Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
OAK HILL — Coming into Monday’s league matchup, Wheelersburg’s game plan centered around Oak Hill senior guard Caitlyn Brisker.
The Pirates knew all too well that if the Oaks’ leading scorer could get open looks at the basket, they might very well be in danger of dropping a contest at Oak Hill for a second straight season.
So, in effect, Ellie Kallner and Lauren Jolly … as well as multiple others … hounded Brisker all night long by playing an in-your-pocket type defense that forced the Oaks to look for other scoring options.
That game plan worked to perfection as the Pirates (4-0, 3-0 SOC II) held Brisker under wraps while continuing a hot start to the season with a key 49-34 victory.
“I threw the girls in some situations that we really haven’t practiced a ton. Thankfully, we’ve got some older kids that can lead the way when that happens,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “But we tried to focus on [Brisker]. She’s such a great athlete and once she gets going downhill, she’s tough to stop.”
Brisker mustered just eight points on the evening, all of which she had to fight for. It was her lowest scoring total this season, which is understandable considering the platoon of fresh legs she had to work against.
“When you can go out and put three, four or five girls in front of Cait Brisker, you’ve done a heck of a job defensively,” Oak Hill coach Doug Hale said. “I thought at times we adjusted to that with other ball-handlers and strategies on offense, but we couldn’t stay consistent.”
For the better part of three quarters, the Oaks (2-3, 2-2 SOC II) played right with Wheelersburg, even after committing 12 turnovers in the first half alone … which plagued Oak Hill throughout the game.
After Wheelersburg took a 12-11 lead into the second quarter, Kaylee Darnell was active early in the second. The Pirates’ junior guard created two turnovers and scored twice on the other end, making it 16-11. Later, with 4:32 left, she found Lani Irwin for a 3-ball to make it 19-13.
The lead would swell to 27-15 after Kallner got a bucket and a foul to go at the 2:37 mark. However, Oak Hill ended the half on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to seven at the break.
The Oaks continued to chip away in the third, cutting the lead to 30-26 with 5:08 left. However, out of a timeout, Kallner and Darnell combined for a 5-0 run to make it 35-26, a nine point lead that would stay intact at 37-28 heading to the fourth.
That’s when disaster struck for Oak Hill.
After Makenna Walker gave ‘Burg a 39-28 with 7:03 left, the Pirates forced a turnover and Kallner capitalized at the 6-minute mark to make it 42-28. The Pirates then got a free throw from Darnell before forcing another turnover, which led to a 3-ball from Alaina Keeney and upped the lead to 46-28.
Kallner then put the finishing touches on a 12-0 run with yet another triple at the 4:41 mark in the fourth.
The Oaks simply didn’t have the time or the energy to recover.
“Turnovers have been our nemesis all year,” Hale said. “We’ve worked and worked in trying to build confidence, and we saw a little bit of that tonight. But we’re having one real confident play and then … well, point to the fact, we cut the lead to four in the third quarter and boom, [Wheelersburg] hits a two and then gets a turnover before hitting a three. Within two possessions, they’re up nine. They hit five of six 3’s in the fourth quarter. We just didn’t recover.”
Darnell led the Pirates in scoring with 15 points while Kallner and Keeney finished with 14 and 10, respectively.
Oak Hill’s Olivia Clarkson led all scorers with 16 points while Brisker, as mentioned, added eight to the team’s total.
“This is a huge win for us,” Spradlin said. “We had no games for the longest time and then three last week. So bit feels like, as a coach, we haven’t had enough practice to prepare for a team like [Oak Hill]. Doug does a great job putting his kids in a position to succeed. Luckily, we made some shots. We just have to keep getting better. That has to be our focus.”
The Pirates now shift their focus on a road trip to battle with undefeated Northwest, whom they’ll meet with on Thursday. The Mohawks will also play Tuesday in a rescheduled league game against West.
“Northwest is another big game but like Doug and I said before tonight’s game, they’re all big in this league,” Spradlin said. “But that’s a good thing. You want competition like that. We’ll come back in tomorrow and see if we can get another big road win on Thursday.”
Meanwhile, Oak Hill is back in action on Thursday as well. The Oaks will travel to Waverly, a team that’s also still undefeated.
“We’re going to get back in here tomorrow, keep our kids positive and look forward to going and playing Waverly,” Hale said. “Our league, from top to bottom, you better play every night. We knew that coming in tonight. I thought our girls had a great attitude all day and left it all on the floor. But at the end of the day, we made too many mistakes to beat a team like Wheelersburg.”