Purple Riders set to reload quite nicely

The clock struck midnight for a purple-clad Cinderella Wednesday night in Athens.

Martins Ferry saw its exciting post-season run came to an end at the hands of powerful Ironton, a team quite capable of capturing a Division III state championship next week.

Coach Jeff Sabatino’s upstart charges provided Purple partisans with an exciting three weeks of post-season play after a 10-8 regular season. The Riders came to life when they blasted Harrison Central in an OVAC consolation game on a snowy Friday night in Cadiz.

The revenge win over the talented Huskies righted the Ferry ship, heading into the sectionals at Byesville.

The Riders’ tourney journey began with a third lopsided triumph over rival Bellaire. That set the stage for a showdown against top-seeded Fort Frye in the sectional co-finals. Ferry fried the Fort thanks to the last-minute heroics of senior star Cody Schau.

That one-point win propelled the Riders to the district and the friendly confines of Ohio University Eastern.

The district semifinal proved nothing short of a tuneup for Ferry, as the Riders blasted an outmanned 10-15 Coshocton quint. The district title tilt featured no second cream-puff as 20-4 Garaway stood between the Purple Riders and a trip to their first regionals since 1998.

The Pirates and their guard-oriented charges found the massive size of Ferry too tall a challenge to overcome. The Riders, exhibiting a superb zone defense while receiving a stellar fourth-quarter effort from senior Tyler Strama, pocketed a prized 56-48 triumph.

The OU Convocation Center, however, would hold no more magic for the Purple Riders. Ironton is 22-2 for a reason – the Tigers are superb in all phases, as their two blemishes came in close contests in Florida.

Losing a finale is always tough for a coach to digest. When you lose three special seniors, as Sabatino does, it makes it extremely difficult. The Purple operated all season minus the services of talented senior guard Taylor Shane, sidelined with a pre-season knee injury. Who knows how good this team would have been with another seasoned hand in the backcourt?

Despite graduating some prime-time talent, the 2013-14 campaign takes on an optimistic Purple glow.

Three starters return while a promising collection of sophomores and freshmen should help fill in the cracks.

Robert Vargo distinguished himself as one of the premier posts in the OVAC. The 6-6 tower of power was a double-double machine this winter and will be a bear to defend as a senior. Vargo is a special performer.

He will be complimented very nicely by point guard Jake Barritt. The 5-7 sophomore quickly and adeptly grew into the role as the Purple Riders’ floor general as the season played out. He can defuse any opposing pressure and should be a consistent double-digit scorer next season. Barritt will have few point-guard peers in the OVAC.

Frosh Emilio Appolloni packs vast potential on his 6-8 frame. He was one of the valley leaders in blocked shots this season with more than 50 swats. Appolloni should also fill the inside scoring void created by Schau and Strama’s departure.

Isaiah Sears and Arjay Burress logged quality minutes as the top two reserves. Both will see expanded roles next winter with Sears a quality two-guard and Burress an athletic wing.

Other sophomores will have an opportunity to deliver help, as Lucas Agnew, Kyle Rine and Josiah Burress all possess skills.

Sabatino has a potential shooting gem in James Edwards. The talented frosh guard may be the team’s premier outside threat.

The Buckeye 8 was a meatgrinder this season. St. Clairsville, Indian Creek and Harrison Central were all three veteran and formidable foes. All three, however, will incur severe hits via graduation. The Buckeye 8 will be much less taxing to navigate in 2013-14.

Taking it a step further, Fort Frye and Garaway both lose their key core.

Sabatino did a masterful job of having a young team peak at the right time this season. The post-season run should pay dividends next winter.

Kapral may be reached at