JACKSON, Ohio — Defense kept the Marauders in it, but they just couldn’t prevent perfection.
The Meigs boys basketball team held undefeated Wheelersburg to a season-low in points in the Division III sectional final on Friday at Jackson High School, but the top-seeded Pirates pulled off a 35-28 victory over the eighth-seeded Marauders.
Meigs (13-11) held Wheelersburg (23-0) off the board for over six minutes to start play, with the Marauders jolting out to a 12-0 lead. The Pirates made a free throw and a two-pointer before the end of the opening stanza, and then began the second with another two-pointer.
Meigs sank a free throw with 5:33 left in the second, extending the lead to 13-5, but the Maroon and Gold were held scoreless for the remainder of the half. WHS scored the final nine points of the period, taking a 14-13 lead on a Tanner Holden three-pointer with 30 seconds left in the half.
After two points by each side at to start the second half, Meigs tied the game at 16 with a Weston Baer free throw at the 5:07 mark of the third. Baer gave the Marauders an 18-16 lead with just under four minutes left in the third, but J.J. Truitt answered with a three-pointer for the Orange and Black.
MHS briefly regained the lead with another Baer two-pointer, but Truitt made back-to-back free throws to give Wheelersburg a 21-20 edge at the end of the third quarter.
WHS scored the first four points of the finale, but Meigs — which lost a pair of players to fifth fouls in the fourth quarter — was back within one after four straight free throws by Zach Bartrum. The Pirates gained some breathing room, making 3-of-4 foul shots, but a two-pointer by Bartrum cut the WHS lead back to one possession, at 28-26, with 1:51 to play.
Wheelersburg, however, scored five straight points before the two more Bartrum free throws made the WHS lead 33-28 with 16 seconds left. WHS came up empty from the foul line, but sank a two-pointer to seal the 35-28 victory.
Following the hard-fought setback, MHS head coach Jeremy Hill commended his team’s effort against the No. 3 team in the final OHSAA D-3 AP Poll.
“They executed a game plan pretty well,” Hill said. “We thought we had something that might give them fits by spreading the floor out, keeping it wide, and taking them off the dribble. We did get layups out of it, and we got open shots. We weren’t stalling, but we were being very deliberate with the basketball, and that was the difference.
“We got a little scattered, turned the ball over a few times, and didn’t catch the the ball down in the post, or those would have probably been layups. All-in-all, it’s just a great effort, they bought in to what we wanted to do, and they almost pulled it out.”
The Marauders shot 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) from the field, including 2-of-10 (20 percent) from beyond the arc, while Wheelersburg made 11-of-35 (31.4 percent) field goal attempts, including 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) three-point tries. At the foul line, MHS was 10-of-13 (76.9 percent) and WHS was 11-of-18 (61.1 percent).
Meigs won the rebounding battle by a 26-to-22 count, including 9-to-7 on the offensive end, but the Marauders committed 14 turnovers, twice as many as WHS. The Maroon and Gold collected three steals, two assists and one block in the contest, while the Pirates combined for eight steals, five rejections and four assists.
Just two Marauders marked in the scoring column, with Zach Bartrum posting 17 points and Baer marking 11. Zach Bartrum and Ty Bartrum each had an assist, while Baer, Nick Lilly and Bobby Musser grabbed six rebounds apiece.
Leading the MHS defense, Baer had two steals, Zach Bartrum added one, and Cooper Darst blocked a shot.
Holden led Wheelersburg with 18 points, followed by Truitt with eight. Connor Millins scored three points and came up with two assists, while Trent Salyers, Dustin Darnell and Matthew Miller marked two points each.
Miller had team-best six rebounds for the victors, while Truitt led the defense with three steals and two rejections.
This marks the final game in the Maroon and Gold for seniors Zach Bartrum, Nick Lilly, Cooper Darst, and Cole Betzing. Coach Hill also talked about the foundation the MHS seniors have built, and the challenge of building on that foundation that is facing the younger Marauders.
“You’re not going to be able to replace those four seniors, I’ll tell you that much,” Hill said. “In order to be a good team, you have to have everybody buy into a role that they’re going to have within that team, and those four seniors just had great leadership all-year long. There’s no drama and they came to work every night at practice, so you’re not going to replace them.
“What we’re going to do is, we’re going to have to have some guys to take the foundation that they put in place, and step up their game. We’re hoping that we can get some freshman to step up, and there were some juniors down on the jay-vee that we know have the ability if they’ll just buy into their roles. This coaching staff has to do its job over the offseason, we’re going to have to change things, get everyone to buy in, and we’ll see how it rolls next year.”
The Pirates’ previous season-low in points was 47, in a 10-point win over Oak Hill. Friday’s seven-point margin is the second-closest of Wheelersburg’s 23 wins, trailing only a six-point overtime victory over Jackson.
The Pirates advance to the district semifinal against at Ohio University on March 2, against the winner of fourth-seeded North Adams and fifth-seeded Piketon.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.