JACKSON – The Wheelersburg Pirates are a step closer to their season goal after picking up a win Saturday night at Jackson High School over the Ironton Fighting Tigers. The sectional final game saw the Pirates take out one of their rivals and claim not only a sectional championship, but a trip to the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio.
Despite a slow start which saw the Pirates trailing 4-0 after two minutes of play, Wheelersburg was able to put together a string of consecutive scores to take the lead and never look back. After taking control of the game, Steven Ater’s squad sailed on to victory over Ironton, 57-42.
Even though the initial start of the game was not what the Pirates wanted, Ater said he was happy with the way his team responded, and the effort in which they played.
“They were focused, locked in and made some shots, making extra passes,” Ater said. “Outside of the first two minutes we were on the glass really effectively. I thought what we did really disrupted them, and they were trying to figure out how to attack it.”
Good teams make adjustments, and that’s what both the Ironton Fighting Tigers and the Wheelersburg Pirates did Saturday night in Jackson, as they battled over a trip to Athens and a sectional championship.
“They did that in the third quarter,” Ater said. “We got a little cold, but give our kids credit for hanging in.”
The game was physical beyond belief at times. Both teams left everything out on the court Saturday night. While at times tempers flared, players on both sides continued to keep their composure and used their frustrations as motivation to play harder and faster.
“It was an extremely physical game,” Ater said. “We knew it would be, but we made the plays and made enough free throws to hold them off in the end.”
At halftime, Wheelersburg held on to a 19 point lead over Ironton. However, despite trailing by nearly 20 points at the half, the Fighting Tigers lived up to their name. They fought back and cut the Pirate lead to only 10 points by the end of the third quarter, 38-28.
Momentum seemed to sway to the favor of Ironton as the third quarter ended and the first moments of the fourth ticked away. Ironton’s Phillip Kratzenberg hit a huge three-pointer in the opening moments of the period to send the Ironton bench and fans into a frenzy, as well as cutting the Wheelersburg lead to single digits, 38-31.
Ironton began fouling fairly early to stop the clock, and their target of choice was Wheelersburg’s Austin Lotspeich. Lotspeich would have 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. He also made the Fighting Tigers regret fouling him so many times, as he hit 10 of his 14 attempts in the period.
“In the fourth quarter we were still kind of back and forth, back and forth, but we had a little more success breaking their press,” Ater said. “Austin did a great job making free throws there. I though Tanner Bivens was really good, and just solid tonight.”
Ater said their showing tonight is more of what Wheelersburg needs.
“I was really proud of them tonight,” Ater said.
As the game marched on, the physicality increased. Players on both teams fought for every loose ball, often throwing themselves after it and not caring who or what was in the way.
“It was exactly what we expected coming in,” Ater said. “They’re a big physical team, and we can be too. We’re a little longer and maybe a little more athletic, lengthwise, but what they don’t have in length, they make up for in strength.”
Wheelersburg’s coaching staff tried to prepare their players for the game’s physicality, and told them it would be a war in the paint, on the drive, out front, and on the basketball.
“For the first 16 minutes, we were really good in that war,” Ater said. “We took a few shots in the third quarter but were able to respond in the fourth and managed to hang on.”
Winning a sectional championship is great, but Ater and the Pirates don’t want to be satisfied with just the sectional win.
“Being at the Convo is a special thing for the kids,” Ater said. “We have a lot of young inexperienced kids that haven’t gotten to touch the Convo floor yet, but as a program that’s where we want to get to every year, and we’re very happy to get to make that trip on Sunday.”
Wheelersburg will play Lynchburg Clay on Sunday, February 28th, at the Convocation Center on the campus of Ohio University in Athens. Game time is set for 3:45 p.m.
Wheelersburg – Davis 6-2-15, Coleman 5-3-14, Lotspeich 1-10-12, Holden 2-2-8, Bivens 2-2-6, Newsome 1-0-2
Ironton – Kratzenberg 4-2-11, Glover 4-1-9, Carey 2-2-6, Wilson 2-2-6, Davis 1-1-5, Bryant 2-1-5
Three-point field goals – Wheelersburg 4 (Holden 2, Davis, Coleman) Ironton 2 (Kratzenberg, Davis)
Reach Michael Hamilton at 740-353-3101, ext 1931, or on Twitter @MikeHamilton82.