There's certain to be a level of hysteria around St. Clairsville this week.
Whether it's at the school or just around the town, Red Devil paranoia is about to soar to new heights.
Earning a trip to OHSAA State Tournament is an accomplishment and a feat that will be remembered forever by the coaches, players, student body, etc.
Post St. Patrick's Day basketball just doesn't happen every year for area teams. It's never happened for St. Clairsville and the last time an area team was playing this late in the season was in 2004 when the Bellaire Big Reds advanced to the Division III State Tournament.
Thus, you can forgive the Red Devils' fans and community for soaking it all in. Remember, more than 800 schools began the season in November with the hopes of getting to the Schottenstein Center, and now, with the tournament set to open on Thursday, only 16 schools haven't traded in their basketballs for baseballs or track spikes.
After spending much of the day Sunday at state tournament meetings and we're sure fielding all sorts of calls and text messages of congratulations from friends, coaching colleagues and fans, both the Red Devil players and coaches face the task of getting back to work.
"We're really, really going to try to win this next game," Clifford said. "We've got to get as much information as possible, put together a scouting report and get to work."
En route back to Belmont County Saturday evening, the Red Devil coaching staff was burning up the phone lines trying to figure out what connections it had to acquire as much information as possible on Elida, which toppled Sandusky Perkins in the Toledo regional Saturday evening.
Clifford and his staff have been attending the state tournament year after year, but going with the players, coaches and making it a business trip is certainly out of the ordinary.
"We can definitely live with that," Clifford smiled. "We go out every year and enjoy basketball for a whole weekend as a staff and taking our kids with us will make it even nicer."
The Red Devils were set to learn their travel arrangement, hotel accomodations and practice schedule during Sunday's state tournament meeting, which Clifford and St. C. Athletic Director Kelly Rine attended.
It's widely expected that the Red Devils will depart Belmont County on Thursday and go through a practice before taking in some of the state tournament's games that day.
A victory on Friday puts St. Clairsville in the state championship game. The opening semifinal of the Division II tournament pits Mentor Lake Catholic against undefeated and heavily favored Dayton Dunbar.
"I know there are some grendels from Beowulf lurking out there," Clifford, a long-time English teacher, joked. "There are some beats out there, but if you're in it that game, you'll certainly take your chances."
PASSING OUT THE CREDIT
The first St. Clairsville game I ever covered for The Times Leader was at Shadyside in 1999. Clifford has been nothing but gracious and humble each time anyone from our staff has needed anything from him.
Humble is one of the best adjectives utilized when talking about Clifford.
As we spent five or so minutes chatting after the game Saturday, Clifford was quick to point out the work, time and effort put forth by his entire coaching staff.
The Devils' coaching staff of Ryan Clifford, Kevin Sacco and Eric Gay spend countless hours watching tape, scouting, practicing and preparing as they try to put their players in the best position possible to prevail on either Tuesday or Friday nights.
"I know guys say it all the time, but you can't imagine the amount of time that our staff puts in," Clifford said. "I've probably (put) 10K miles on my car during basketball season. We've got a great coaching staff and it makes it fun because we all get along so well."
OVAC DOZEN IS COMPLETE
St. Clairsville's berth in the state tournament makes it the 12th OVAC school to earn a spot in the Final Four.
The Red Devils join the following schools with regional championship trophies in their awards' case: East Liverpool, Bellaire, Fort Frye, Zanesville, Bridgeport, Cambridge, Steubenville, Bethel (now defunct), Buckeye Trail, Skyvue (now part of Monroe Central) and Wellsville.
WANT MORE COVERAGE?
For in-depth coverage on St. C.'s inaugural trip to the OHSAA State Tournament, stick with The Times Leader, which will provide in-depth coverage all week.
Staskey can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TLSportsSeth