The Wheeler Wildcats hosted the Allatoona Buccaneers on Saturday evening, January 18, at home in Wildcat Arena. Earlier in the day, they also held a banquet to induct the 12th class into the Wheeler Athletic Hall of Fame. Mike Fung-A-Wing, Corye Hutchinson Ivatt, Michael Schlact, and the 1998 Girls State Champion Basketball team were all inducted.
The non-conference varsity games got started soon after 6PM, beginning with the girls. Wheeler played a pressure defense, forcing the Bucs to play full court. The Wildcats took the lead late in the first with a three-pointer, breaking a tie to end the quarter up 8-11. The Bucs found their three-point shooting was effective early in the second, sinking three of them early in the quarter. In addition, the Bucs started playing pressure, throwing the Wildcat offense off-balance. Allatoona took a 3-point lead into halftime, 24-21.
Wheeler head coach Melanie Samuel got her team adjusted at halftime though and the Wildcats controlled the rest of the game. The Bucs fouled often in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the Wildcats to run up the score with free throws. Wheeler took the victory, 39-52.
During the break before the boys game, the Hall of Fame inductees were again honored with lifted sabers, courtesy of Wheeler JROTC cadets. Mike Fung-A-Wing was inducted for swimming, Corye Hutchinson Ivatt for basketball, and Michael Schlact for baseball. The 1998 Girls Basketball team was the first girls team in Wheeler’s history to win a state championship. The team’s motto for that season, which was engraved into their championship rings, was “Ya Gotta Believe!”
The boys game got started soon after, with the Bucs jumping out to a quick lead, 10-2, forcing Wheeler coach Larry Thompson to take an early timeout less than two minutes into the contest. The Wildcats re-focused and began chipping away at the Allatoona lead with patient offense and three-point shots. The Wildcats sunk four three-pointers in the first quarter, the fourth one giving them a one-point lead to end the first quarter, 18-19. The Wildcats continued their momentum into the second quarter, hitting three 3-point shots to take a seven-point lead into halftime, 32-39.
Despite a lackluster performance in the third quarter, the Bucs fought back from a 15-point deficit to come within 3 points late in the fourth quarter. The Allatoona team that started the game strong re-appeared and gave the Wildcats a serious run for their money. Late-game fouls by Allatoona to get possession of the ball didn’t work as the Wildcat free-throw shooters were ready and accurate. Wheeler closed the game and the day with a win at home, 69-76.
Allatoona Head Coach Chad Phillips was proud of how his team played. “We knew that this was going to be a big test for us,” he said, “but we competed. With our last four games left in region play, we wanted to play top-notch talent and we did tonight. But from what I saw tonight, we’re going to be a pretty good team. If we can continue to peak, the sky’s the limit for us.”
Coach Thompson saw the game as a wake-up for his team. “This is what happens when you don’t take every opponent seriously,” he said. “There’s something about the national schedule that we play that causes our players to overlook the really good basketball teams right in our own backyard in Cobb County. I’ve been preaching this to our players for two years now. It’s about maturity, and it’s something we need to get better at quick.”
Congratulations to the 2019-2020 Wheeler Athletic Hall Fame class! The Wildcats have an away conference game against Westlake on Wednesday, January 22, and the Bucs travel to Sprayberry for a conference game on Thursday, January 23.