Union Local survives in OT, 60-52

MORRISTOWN – Usually in the clutch, teams turn to their seniors.

Union Local turned to its sophomores Friday night inside a jam-packed ‘Hangar.’

The state’s top-ranked team in Division III, according to the Associated Press poll, received crucial production from Kaleb McDiffitt and Trenton Tipton in overtime as it posted a hard-earned 60-52 victory to improve to 16-0 on the season.

“We kept plugging away because we knew Martins Ferry would come in and play us tough,” said UL head coach Ben Porter. “They gave us everything we wanted and more.”

It was actually the second time this season the Purple Riders put forth a valiant effort against the Jets only to come up short down the stretch.

“People want to question them being number one in the state or whatever, but they’ve played 16 games and won them all, so I am voting them number one in the state,” said Ferry head coach Jeff Sabatino. “They play really well in the clutch, make clutch free throws and make a lot of 3s with a lot of underclassmen playing.”

The game got went to overtime tied at 43. In the extra session, the Union Local players played nothing like underclassmen. McDiffitt nailed an NBA-range triple to open the overtime.

After an empty trip by the Riders, McDiffitt found Tipton all alone in the corner. He promptly buried another trey and the Jets had assumed their biggest lead of the contest.

“For sophomores to even take 3s to start the overtime tells you something about those kids,” Sabatino said. “Plus, I thought we were draped all over them, so it wasn’t like they were getting open looks.”

Two Robert Vargo free throws stopped the bleeding for the Riders, but only momentarily. Tipton proceeded to hit a floater and after a turnover, McDiffitt found him with a splendid pass that led to a conventional three-point play and the Jets were up by 10.

Ferry got only as close as six the rest of the way. Union Local meshed 7-of-7 from the charity stripe in the extra period.

“We’re a grind-it-out kind of team and we battled, like we always do,” Sabatino said. “For the most part, we did a lot of good things. We’ve played well lately. We just have to get a little bit better, but I am proud of my guys.”

The Riders controlled the tempo of the game thanks to a solid match-up zone. They led 9-8 after one, 19-18 at the half and 31-28 entering the fourth.

“We didn’t have much time to prepare (having played on Thursday),” Porter said. “We focused on Buckeye Local and prepared for Ferry today before the game.”

In the fourth, the Jets shot themselves out of their funk. Junior Gavin Porter scored the first eight UL points of the final chapter to give the Jets a 36-33 lead.

The Jets appeared to be on their way to victory in regulation. They twice stretched the lead to five with the ball, but committed a few turnovers and the Riders made them pay.

Vargo tallied with a short jumper and, with 30 seconds to go, sophomore James Edwards connected on the Riders’ first bonus goal of the contest, which knotted the game at 43.

Union Local ran the clock down to 13 seconds before Coach Porter called for a timeout. However, the Jets’ ended up settling for a challenged deep look from three, sending the game to overtime.

“I thought we let them back in the game (in regulation),” Porter said. “We had three straight possessions where turned it over. That was a little out of character for us. Down the stretch, we wanted to attack the basket, but we probably should have just let it play out.”

The Jets were led by the aforementioned sophomores. McDiffitt finished with 24 points, while Tipton closed with 16 points and half-a-dozen rebounds. Porter added 13.

“This was a good win for us against a quality team and by the way we had to do it, but we’ve had to earn most of our games this season,” Porter said. “We need to start clicking all four quarters and being consistent.”

The Purple Riders were led by Vargo on the interior. He had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Edwards added 15 and savvy junior Jake Barritt was solid with eight points.

The Jets were charted for 14 turnovers, which was four more than the Riders.

Union Local is off until Tuesday when it treks to St. Clairsville. Martins Ferry visits Buckeye Local on Monday in a make-up game.

Martins Ferry managed a split by capturing the reserve game.

Varsity scoring:

MARTINS FERRY (52) – Vargo 7, 5-8 19; Barritt 3, 1-2 8; Appolloni 1, 0-4 2; Edwards 7, 0-0 15; Burress 3, 0-0 6; Agnew 1, 0-0 2; Bass 0, 0-0 0; Totals: 22, 6-14 52. UNION LOCAL (60) – McDiffitt 7, 6-6 24; T. Tipton 6, 1-1 16; Dunfee 0, 0-0 0; Porter 3, 4-4 13; C. Tipton 0, 0-0 0; Paulick 0, 0-0 0; McKivitz 3, 1-4 7; Totals: 19, 12-15 60.

3-point goals: MF – Edwards, Barritt. UL – McDiffitt (4), T. Tipton (3), Porter (3).