For Wheelersburg, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Coming off a hard loss at home earlier in the week, the Pirates rebounded, using a mix of tight defense and balanced scoring, to swarm Ironton, the Division III State runner-up, 67-58 on Friday. Wheelersburg had four of its six scorers in double figures, but Pirates coach Tom Barrick was more at ease at how the team responded after a loss, as well as it being so close to the winter break.
“You're only as good as your last performance,” Barrick said. “There was a lot more effort and passion tonight. Forget the stats. There was more enthusiasm.”
That enthusiasm translated into Ironton turnovers, which transformed into points for Wheelersburg. The Fighting Tigers had 12 of their 18 turnovers in the first half. Coupled with the Pirates working hard to get away from the Ironton press defense, and get open looks, Wheelersburg made four 3-pointers in the first half - three by Seth Cowgill and a buzzer-beating shot from Gary Salyers.
“It's a tough place to play, and a tough crowd,” said Ironton coach Mark LaFon. “You can't come out like that and expect to win. We gave them extra shots, and they knocked them down.”
Cowgill led the Pirates with 20 points on eight field goals, and Salyers chipped in 10.
The Pirates shot 12 of 28 from the field in the first half. A Salyers free throw in the second quarter was the only points the Pirates scored from the line in the first half. The shooting prowess kept going in the second half as Wheelersburg made six more shots in the third.
“We did a really good job of getting past their defense, and beating them off the dribble,” Barrick said.
In contrast, seven of Ironton's 14 third-quarter points came at the free-throw line.
Along with the turnovers, the Wheelersburg defense also shut out Ironton guard Dennis Gagai in the third quarter, as the team kept expanding its lead.
“He's a tremendous shooter,” Barrick said. “We knew he was going to get his points, but I'm pleased at how we defended him.”
But showing flashes of last year's tournament run, Gagai's late scoring turned a 13-point deficit into a close game with less than two minutes to go. The senior knocked down two 3s, and scored seven of his 16 points in the final three minutes to cut the Wheelersburg lead to to five.
“Dennis has a lot of responsibility for this team,” LaFon said. “We just have to find a way for him to do more.”
Nick Carrington, however, delivered the final blows from the free-throw line, sinking four shots to preserve the win. Carrington finished with 18 points.
Drew Spradlin scored 15 points in the win.
The Pirates (3-1) have a week off before playing in the Coshocton Classic. Barrick was pleased his team could end the year on a high note.
“It's good to get a win before the break,” he said. “Now, we can have Christmas.”
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 454-3101 ext. 242.
Ironton 13 9 14 22 - 58
Wheelersburg 17 12 16 22 - 67
Ironton - Gagai 5 2 17, A. Carter 1 3 5, M. Carter 2 2 7, Allen 2 0 4, Walker 2 3 7, Phillips 2 0 4. Totals 14 10 58.
Wheelersburg - Cook 0 2 2, Carrington 5 4 18, Cowgill 8 0 20, Spradlin 7 0 15, Salyers 4 1 10, Jenkins 1 0 2. Totals 25 7 67.
3-pointers - Ironton 5 (Gagai 4, M. Carter). Wheelersburg 7 (Cowgill 4, Carrington, Salyers, Spradlin).
Record - Wheelersburg 3-1. Ironton 3-2.