Morgan girls fall to Wheelersburg on buzzer-beating 3 in regional semifinal

MIKE MORRISON The Marietta Times Morgan girls basketball coach Matt Zumbro talks to his players during a high school girls basketball Division III regional semifinal game against Wheelersburg Wednesday at Jim Myers Gymnasium in Logan. Wheelersburg won, 56-55.

LOGAN — Wheelersburg junior Lani Irwin made just one shot in Wednesday night’s Division III regional semifinal at Logan High School against the Morgan Raiders.

That lone make proved to be the game-winner as Irwin banked in a 3-pointer as the final buzzer sounded, giving the Pirates a thrilling 56-55 win over the Raiders to advance to the regional final against Berlin Hiland on Saturday afternoon.

The Raiders led by as many as nine points in the final quarter before Wheelersburg came off the mats to score the heart-breaking victory.

“If they (Wheelersburg) get the ball to the player they want to get it to and she gets a clean look and makes a clean shot, I’m alright with that,” said Morgan head coach Matt Zumbro of the final play. “But to think that they got it to someone that they didn’t want to shoot it and she banked it in is just hard to take.”

The Raiders trailed by three at the end of the first quarter but exploded for 20 points in the second quarter to take a 26-17 lead into the intermission.

MIKE MORRISON The Marietta Times Morgan’s Kara Hopkins, right, handles the ball during a high school girls basketball Division III regional semifinal game against Wheelersburg Wednesday at Jim Myers Gymnasium in Logan. Wheelersburg won, 56-55.

Seven different Raiders scored at least a field goal in the opening half as Morgan showed absolutely no signs of the jitters in its first ever appearance in the regional tournament.

Wheelersburg made several attempts at making a run at the Raiders in the third period but each time Morgan had an answer. The Raiders maintained a 42-35 lead heading into the final period.

Morgan increased its lead to nine on a Rilee Coon bucket to open the final quarter, but the Pirates got a 3-pointer and a 2-pointer from Abbie Kallner to trim the lead to four (44-40) with a little more than six minutes to play in the game.

Kallner scored 13 of her team-high 20 points in the final quarter, including a field goal to tie the game at 48-48 with two minutes to play.

Morgan made nine of its 10 free throw attempts in the game, including a pair each by Coon and Sophia Smith to extend its lead back to four before another Kallner deuce cut the margin in half with 45 seconds to play.

The Raiders got two more free throws by Kara Hopkins but the Pirates answered with a huge 3-pointer by Kaylee Darnell to cut the lead to 54-53 with just 17 seconds left on the clock.

After heavy pressure by the Pirate defense, Morgan managed to get the ball inbounds to Hopkins who was quickly fouled and calmly knocked down the first of her two free throws to give the Raiders a two-point lead.

As bad as Zumbro hated to take a chance at breaking Hopkins’ rhythm, the Morgan head coach elected to call a timeout to set up his defense for the final 12.6 seconds of the game.

“That last timeout I took between Kara’s foul shots … that’s my fault,” said Zumbro. “I just really needed to talk to them to make sure everybody was on the same page because we lost a game earlier in the year when we weren’t on the same page after a missed free throw and I just wanted to get us organized and it probably wasn’t the right thing to do.”

Hopkins’ second free throw attempt bounced in and out of the basket and Wheelersburg pulled down the rebound and quickly pushed the ball up to the other end of the court.

With Kallner and Darnell combining for 28 points in the second half, the Raiders were focused on not allowing either one of them to get off a shot.

The Pirates took a look inside before finally kicking the ball out to Irwin who knocked in the long 3 from well behind the arc right in front of the Wheelersburg bench as time expired.

That shot secured a berth in the Elite Eight for Wheelersburg (23-4) while bringing a heart-breaking finish to an incredible run by the Raiders (17-8).

Kallner led all scorers with 20 while Darnell scored all 15 of her points in the second half.

Morgan was led by Coon with 12 points and 11 rebounds while Hopkins and Kayie Apperson added nine points apiece.

“You just really could not have asked any more from any of our kids because they gave 100 percent every second they were out on the floor,” said Zumbro. “It’s just tough to take the way it went down at the end. They are an outstanding group of kids and I was fortunate 17 years ago to coach the best group of boys that have ever came through and I’m fortunate again this year to be the coach when the best group of girls came through.”

The game was the final high school contest for Raider seniors Hopkins, Apperson, Tori Miller, BB Fessler and Avery Dillaha.