LANCASTER — The third time was indeed the charm for the Oak Hill High School girls basketball team.
The reward: a return to the regional championship game for the Lady Oaks.
By erasing a double-digit deficit, the Lady Oaks rallied to defeat the Wheelersburg Pirates 63-55 on Wednesday in the Division III regional semifinals at Lancaster High School.
Wheelersburg had swept Oak Hill in the regular season, but Oak Hill captures the all-important third meeting and thus advances to the regional finals.
The Lady Oaks will return to Lancaster on Saturday for the regional championship, and will take on Garaway for the right to advance to the Division III state tournament.
Garaway defeated South Point 39-31 in the other regional semifinal on Wednesday night.
Oak Hill, playing in its seventh regional semifinal in 11 years, advances to the championship tilt for the fourth time.
The others were 1997, 2000 and 2004, with the last of those three concluding with a regional championship.
Oak Hill, now with a record of 18-6, has won nine straight games.
Wheelersburg, which edged Oak Hill 42-40 and 57-54 during the regular season, concludes its campaign at 21-3.
Last season, the Lady Pirates lost to the Lady Oaks in the district semifinals at Waverly. This year, Wheelersburg went two steps beyond.
In fact, the Lady Pirates had the Oaks down at halftime, something which Oak Hill overcame to advance to the regional.
They faced an eight-point third-quarter deficit against Alexander in the district championship, but outscored the Spartans 24-14 in the second half to claim the win.
On Wednesday with Wheelersburg, the Lady Oaks were once again staring at a first-half deficit, as the Lady Pirates led by as much as 11 with 80 seconds to play in the second period.
However, Oak Hill — in individual games and collectively for the season — has been a second-half team. It was that once again on Wednesday.
The Lady Oaks turned the tide on the Pirates in the final two quarters, outscoring Wheelersburg 36-22 en route to the eight-point win.
Oak Hill won the third frame 19-10, then took the final canto 17-12.
A 5-0 run to end the first half, coupled with 7-0 and 6-0 spurts to start the second, propelled the Lady Oaks into a lead they never relinquished.
After a 34-34 tie, Oak Hill never trailed again. Wheelersburg would come no closer than 46-45 in the final quarter.
And, in that fourth period, the Lady Oaks sealed the deal with free throws. They made just 22-of-41 for the entire game, but sank 13-of-23 in the fourth.
“I think the second half, we just turned it up a little bit. We made good adjustments at halftime and the girls responded,” said Oak Hill head coach Doug Hale. “One of the girls asked how much we were down against Alexander at halftime and we said eight and they asked how much are we down now and we said seven. At that point, they said, ‘lets go get it done.’ We came out and had a great third quarter to take the lead by three. We knew that Wheelersburg was a great team and had great players. They are hard to defend but we just kept pace with them. Down the stretch, they got into foul trouble and we were able to make our foul shots.”
Did the Oaks ever.
With Oak Hill leading 52-48 following a Kaylin Marshall layup, Karla Moore and Karissa Adkins split a pair of free throws for a six-point cushion.
Two more by Moore made it 56-50 with 1:40 left to play, and the Pirates never came closer than five the rest of the way.
Adkins, Marshall and Moore have been Oak Hill’s leading scorers all season, and were so once again on Wednesday.
In fact, the three Associated Press all-district players combined for 52 of the Lady Oaks’ 63 points. In addition, they accounted for 34 of the club’s 41 free-throw attempts.
Adkins led the way for Oak Hill, amassing 18 points on seven field goals and 4-of-11 free throws.
The seniors Marshall and Moore both scored 17 points, dropping in five total field goals and seven made free throws. Moore attempted nine and Marshall 14.
Freshmen Kelsey Burton and Mikie Strite each added five points, with Strite connecting for the team’s lone three-pointer.
Taylor Butler made a free throw to round out the Oak Hill scoring.
However, it was the trio of Adkins, Marshall and Moore that sparked the Lady Oaks’ rally.
