The St. Clairsville Red Devils find themselves in familiar territory with familiar faces seeking a trip to a familiar venue against a familiar opponent.
For the second straight season, the Devils are on the cusp of joining the Division II 'Sweet 16' in the regional tournament at Ohio University in Athens.
To earn a trip to the regional, however, St. C. will have to contend with a Carrollton squad, which it dispatched in last year's sectional final at OUE en route to what turned out to be a trip to the Division II State Tournament.
"It's going to be a tall task," said St. C. head coach Kim Clifford. "They've got pretty much all of their guys back, so both teams know each other. We'll have to have our best game."
The Red Devils and Warriors will both send the same starting lineup to the floor tonight, at 7, at Ohio University Eastern that they did last March when the Red Devils prevailed 67-54.
"St. Clairsville is definitely deserving of its number one seed for its accomplishments this season, what they did last season, the tough schedule it's played and its outstanding players and coaches," said Carrollton head coach Matt Voll. "When you're in the district final, everyone's got their backs to the wall and I am proud of our kids for how they've played thus far. We know we're facing a big challenge."
The Warriors, who are 16-8 on the season, have eliminated Meadowbrook (54-43) and Indian Creek (63-46) to reach the latest meeting with the Red Devils.
"We've seen Carrollton three times and it's basically the same approach each time," Clifford observed. "They've got a good inside player and guys who can hit shots from the outside. They're able to spread the ball out well."
St. Clairsville, meanwhile, raced past Edison (84-50) and Steubenville (76-59) in the sectional. The win against Big Red was the third this season and second in two weeks.
The biggest factor - outside of senior standout Dan Monteroso going for 45 points and 21 rebounds aganst Steubenville - was the Devils' mental toughness, according to their head coach.
"Our schedule really prepared us for games like we faced last Saturday," Clifford said. "We were completely out of gas (physically) in that OVAC championship game, but we had some time to re-group, both physically and mentally. Sometimes, you have to gut out victories."
When the Warriors began preparations for the Red Devils, it obviously starts with Monteroso. The Purdue football signee has scored well over 2,000 points in his career. He's netting nearly 27 points a night nearly 10 boards an outing.
"Monteroso is a monter so to speak," Voll said. "He went for 40 against us last year, so we know how prolific he is. He's got great body control, finishes, gets to the rim, gets to the line a lot and has a great first step."
Senior Riley Carlton is the top scoring aide to Monteroso at 11.1 points a game. Carlton is rounding back into form after missing some action late in the season due to a knee problem.
Senior Jerrid Marhefka checks in at 9.1 points a game, while classmate Adam Jeffries nets 8.9 points an outing.
Junior Joel Giffin does much of the dirty work on the interior and senior Dylan Campbell is the first Red Devil sub. He scores 7.7 points a game. Senior Jared Burghy has also provided good minutes off the pine.
"As good as Monteroso is, they have some great weapons around him," Voll said. "Their kids can definitely shoot it well from behind the line and we know that. But defensively, our efforts and energy has picked up since we've gotten into the tournament. I really feel that if we continue to shoot the ball like we have and defend like we have, we'll be a tough out."
For the Warriors, the offensive attack begins with senior big man Stephen Ericksen, who is headed to the University of Akron to play football. Ericksen averages 14 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Senior Andrew Collins starts at the shooting guard spot. He's etched his name into Carrollton 3-point shooting history this season. He averages 11 points a game. Senior point guard Jake Peterson scores just five points a game, but he's a tireless defender.
Senior Caleb Hartong and sophomore Zade Deitz round out the Warriors' starting lineup.
"It all starts with Ericksen on the inside," Clifford said. "Plus, they have a guy who can really shoot it, so that keeps you from focusing totally on Ericksen. As you go along in the tournament, every game gets tougher, so our kids will have to be ready to play from the get-go."
The survivor of tonight's game will make their way to the Convo next Thursday in a 6:15 tip against New Philadelphia, which won the Eastern District title at Zanesville High on Wednesday.
The Red Devils and Quakers met in last year's regional final in Athens.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org