By Barb VanSickle-Roush
The Scioto County Candor
If you were looking for an edge of your seat, exciting boy’s play-off game, you would not have been able to pick a better one than the Division III Boys District Championship game Saturday night at the Convo in Athens, as the Wheelersburg Pirates defeated the Piketon Redstreaks 66-50 to win the district.
Pirates head Coach Steven Ater told his team prior to the game how important it was to come out swinging.
“We had better come out with some fire and intensity, because we know they are going to,” said Ater before the game. “They are going to play very fast, they’re very athletic. And they are going to pressure us, so we need to make sure we settle in and handle the basketball well and work on the things we did in practice and make sure we carry those over to the game.”
While Wheelersburg came out and scored first, they went into half-time trailing Piketon 28-26.
Coming back out in the second half the Pirates jumped to an early lead with Tanner Holden scoring a fast 5 points right out of the gate. At the end of the third quarter Wheelersburg had the lead 46-43.
Even though Burg led going into the 4th quarter, it wasn’t very long before the game was tied at 48. But soon the Pirates rallied to take the win 66-50.
“I’m really happy for the kids, really proud of them,” said Ater. “Their response in the second quarter when they made an 8-point run on us, well the run was bigger, but they had an 8 point lead, and for us to cut that down to 2 before half time, it allowed our guys to come in take a deep breath.”
The Pirates came out at half-time knowing there was still a lot more game to be played. But it wasn’t the coaches who pumped up the team.
“That’s our leadership,” continued Ater. “Kind of getting on to one another, staying together, not panicking, and just saying ‘we didn’t play our best basketball we’ve got 16 minutes to flip it, all we need is one more possession than them’. And we got that starting in the 3rd quarter. “
The third quarter was just the beginning of Wheelersburg’s run.
“I thought that was a big run there, a couple steals, and J.J. (Truitt) comes up with the ball late and has the presence of mind to throw it ahead to Cole (Lowery) who rushes and gets a great tough shot, I mean that’s what you want Seniors doing at that time and this time of year,” said Ater.
“I thought Mack Dyer played a heck of a ball game defensively on the glass, made some big hustle plays in the 4th quarter,” continued Ater. “You know Tanner was Tanner, this is exactly what you would expect out of him.”
“It took him a little while to get going,” Ater said of Tanner. “Because of their defensive attention but our guys started figuring out ways to start getting him the basketball, and he started going and attacking and getting it. Finished really well around the rim, hit some jump shots.”
“In the second half I thought that Connor Mullins played fantastic for us, I thought that J.J. was phenomenal as well, just coming underneath and stealing a ball off a guy on a defensive rebound just a very heads-up play, wise beyond his years.”
Coach Ater credits the biggest change-up of the night to one of his assistant coaches.
“I felt when we went to our zone, that disrupted their rhythm for the first time all night,” said Ater. “So, give Coach Bradford credit for recommending that little switch there that helped us, it just threw them off and made them uncomfortable enough to allow us to get a few deflections, rebounds, and steals. Then our transition game got going.”
On the night, four members of the Pirates squad scored in double digits, with the point leader being Junior Tanner Holden with 24 points. Followed by Junior Connor Mullins with 12 points, Senior Cole Lowery with 11 points, and Freshman J.J. Truitt with 10 points. Junior Ashton Clevenger added 3 points to the total, while Senior Mack Oyer, Junior Trent Salyers, and Junior Justin Salyers all contributed 2 points to the Pirate win.
The success of the newly crowned District Champions comes down to the intensity and sometimes stubbornness of the players.
“It’s a bunch of hard-headed, sometimes thick-headed, awesome young men who work really, really hard together for their community, for their people in their town, for their school, for their program, and most of all for each other,” said Ater. “And that’s why I am really proud of the way they’ve come together. The way they stuck together. There was some adversity out there, and instead of turning on each other, we grabbed each other and kept together, and that’s something as a coach and a parent to be really, really proud of.
The Pirates will be returning to the Convo for the Regional Semi-Final on Wednesday March 14 to take on the #1 ranked Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (26-0), tip-off at 8:00p.m.