WAVERLY — Wheelersburg’s stout defense was once again on display Saturday afternoon.
The Pirates’ held Waverly’s Zoiee Smith, one of the area’s most explosive players, to just five points in a 53-35 win over the Tigers in SOC II action.
That effort was led by defensive spark plug Lauren Jolly, who was tasked with guarding Smith for much of the day.
“Coming into this game, we knew that Zoiee was one of the top players,” Wheelersburg senior Kaylee Darnell said. “Lauren came out in the first quarter and played really good defense. That was the whole game. That really helped a lot.”
The hoop seemed to have a lid on it for the Pirates throughout the first quarter. Wheelersburg shot just 1-for-10 from beyond the arc and had trouble finding any offensive rhythm.
But despite that statistic, the Pirates (9-1, 9-0 SOC II) still chalked up 10 points in the quarter. Makenna Walker and Alaina Keeney both had three in the first, while Kaylee Darnell and Macee Eaton added two of their own.
But the Tigers (9-3, 5-3 SOC II) held a 13-10 lead heading to the second, thanks to the efforts of Michaela Rhoads, who tallied six points with two 3’s.
Rolling over to the second, the Pirates knew they had to change the momentum of the game … and that they did. Wheelersburg scored 18 in the frame, a charge led by Darnell, Makenna Walker and Alaina Keeney.
The Tigers, meanwhile, seemed to hit a roadblock in the second, that roadblock being the Wheelersburg defense.
“We usually stress the importance of defense,” Keeney said. “We know that offense will come to us during the game. We just trust each other and try to help each other as best as we can.”
Wheelersburg held the Tigers to five points in the quarter, sending the game into halftime with a score of 28-18 in Wheelersburg’s favor.
Starting the third with a 10-point deficit isn’t in the itinerary for any team, but that was the case for the Tigers. Unfortunately, the Pirates’ defense wasn’t loosening up.
Waverly was once again held to under 10 points in the quarter, tallying eight. Wheelersburg, on the other hand, came out of halftime with two things in mind: extend the lead and put away the win.
Wheelersburg’s ball movement was superb in the third and the end result was three triples coming from Ellie Kallner, Keeney, and Lexie Rucker. Those shots helped the Pirates take a 41-26 into the final eight minutes.
In the game’s finale, the Pirates took care of business. Wheelersburg dropped 12 points in the quarter, led by Rucker and Darnell, who both led the charge with four points each to close things out.
Darnell finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds and two steals while Keeney had 10 points. Rucker and Makenna Walker also helped out, finishing with nine points each.
Late in the fourth, Waverly’s Paige Carter snagged her sixth rebound of the game, which also happened to be the 700th of her career. In the midst of a conference loss, Carter’s rebound brought up the morale of the Tigers.
Carter ended the day with eight points and seven boards, Sarah Thompson had eight points and six rebounds, and Kelli Stewart had six points and six rebounds. Smith ended the day with five points and nine assists.
For Waverly, the loss brings an end to its seven-game win streak. The Tigers will look to get back on track on Monday, traveling to Minford. Meanwhile, the still-perfect Pirates will be back on the court the same night, traveling to Oak Hill.
“We had a lot of momentum coming into today from our last win against West,” Darnell said. “It helped us. We’ll just keep going from there.”