WELLSTON — While Wellston High School celebrated Senior Night on Thursday for its girls basketball team, the Vinton County Lady Vikings enjoyed their own celebration.
That being one of an outright Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division championship.
For the third time since 1998, the Lady Vikings are outright champions of the TVC-Ohio, following their 51-21 win at Wellston on Thursday.
With the victory, the visiting Vikings conclude league play at 9-1, part of an impressive 17-2 overall. The Vikings’ last league title, which was also outright, came in 2002.
This is the first division championship for fourth-year head coach Jeremy Ward, who already owns two Division II sectional crowns as the girls bench boss.
Unfortunately for the Lady Rockets, they are on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The loss, which was Wellston’s seventh straight, leaves them winless in the league at 0-9, part of 3-15 overall.
Thursday’s tangle with the Vikings marked the annual Senior Night activities as well, as five Lady Rockets — Tara Oliver, Stephanie Trainer, Whitney Patrick, Erin Sturgill and Amber King — were honored before the game.
All five have played, and started many matches, since their freshmen season.
However, it was the Lady Vikings, which sport three seniors and eight sophomores, which did most of the celebrating on this night.
Vinton County, which advanced to the Division II district championship last season with only one senior, unseated two-time defending division champion Alexander.
“We want to win championships, no matter which one they put in front of us. We’re able to take that final step tonight in the TVC, especially with the youth that we have,” said Ward. “It’s a big statement for our program to win this championship outright. This year, we were in a very different situation, taking everybody’s best shot and not always sneaking up on everybody. We’ve made plays, we’ve shot the ball extremely well, and our defense has come along tremendously. I’m happy for the girls to be able to win this title.”
The Lady Vikings did all the above well in their win over Wellston.
Vinton County led by a half-dozen after one, then pulled away from a 14-11 lead by scoring the game’s next 18 points.
After King canned a three for Wellston which cut the deficit in half, the Lady Rockets went scoreless for the next eight-and-a-half minutes.
Vinton County staked a 25-11 advantage at halftime, then limited the Lady Rockets to a Taylor Mullins basket in the third period.
That field goal came with 5:05 to play in the canto, but the Vikings had stretched the lead to 32-13 by that point.
The Vikings increased the cushion to 40-13 after three frames, as the 30-point final wound up being their largest margin of the night.
Similar to the matchup in McArthur on Jan. 3, in which Vinton County also won, the Vikings went on a tear of points while defensively diffusing the Lady Rockets.
With a 14-11 lead just 2:25 into the second stanza, the Vikings scored 18 unanswered. In the process, their trapping press forced 15 first-half turnovers, as Wellston shot a frigid 4-of-18 from the field.
“We have to score. Until we start putting the ball in the bucket, it’s going to be hard to win,” said Wellston coach Mark Chaney. “And we had some good open looks, it wasn’t like we were just throwing shots up. We just couldn’t hit tonight.”
For the game, the Lady Rockets shot just 20-percent, including 4-of-20 from both two-and-three-point land. They committed 26 turnovers altogether, made just eight total field goals, and had only five players score.
“Wellston came out and played us much like they did the last time. They hit a couple of shots early and kept tempo slowed down for a while,” said Ward. “We just moved our press to different lengths and continued to pressure the basketball and pressure them into mistakes. Once we got moving on offense, and establishing ourselves in the paint, we were off from there.”
Established in the paint was sophomore post Rebecca Puckett, who poured in a game-high 18 points on seven field goals and 4-of-5 free throws. She was the only player in double figures, but all of the Viking regulars which played scored.
Puckett also posted a double-double with 10 rebounds, and made off with five steals.
The outside threat — fellow sophomore Tori Dixon — drilled two second-half three-pointers en route to eight points.
Jessi Harkins had six while Ashley Graves, Casey Puckett, Chelsey Taborn and Holly LeMay all chipped in with four points apiece.
Allison Graves garnered a three-point play with 2:05 to play in the first half for a double-digit cushion (21-11). Graves and Dixon each dished out four assists.
Vinton County shot 40-percent overall (50-percent from inside the arc), outscored Wellston 20-8 in total field goals, and committed only 12 turnovers.
The Vikings did most of their damage in the middle two periods, walloping the Rockets 28-7.
The Maroon and White scored the game’s first six points before Sturgill fired and hit from three with 3:10 gone by.
