season,” Spradlin said. “It wasn’t a super high-scoring game, but it was a really good performance. Our kids were locked in the whole time. We talked about the Adena game, and how we didn’t play the full 32 minutes. We knew that we needed to play more of a complete game today and take away some of the missed shots in the second half. Our kids played a pretty complete game and were really good (on Saturday ). Those games have prepared us. We had the high-scoring game against Spring Valley (W. Va.), and a low-scoring game against South Webster where the final was 35-25, so when you get to tournament time, it’s all about matchups. You’ve got to be able to play different styles, and our schedule has prepared us for that. If our kids play with the same confidence level and keep giving us the energy that they did tonight, anything can happen. I’m excited moving forward.”
Chill. Huntington 5 17 12 9 — 43
Chill. Huntington — Basye 5-3-14, Black 1-1-4, Collins 8-5-21, Entler 1-0-2, Haubeil 1-0-2, Totals 16-9-43.
Wheelersburg — Darnell 9-5-25, A. Kallner 8-2-20, E. Kallner 1-0-3, Keeney 4-0-8, Totals 22-7-56.
Three-Point Goals — Chill. Huntington 2 (Basye, Black); Wheelersburg 5 (Darnell 2, A. Kallner 2, E. Kallner).
Records — Chill. Huntington 15-7, Wheelersburg 20-4.