Ferry takes aim at D-III regional trip

Martins Ferry and Garaway go about their business in different ways on the basketball court.

The Purple Riders want a half-court game where they can utilize their slashing ability along with their big frontline. Garaway, meanwhile, wants to force the issue with a pressure defense and makes up for its lack of size with a bevy of dead-eye shooters.

As the two squads prepare to make the trip to Ohio University Eastern this evening to battle for the Division III Eastern District title, the game quite simply comes down to what’s going to give.

“I think we’ve got a little something, something for them, but our health and how we recognize the multiple looks they’ll give us will be the keys to the game for us,” said Purple Riders’ head coach Jeff Sabatino. “This Garaway team isn’t as skilled or as big as they’ve been in the past, but they’re muscular, offensive minded and aggressive.”

The Pirates, who had two weeks off after the regular season before opening sectional play a week ago, have advanced to this point with victories against Union Local and Buckeye Trail.

“I think the time we had off affected us a little bit,” said Pirates’ head coach Dave Shutt. “When you’re not in the groove of competing on a Tuesday, Friday basis, it can take a toll. I thought we played pretty well against Buckeye Trail and we’re excited to be in this game.”

The Pirates are seeking a return trip to Ohio University and the Convo for regional play, while the Purple Riders haven’t won a district title since 1998.

“We hope the experience we have helps, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee anything,” Shutt said. “A lot of these kids have contributed to teams that have played in regional games, but really we have to execute well for four quarters and do all of the little things.”

The Riders have reached the title game after victories against Bellaire, Fort Frye and Coshocton, which they routed in the opening round of the district on Tuesday.

“We’re never surprised that we’ve made it this far,” Sabatino said. “We feel our schedule gives us a chance, but when you get to the district final, you have to have talent and you’ve got to play well. This team has really grown up and done a good job.”

When Shutt and his Pirates began preparations for the Riders, the size of Robert Vargo, Emilio Appolloni, Tyler Strama and Cody Schau really jumped out.

“We’ve faced some teams with some size this season, but Ferry isn’t just tall, they’re big,” Shutt said. “We have to protect the paint against their bigs and we must find a way to rebound the basketball.”

Getting past the size, he also noted how he feels Schau, who averages close to 27 points a game, is a “special athlete.”

However, as Sabatino points out, Schau is more than just a scorer.

“I think Cody is the best player in the district, bar none,” Sabatino said.

“He goes to the basket as well as any guy I’ve coached, he’s a capable defender and he averages 10 boards. He just loves to play the game and he stuffs the stat sheet.”

Vargo is a nightly double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds a night on the average.

“I am really impressed with Vargo,” Shutt said.

“He’s very agile for as big as he is. He rebounds well, scores the ball and shoots foul shots well.”

Strama has been battling through an ankle problem much of the way, but has gutted it out. Appolloni – at 6-ft-8, is a lanky frosh, who is a solid shot blocker and rebounder.

He had seven boards and seven blocks against Coshocton.

The Ferry offense is guided by savvy sophomore point guard Jake Barritt. The diminutive Barritt hasn’t been a lethal scorer, but he’s handles pressure well, distributes the ball and runs the show.

Isiah Sears and Arjay Burress are the top Riders’ subs.

The Pirates aren’t the deepest team around, either, but their players look very similar in size, stature and playing ability.

“Garaway is well coached, they expect to win and basketball is a religion to the community,” Sabatino said. “They’re quick and they have some guys who are versatile.”

Garaway is led by Duane Troyer, who averages 14 points a game. Senior Tyler Walter, who is an all-Ohioan in football, nets 13 a game.

“It took me three minutes of watching them to figure out that Walter can do everything,” Sabatino said.

Senior Winston Mullett and sophomore Josh Werker average between seven and eight points a game.

Sophomore Clay Honingford is the Pirates’ post presence at 6-2. He scores just five points a night.

Frosh Sammy Gebhardt is an impessive shooter off the Pirates’ pine.

“I expect both teams to bring their ‘A’ games,” Sabatino said.

The winner will make the trip to Athens on March 13 to meet the winner of tonight’s Ironton and Zane Trace, who tip at 9:30.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com