Vinton County led 14-6 early in the second, but a basket by Mullins followed by the trey from King kept the Rockets right in close.
But not for long, as the Rockets failed to score for the next eight-and-a-half minutes. Wellston had turnovers on four straight possessions, as Puckett made two free throws and Harkins had a rebound putback.
The Graves three-point play, just 55 seconds after Harkins scored, made it 21-11 and the rout was on. The Vikings finished the second period with 13 points followed by 15 in the third.
“We were executing the way we wanted to the first part of the ballgame, and actually were controlling the boards and holding them to one shot attempt (per possession),” said Chaney. “But when they put the press on, they can spill out 12 or 16 points really quick. Then we get down on ourselves. We’re not setting ourselves up for very many victories that way.”
Sturgill led the way for the Rockets with three three-pointers, two of them in the final quarter, for nine points. Mullins managed six points on three field goals.
King with a trey, Trainer with a deuce and Hall with a free throw rounded out the Blue and Gold scoring. Both teams grabbed 32 rebounds.
After the game, Chaney discussed his fivesome of seniors. Four of them — Sturgill, King, Trainer and Oliver — have enjoyed success on the softball diamond at Wellston.
“You hate to lose a group like this, you kind of hope you had them a few more years,” said the third-year Rocket coach. “They are all going to be missed and tough shoes to fill next year.”
But the Rockets’ season is far from over.
Wellston welcomes West Union to town on Saturday for a non-league makeup match. Tip time for the reserve game is set for 1 p.m.
The Rockets then play Portsmouth in the Division III sectional tournament at Rock Hill High School on Monday. Tip time is set for 6:15 p.m.
Vinton County, meanwhile, concludes the regular season on Saturday night against Circleville, which is ranked 12th this week in the Division II Associated Press statewide poll.
Tip time for the reserve game is set for 6 p.m. The contest also marks Senior Night activities at VCHS as three Lady Vikings — Harkins, Ashley Graves and Abbe Batey — will be honored.
The Vikings completed the sweep at Wellston with a 41-27 triumph in the reserve bout. Brittany Stewart amassed 19 points to pace the winners.
* * *
Vinton Co. 12 13 15 11 — 51
Wellston 6 5 2 8 — 21
VINTON COUNTY 51 (17-2, 9-1 TVC)
Allison Graves 1 1-1 3, Ashley Graves 2 0-0 4, Brittany Stewart 0 0-0 0, Casey Puckett 1 2-2 4, Jessi Harkins 2 2-3 6, Adrienne Saylor 0 0-0 0, Chelsey Taborn 2 0-0 4, Tori Dixon 3 0-0 8, Holly LeMay 2 0-4 4, Rebecca Puckett 7 4-5 18; TOTALS 20 9-15 51; Three-point field goals: 2 (Tori Dixon 2)
WELLSTON 21 (3-15, 0-9 TVC)
Taylor Mullins 3 0-0 6, Kendra DePue 0 0-0 0, Breanna Hall 0 1-2 1, Melissa Writesel 0 0-0 0, Tara Oliver 0 0-0 0, Stephanie Trainer 1 0-0 2, Whitney Patrick 0 0-0 0, Erin Sturgill 3 0-1 9, Amber King 1 0-0 3, Hannah Wheatley 0 0-0 0; TOTALS 8 1-3 21; Three-point field goals: 4 (Erin Sturgill 3, Amber King 1)
TEAM STATISTICS/INDIVIDUAL LEADERS
Field goals — Vinton County 20-50 (.400), 2-point field goals 18-36 (.500), 3-point field goals 2-14 (.143); Wellston 8-40 (.200), 2-point field goals 4-20 (.200), 3-point field goals 4-20 (.200); Free throws — Vinton County 9-15 (.600), Wellston 1-3 (.333); Rebounds — Vinton County 32 (Rebecca Puckett 10), Wellston 32 (Erin Sturgill 6); Steals — Vinton County 13 (Rebecca Puckett 5), Wellston 4; Assists — Vinton County 13 (Allison Graves and Tori Dixon 4 apiece), Wellston 6 (Taylor Mullins 2); Blocks — Vinton County 1, Wellston 1; Turnovers — Vinton County 12, Wellston 26; Team fouls — Vinton County 12, Wellston 15; JV SCORE —Vinton County 41, Wellston 27