Strong fourth quarter lifts Harrison Central past St. Clairsville

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Justin Clifford knows how hard it is to win on John Jenkins Court from his days as a standout guard for St. Clairsville. So, he will cherish Friday night’s victory.

For the first time in his tenure as head coach at Harrison Central, his high-scoring Huskies (5-3) walked off his former homecourt with a 91-81 triumph over the short-handed Red Devils (5-3). It was also just the 10th win in 33 tries since the consolidation 18 seasons ago.

“It’s been a while since we’ve won here. It’s not an easy place to win,” Clifford noted. “I’m not sure how many wins Donnie (Madzia) got when he coached here, but it wasn’t many.”

The teams were deadlocked four times, the last at 76 before the Huskies went on a game-ending 15-5 run in the final four minutes.

“I think we got a little tougher tonight mentally. We had some guys step up and make plays,” the Huskies’ head coach said. “Caden Arbaugh and a couple of other guys that we’ve been waiting on really stepped up. He made some big plays late.

“That’s our saying, ‘Just hold the rope. It’s like a game of tug-of-war. Just hold the rope with your teammates and do what you can do. I think everyone did that tonight.

“That was a great team win.”

Arbaugh netted 10 of his game-high 25 points in the final quarter, including a three-point goal that gave the Huskies a 79-77 lead they would never give back.

Freshman Kobe Mitchell knocked down three free throws in the final minute to help seal the deal.

St. Clairsville played more than three-and-a-half quarters without junior standout Craig Bober. The 6-4 post suffered a knee injury and did not return. Compounding that was junior point guard Matthew Busby being out with the flu. Then, Justin Heatherington fouled out with 3:18 left to play.

“About the guys missing, those other guys have varsity uniforms,” St. Clairsville head coach Kim Clifford said while not making excuses for the short-handed lineup. “We’re never going to talk about who did what or what could’ve happened. The kids gave great effort … we just came up short. Down the stretch we missed some free throws and had a couple of turnovers.

“The kids gave great effort and never quit,” the veteran head coach said. “That’s something to look at down the stretch, not the negative things. We put kids out there to do a job and they did the best they could do.”

The Red Devils roared to a 32-24 lead after eight minutes as Jayden Starks tallied 12 points and Brent Vike added nine — all on treys. However, the Huskies came right back as DeJuan Caldwell came off the bench to net 11 of his 17 in the second quarter, but the hosts led, 50-48, at the break.

Vike (8) and Kaden Blomquist (7) combined for 15 third-quarter lightings as St. Clairsville clung to a 71-67 advantage after three periods. Caldwell led Harrison Central with six in the quarter.

Tyler West scored six of his nine markers in the fourth quarter.

“Tyler played huge tonight. That’s what we look for those guys to do,” the younger Clifford said of Caldwell. “We’ve got some guys that can put the ball in the hoop. We averaging about 80 (points) a game, but we’re not guarding anybody. We’re playing to our strengths.”

In addition to Arbaugh’s 25 and Caldwell’s 17, Evan Stine had a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards before fouling out late. Mitchell finished with 15.

For the Red Devils, Blomquist supported Vike with 19, while Starks added 16 and Heatherington 10.

The Huskies led 39-31 off the glass as Arbaugh collected eight boards. Heatherington led St.C. with seven. Blomquist added six.

The Red Devils had five more turnovers at 23-18.