Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — If you would’ve told West that Wheelersburg was going to finish 2-of-16 from beyond the 3-point arc and Pirates guard Kaylee Darnell was going to score just nine points, the Senators probably would’ve bet their bottom dollar on a victory.
But they would’ve gone broke making that wager.
While the Pirates did struggle to score from deep, Darnell packed the stat sheet with an impressive balanced performance — and she received help in the scoring column from both Makenna Walker and Alaina Keeney, who both ended in double-digit scoring figures.
In effect, Wheelersburg (17-2) broke its brooms out and completed a three-game sweep of the Senators this season with a 45-38 win in a Division III sectional championship.
“I thought we played really well,” Wheelersburg coach Dusty Spradlin said. “I felt like we guarded OK. What we didn’t do early was guard the dribble well. But that got better as the game went on. I was concerned with West. I didn’t think they were seeded in the right spot. I think they should’ve been seeded higher. They’re good, they’re young and they have guard play and size. But they got in foul trouble tonight, which was tough for them.”
Darnell’s nine points were combined with 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Even when she’s not scoring, she makes sure she leaves her fingerprints on the game.
“Kaylee has had a few games where she’s had a similar outcome,” Spradlin said. “She struggled shooting tonight but I felt like she still got pretty good shots. But she impacts the game in other ways. She helped us handle the ball a little more tonight and rebounding, defensively, we kind of ask her to do it all. I told her and Ellie [Kallner] that I needed them to prepare to play all 32 minutes. They were both pretty close to that.”
Charlie Jo Howard and Maelynn Howell gave the Senators (12-7) an early 4-0 lead before Emma Sayre and Lexi Deaver extended the edge to 9-4 with 4:02 left in the first quarter. After the Senators took an 11-5 advantage via Haley Coleman, the Pirates stopped messing around.
Lexie Rucker, Alaina Keeney and Makenna Walker scored three straight times to force an 11-11 tie heading into the second.
Walker gave the Pirates a 13-11 lead with 5:38 left in the second before Macee Eaton made it a 15-11 and capped a 10-0 run. Rucker and Darnell finished the half with scores, pushing the lead to 19-12 at halftime and polishing off a quarter where West didn’t log a field goal.
“I’m not sure how many clean looks they got [in the second quarter],” Spradlin said. “We really tried to talk about not giving up open 3’s. They have multiple kids that can shoot. And in trying to guard their bigs, we wanted to make them shoot instead of driving into the lane. But I thought our kids did a pretty good job of getting up into them.”
In the third, Darnell and Walker added four consecutive free throws to the team’s totals, making it a 21-12 score. Howard then hit two free throws before Ellie Kallner and Alaina Keeney teamed up to push the lead to 28-14 with 5:29 left.
Eden Cline then dialed long distance, tallying the Senators’ first field goal since the 2:36 mark in the first, before Keeney logged back-to-back scores to put the Pirates ahead 33-17. The Senators finished the quarter on a 5-2 run but entered the fourth trailing 35-22.
West made a rally attempt in the fourth. Down 36-22, the Senators managed to cut the deficit to 41-34 with a 12-5 run courtesy of Deaver, Howell and Abby Adkins — who drilled two 3’s. But seven would be as little as the Pirates’ lead dwindled in a 45-38 final.
“You have to give our kids credit. It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve played,” Spradlin said. “It’s been a lot of practice and it’s been tough with this snow.”
Following Darnell’s final stat line was Keeney with 12 points and Walker with 10 points and six rebounds. Rucker had seven points and five rebounds, and Kallner added three points, four boards and a pair of assists.
Deaver led the Senators with 10 points, six rebounds and two assists while Howell added six points and a team-high seven boards. Adkins had six points and Sayre finished with five.
While West’s postseason run comes to an end, Wheelersburg will match up with New Lexington in a Division III district semifinal — a 51-47 winner over Fairfield on Wednesday. That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., Feb. 24.
“I think we need to work more offensively,” Spradlin said. “Defensively, a couple of the rebounds, we had a hard time gathering. I felt like we had people in the right spots but we didn’t attack. But other than that, I thought we were pretty good. When you give up 38 points, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
West: 11-1-10-16 — 38
Wheelersburg: 11-8-16-10 — 45
West: 14-45 FG, 6-8 FT, 4-12 3pt., 21 rebounds (Howell 7), 17 turnovers, 5 assists (Deaver 2). Scoring: Deaver 10, Adkins 6, Howell 6, Sayre 5, Howard 4, Cline 3, Coleman 2, Bennett 2.
Wheelersburg: 14-43 FG, 15-24 FT, 2-16 3pt., 32 rebounds (Darnell 10), 14 turnovers, 7 assists (Darnell 4). Scoring: Keeney 12, Walker 10, Darnell 9, Rucker 7, Kallner 3, Eaton 2, Jolly 2.