Following a three-point play by Wheelersburg’s Brooke Baker, the Lady Pirates led 33-22 with 52 seconds to play in the first half.
Ten seconds later, though, Oak Hill scored the first of 12 unanswered points to stake a 34-33 lead with six-and-a-half minutes to play in the third.
Marshall made two free throws with 42 seconds to go, then split a pair just 20 ticks later.
After a Wheelersburg turnover, Moore made a jumper at the halftime buzzer, slicing the deficit to 33-27.
The Lady Oaks did not stop there, though.
They scored the first seven points of the second half, claiming a 34-33 lead a mere minute-and-a-half in.
Adkins added a three-point play, and Marshall made a putback to give the Lady Oaks the advantage.
A free throw by the Lady Pirates’ Sarah Schmidt tied the game, but six more unanswered put the south countians in front to stay.
Moore scored once and Adkins twice, giving Oak Hill a 40-34 lead with under five minutes remaining in the third.
While the Lady Oaks set the nets on fire in the third, Wheelersburg went ice cold.
Oak Hill had opened the third with a 13-1 run, part of an 18-1 spurt from the final 52 seconds of the first half.
Wheelersburg would come no closer than 44-43 and 46-45 the rest of the way. Following the 50-48 score with 5:17 remaining, the closest the Pirates came was at 56-53.
Oak Hill maintained a three-to-five point lead throughout much of the fourth period.
The second half was the opposite of the second quarter, one in which Wheelersburg won 21-16 and built a pair of 11-point advantages.
With Wheelersburg leading 12-11 after the first quarter, the Pirates increased the cushion between three and five before Schmidt made a three, Brittany Warner had a putback and Baker bucketed a three-point play.
Baker bagged 22 points to pace all scorers, amassing nine field goals and 4-of-7 free throws.
Schmidt scored seven before fouling out with under two minutes remaining. Warner and Jamie Clevenger each chipped in six, Logan Barrick and Lainee Clay each scored four, and Taylor Ross and Jessica Blanton each added three.
Blanton, who was Wheelersburg’s leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, was held to a three-point goal.
The Pirates were also limited to only 17 total free throws.
Hale said his Lady Oaks are playing well at the right time.
“We’re all playing well. I can’t say anything about any of our players,” said Hale. “We kind of look at each other and they’re looking at me now when they make a mistake on offense and defense and start nodding their heads. They are really starting to understand things, as well as they want to continue to practice and they want to continue to advance in the tournament.”
That next practice will take place today, with the time of Saturday’s regional final to be determined.
The Division III regional final was originally scheduled to tip at 1:30 p.m, but the Oak Hill boys are playing in the Division IV district championship game on Saturday at 2 p.m.
There are four district championship games on Saturday at the Ohio University Convocation Center.
Thus, the game time for the girls will be pushed back to an evening tip.
As of Wednesday night, a possible 6 p.m. start time in Lancaster was being discussed, but nothing was made official by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
An official start time was expected to be announced today by the OHSAA.
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Oak Hill 11 16 19 17 — 63
Wheelersburg 12 21 10 12 — 55
OAK HILL 63 (18-6)
Kelsey Burton 2 1-2 5, Karla Moore 5 7-9 17, Taylor Butler 0 1-2 1, Mikie Strite 1 2-3 5, Kaylin Marshall 5 7-14 17, Karissa Adkins 7 4-11 18; TOTALS 20 22-41 63; Three-point field goals: 1 (Mikie Strite 1)
WHEELERSBURG 55 (21-3)
Jamie Clevenger 1 1-2 6, Sarah Schmidt 1 2-4 7, Taylor Ross 1 1-2 3, Jessica Blanton 1 0-0 3, Brittany Warner 3 0-0 6, Logan Barrick 2 0-0 4, Lainee Clay 1 2-2 4, Brooke Baker 9 4-7 22; TOTALS 21 10-17 55; Three-point field goals: 3 (Jamie Clevenger, Sarah Schmidt and Jessica Blanton 1 apiece)
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Oak Hill sports writer Buzz Fisher contributed to this report.