Cinderella story ends early for Fighting Tigers

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

ATHENS — This time, Cinderella’s glass slipper didn’t fit.

Despite a gutty effort, the Ironton Fighting Tigers fairy tale run through the postseason tournament ended on a cold shooting night as the Wheelersburg Pirates held on for a 57-54 win Saturday night to claim the Division III regional championship and a berth in the state tournament.

Ironton, 19-6, shot just 30 percent from the field including 6 of 23 from behind the 3-point arc. Conversely, Wheelersburg was 50 prcent from the floor and hit 9 of 17 from long range for 53 percent.

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Ironton missed more than a dozen shots inside the paint near the basket.

“We kept saying everytime you go to the glass strong you might miss one, but you’ll get something or a foul,” Ironton coach Mark LaFon said. “We did it in spurts, but we just didn’t do enough of it.”

Senior Dennis Gagai, Ironton’s version of Prince Charming, poured in 28 points and had a chance to tie the game late at 55, but his 3-point attempt was tipped by 6-foot-7 Camden Miller.

Nick Carrington got the rebound and was fouled. The Pirates lone senior starter hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to put Wheelersburg up 57-52.

Marc Carter had a putback basket with eight seconds left to make it 57-54, but Ironton was out of timeouts and Wheelersburg threw a long inbounds pass that Matt Jenkins caught and threw high into the air as time expired.

“I’m not going to blame anyone. The kids battle. Dennis had a chance, but they swarmed him and Miller just got a piece of the shot,” LaFon said.

Gagai found himself double and even triple teamed at different times. He even resulted in taking a 35-footer at the end of the first quarter that found nothing but net.

“If I scored, they were all over me the next time downthe floor,” Gagai said. “If I didn’t shoot, they were back to their normal defense.

“But you can’t ask any more from these guys. they played hard. It was a good, long season. It’s shame it had to end this way. They got better all season and they learned a lot of lessons they can use later in life.”

Wheelersburg was up 16-10 at the end of the first quarter when Gagai buried his long trey. Marc Carter, who finished with 13 points, came up with a steal and layup just before the buzzer and it was 16-15.

Ironton took a 25-24 lead on a layup by Troy Allen with 2:15 left in the first half. The Pirates regained the lead for good on a short jumper in the lane by Gary Salyers and a 3-pointer by Carrington with 43 seconds on the clock and it was 29-25 at the break.

A 6-0 run to start the second half extended the Pirates lead to 35-25 before Carter’s baseline jumper at the 5:16 mark ended the run.

Gagai drained a 3-pointer and converted a 3-point play to make it 43-39 before Seth Cowgill’s triple with four seconds left gave the Pirates a 46-39 lead.

Wheelersburg opened up its biggest lead of the game at 52-41 with 5:25 left. Ironton then went on a 11-3 run as Gagai scored eight points and Brandon Walker capped the spurt with a 10-footer as the Fighting Tigers sliced the deficit to 55-52.

Miller missed two foul shots with 55 seconds left, but he redeemed himself with the tipped shot.

Walker finished with nine rebounds. The taller Pirates held a slim 31-30 rebound edge.

Wheelersburg, 23-2, was led by Carrington with 13 points. Spradlin had 12 and Miller 11.

The Pirates play Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals.



WHEELERSBURG (23-2): Nick Carrington 4-6 (3-4)2-2 13, Seth Cowgill 1-7 (1-3) 4-7 7, Drew Spradlin 4-10 (3-6) 1-1 12, Gary Salyers 4-6 (0-1) 0-0 8, Camden Miller 5-6 (1-1) 0-2 11, Matt Jenkins 1-2 (1-1) 1-2 4, Alex Prater 0-1 (0-0) 2-2 2, Dustin Cook 0-0 (0-0) 0-0 0. Totals: 19-38



57. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 6-25=31 (Spradlin 8, Salyers 6). Team/deadball rebounds: 2. Assists: 6 (Carrington 2, Cowgill 2). Steals: None. Turnovers: 13. Blocked shots: 4 (Miller 3, Carrington 1).

IRONTON (19-6): Dennis Gagai 9-2 (5-12) 5-5 28, Alstan Carter 0-1 (0-0) 2-2 2, Marc Carter 4-10 (1-5) 4-4 13, Brandon Walker 1-10 (0-5) 4-6 6, Michael Phillips 0-4 (0-0) 0-0 0, T.J. Keith 1-3 (0-0) 0-0 2, Trevor Allen 0-2 (0-0) 1-2 1, Troy Allen 1-3 (0-1) 0-0 2, J.J. Johnson 0-0 (0-0) 0-0 0. Totals: 16-53



54. Fouls: 17. Fouled out: None. Rebounds: 15-15=30 (Walker 9, M.Carter 5, Trevor Allen 5, Phillips 4, Gagai 3, Keith 3). Team/deadball rebounds: 2. Assists: 4 (Walker 2). Steals: 5 (Gagai 2, M. Carter 2). Turnovers: 5. Blocked shots: None.