Red Devils’ fine season was a fun ride while it lasted
COLUMBUS – There’s a cliche that says all good things must come to an end.
Unfortunately for the St. Clairsville Red Devils, the end was Friday afternoon inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University.
While the 61-27 defeat at the hands of the Elida Bulldogs in the Division II state semifinals is what most of the 12,000-plus on hand will remember about the Red Devils’ initial trip to the state tournament, the nearly 2,000 Red Devil fans who made the nearly two-hour trip to the state capital will have a totally different memory of the 2011-12 basketball season.
Regardless of how you look at it, what the Red Devils did to even qualify to the state tournament was historical.
While many people in today’s society accentuate the negatives, there’s absolutely no need for the Red Devils’ coaches, players and fans to do that. We’d be willing to bet that if you ask any of the Red Devil fans about the season, you’d hear words like awesome, remarkable and maybe even unbelievable.
Head coach Kim Clifford, who’s been coming to state tournament after state tournament in a spectator role, gets it. He realizes what his team was able to accomplish and he did his best in the immediate moments after the game to console his team to that thought.
“There are 200 teams in our division who would love to trade places with us,” Clifford said. “It was a great season, and I don’t want these kids going away from here with a really bitter taste in their mouth. In perspective, it was a great year.”
Perspective is exactly where people need to keep things. Clifford does it well. To say your team played on the next-to-last day of basketball season in Ohio is an unreal accomplishment.
“No one died and no one got hurt,” Clifford reminded the media during his post-game press conference. “These are great kids and it was a special season.”
It seems that no matter what part of the St. C. season you would dissect, there’s something to get excited about.
The lists of firsts seem to never end.
On top of the Final Four appearance, the Red Devils claimed their first district title and prior to that won their first-ever OVAC title.
They set a school record for victories with 23 and the 22-game winning streak they brought to Franklin County was an all-time best.
The state of Ohio is an awful big place and when you’re favorite team is one of the four playing on the last weekend, you deserve to soak up every second of it.
These sorts of feats don’t happen every day for the immediate area. The OHSAA basketball tournaments – for both boys’ and girls’ – provides some of the most difficult sledding you’ve ever seen.
The tournament began the last week of February and as you’re reading this, none of the four champions have been crowned.
Some have no idea how difficult it is, but the Red Devils do. They had to overcome almost a two-week layoff to get past Meadowbrook and then took down Carrollton.
Then it was a rematch of the OVAC title game with a talented East Liverpool team before they could even get out of their own zip code.
At the regional, St. C. took down 6-8 Cleveland State-bound Malik London and Chillicothe before ousting New Philadelphia to advance here.
If you’re still not sold that what the Red Devils did was impressive, we’ll leave you with this stat: St. Clairsville has an enrollment of 216 boys. The cutoff to be in Division III was 215. Yes, the Red Devils are the smallest D-II school in the state.
But, it didn’t faze the Red Devils who just kept believing and competing. And, despite Friday’s outcome, reaped the rewards.
On a side note, I’ve been privileged to cover prep sports in the Ohio Valley for the last 13-plus years, and to be honest, I’ve loved every minute of it.
I’ve crossed paths with a lot of teams and individuals in that time, but I’m not sure I’ve come across a nicer, more respectful and genuinely classy group of kids than this Red Devils’ squad, and I mean that sincerely.
They have plenty of fun, but they always knew when it was time to be serious and get it done. And that’s a reflection of their coaches, teachers, administrators and families.
Quite simply, the Red Devils had a really good team. But, the Red Devils have even better kids.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org