Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
LUCASVILLE — All year long, Wheelersburg’s girls have talked about getting back to a regional final and avenging last season’s loss.
Saturday, they took the first step in doing so.
It wasn’t a win where they shot Chesapeake out of the gym and it wasn’t a win that left spectators leaving the gym ridiculously impressed. But it was a win, and that’s the only thing that matters at this point in the season.
The Pirates (21-2) handed the Panthers a season-ending 51-37 loss at Valley, claiming their sixth straight sectional title. But even after a double-digit win, they knew they have work to do.
“We need to come out stronger, definitely. We need to come out right from the start, push and keep going as hard as we can,” senior Lani Irwin said. “That would really give us momentum and if we can carry that throughout the entire game, it will be easy for us.”
Irwin isn’t wrong about the Pirates’ start.
Wheelersburg had an 11-0 lead out of the gates, a run powered by Ellie Kallner, Alaina Keeney and Kaylee Darnell. However, the Panthers quickly cut the lead to 13-9 at the end of the first quarter with a run of their own.
However, Darnell halted any concerns of Chesapeake actually taking the lead as the junior scored with 5:39 left in the second. That’s before her team outscored the Panthers by a 9-6 margin to take a 22-15 edge into the locker room.
In the third, Darnell went back to work and capped an 11-3 run with a bucket and a foul at the 3:30 mark. The Pirates’ 33-18 advantage swelled to 42-21 before the quarter ended.
PHOTOS: Images from Wheelersburg’s 51-37 win over Chesapeake
Chesapeake made a late rally, winning the fourth 16-9, but had already dug itself a hole that was insurmountable.
“It’s really hard to not look forward to the next game,” Irwin said. “That’s kind of what we were doing today. But you just have to calm each other down and focus on what’s happening in the moment. That’s really what determines what happens in the long run. We have to be intense and not think about outside distractions.”
Darnell led Wheelersburg with 17 points and six rebounds while Keeney added nine points and 10 boards. Kallner had eight points, seven rebounds and two assists, and McKenna Walker posted seven points.
The Pirates will have to do their due diligence while they await a Division III district semifinal bout with North Adams — which will take place at 12 p.m., Saturday at Waverly’s Downtown Gym.
The Green Devils have the one thing that could potentially give Wheelersburg issues: size.
“It’s going to be more game play and we’ll have to run through that at practice,” Irwin said. “Lauren Jolly always [guards] the big girls and she does a really good job of holding them down. We’re going to have to double some more and we’re going to have to work on game play. But I think we’ll be fine.”
Chesapeake: 9-6-6-16 — 37
Wheelersburg: 13-9-20-9 — 51
Chesapeake: 13-41 FG, 8-16 FT, 3-9 3 pt., 25 rebounds (Anderson 9), 10 turnovers, 6 assists (Anderson 2, Pauley 2). Scoring: Ward 24, Anderson 5, Duncan 4, Pauley 4.
Wheelersburg: 17-63 FG, 15-25 FT, 2-19 3 pt., 37 rebounds (Keeney 10), 9 turnovers, 5 assists (Kallner 2). Scoring: Darnell 17, Keeney 9, Kallner 8, Walker 7, Eaton 4, Jolly 2, Heimbach 2, Hamilton 2.