Ferry fights off Trail to advance

BYESVILLE – Winning sectionals titles never gets old.

Just ask Jeff Sabatino.

The veteran Martins Ferry hoop mentor watched his youthful Purple Riders make the plays down the stretch, handing him his 12th sectional crown and second successive, via an exciting 55-50 triumph over a quality Buckeye Trail quint Friday night at Meadowbrook.

The triumph improved the Riders to 13-9 on the campaign while also punching their ticket into the Division III District Tournament at Ohio University Eastern. Ferry will take on the winner of today’s Union Local-Sandy Valley contest Tuesday at 8 p.m.

“It’s an exciting time of the year. We are playing well and displayed a lot of character in our two sectional wins,” Sabatino said. “Trail was playing seniors while we had a lot of sophomores out there. Winning sectional titles are always nice and doing it back-to-back makes it even a little sweeter.”

The setback spoiled a spirited comeback by Rod Gray’s talented Warriors. The Old-Washington-based charges, featuring a roster with 11 seniors, trailed by 11 with four minutes to play but roared back to grab a short-lived lead in the final two minutes.

Trail ended the campaign at 15-9.

Sabatino received nice performances from all five of his regulars.

The sophomore tandem of James Edwards and Arjay Burress led the scoring parade with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Edwards knocked down a trio of treys while Burress did much of his damage along the baseline.

Eastern District Player of the Year Robert Vargo checked in with his usual double-double, netting 10 points to go with 15 rebounds.

Junior point guard Jake Barritt solved the Trail pressure while directing the Riders’ offense, dishing out 10 assists. Sophomore Emilio Appolloni, limited to four first-half minutes due to foul issues, ignited the Ferrians with six points to start the third quarter, erasing a six-point Trail halftime lead.

“At halftime, we just wanted to get our starting five on the court at the same time. We had foul issues which forced us to play many different combinations which we are not comfortable with,” Sabatino said. “But we really stepped it up defensively in the third quarter and made the stops right from the outset.”

Gray was in agreement.

“I thought the tide turned at the start of the third quarter. We went in up 26-20 and we started the third quarter zero for our first six possessions. That changed the tempo of the game,” Gray said. “We made a nice run in the fourth quarter but we couldn’t make the key play when we needed to.”

Ferry played a sensational third panel, outscoring the Warriors 19-7 to gain control. Appolloni and Burress each netted six points in the frame with Vargo chipping in four.

The Purple Riders’ surge carried over into the fourth period, forging its largest lead at 49-38 on a Barritt bucket with just over four minutes remaining.

The game’s fortunes turned dramatically at that point. The Warriors began to heat up while the Purple got sloppy with the ball. The result was a stunning 12-0 run, climaxed by a Josh Toland hoop with 1:40, giving the Warriors a 50-49 advantage.

Ferry subsequently exhibited poise beyond its youthful makeup, relying on its vaunted zone defense and some key free throws by Edwards.

A Burress steal yielded a three-point play by Edwards, propelling the Purple to a 52-50 lead with 1:10 left. Trail misfired on its ensuing possession and the Riders killed some clock before Edwards calmly drained two more free throws at the 34.6 reading for a 54-50 lead.

Another Warrior misfire led to one more Edwards’ charity toss, icing the verdict with 15.4 left.

“Everyone did a great job in the second half. Robert got every rebound. Jake blew by people and created. James and Arjay came up big in the scoring column and Emilio means so much to us defensively and also was our offensive catalyst in the third quarter,” Sabatino aid. “For the second straight game, we made it tougher than we had to, but you gain a great deal by winning this way.”

Lane Starr led the Warriors with 16 points. Jed Burga delivered 14 and Toland netted 12 markers.