Area hoops have earned respect
The Ohio Valley will always be known as a football area first.
Obviously, our teams have had great success on the gridiron, so the distinction has been earned.
As much respect as the area gets for football, it seems like it gets just as little in boys’ basketball.
Areas like Guernsey, Tuscarawas and Holmes County have long been the kingpins in Eastern District Basketball. They’ve gotten teams to the state title games in both boys and girls hoops.
However, Belmont County has sent just two boys teams – St. Clairsville (2012) and Bellaire (2004) – and one school – Shadyside – has sent girls in 2002, 2003 and 2011 to the Final Four.
By those stats alone, it’s easy to tell that the majority of area teams have long been wiped out by the time the second full week of March rolls around.
The times they are a changing, evidently.
For the first time that I can remember in my 32 years of living in the Ohio Valley, the immediate area has three squads heading to Ohio’s illustrious ‘Sweet 16’ this week.
It’s kind of hard to fathom, isn’t it?
St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry and River are marching on after posting thrilling district final victories this week.
The Red Devils, on Thursday at OUE in Division II, watched Carrollton race out to a 10-point lead after one quarter before Dan Monteroso came alive and basically willed the Devils to a 67-58 victory.
Martins Ferry, on Friday at OUE in Division III, built a 10-point lead early in the third only to watch battle-tested Garaway turn up the pressure and rally to take a one-point lead into the fourth. However, the Riders’ strength on the interior and athleticism of Cody Schau proved to be too much as the Purple Riders posted a cherished 56-48 victory.
The biggest thriller, however, was saved for last as River, on Saturday at Meadowbrook in Division IV, claimed the district title by working overtime for a 56-49 victory against two-time defending state champion Hiland. Brett Price seemed to make play after play after taking the advice of his head coach and saddling the Pilots up.
“This is pretty sweet,” Pilots’ head coach Mark Romick said amid the wild celebration following the game in Byesville. “It’s great for the Ohio Valley that we have three teams going to the regional tournament. All I hear is how basketball in the Ohio Valley is down or all that, so maybe us, St. C. and Ferry can quiet that talk.”
Obviously, all three teams enjoyed their wins, proudly accepted their championship medals, climbed the ladders to trim down the nets and hoisted their gold trophies. However, don’t think for a minute that Kim Clifford, Jeff Sabatino or Romick are going to let any of their teams get complacent or lose focus.
River (19-7) will get regional week started on Tuesday when it treks to Canton to meet Youngstown Christian in the shadows of the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the Canton Fieldhouse. Tipoff is slated for 6:15 p.m.
Martins Ferry (14-8) looks as if it will have the stiffest test this week when it meets Ironton, which has yet to lose to a team from Ohio, at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday in Athens at Ohio University’s Convo.
St. Clairsville (22-2) will face a strong New Philadelphia squad in a rematch of last year’s regional final on Thursday at 6:15 p.m., also in Athens at OU.
So what’s the common thread between these teams outside of outstanding coaching?
It doesn’t hurt that each of the teams has a premier player. Monteroso, Schau and Price have been the three premier players in the area all winter and there’s no better time for those players to shine the brightest than in the tournament when they realize that each game could possibly be their last.
Actually, Ferry is the only team of the trio, which isn’t entirely a senior dominated squad. Seniors just seem to find a way when they have to. It’s like that in any sport, too. When a senior senses that his or her career could be closing in on completion, he or she just picks it up a notch.
As the three teams move up the tournament ladder, that’s just another notch they’ll need to pick things up further.
Congratulations and good luck this week to the Pilots, Purple Riders and Red Devils.
CONGRATS TO FORT FRYE
The Fort Frye girls’ basketball team is headed to the Division III state basketball tournament this coming week. The Lady Cadets of Coach Dan Liedtke punched their ticket Saturday afternoon by virtue of a 58-43 victory against Johnstown-Monroe at Logan High School.
Fort Frye cruised through the regional. It defeated Frankfort Adena, 66-47, in the semifinal.
Next up for the Lady Cadets, who are led by Deidre Combs, Taylor Buchanan and Morgan Liedtke, is a date with powerful Columbus Africentric on Thursday afternoon at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University.
Tipoff for the Lady Cadets’ semifinal is 1 p.m.
Africentric reached the state tournament by dismantling Archbold, 60-42. In the regional semifinals, the Lady Nubians took out Bellaire High product Amy Taylor and her Bucyrus Wynford combine, 34-27.
WEST VIRGINIA STATE TOURNEY
Two local OVAC squads are headed for Charleston this week. Magnolia, which is my pick to cut down the nets in Class A, has been seeded second and will take on seventh-seeded Wheeling Central on Thursday at 1 p.m.
That’s actually a rematch between the Blue Eagles and Knights from their sectional final game about 10 days ago. However, that bizarre system of tournament play that West Virginia utilizes gives basically a mulligan. Thus, the Knights went on the road to St. Mary’s and got the job done, earning their trip to Charleston.
Blue Eagles’ senior Mark Winters made news this week when he surpassed Ted Talkington as the all-time leading scorer in Magnolia school history.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org