The third time will definitely be a charm for either Martins Ferry or Steubenville.
Saturday afternoon's Wheeling Hospital/OVAC Basketball Class 4-A Championship Game will serve as the rubber match this season between the two rivals, with each winning on its home floor.
However, this time around Big Red (14-7), the top seed, and the third-seeded Purple Riders (13-8) will meet for all the marbles inside Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Building with tipoff slated for 3 p.m..
Following Wednesday night's thrilling semifinal victory over host Union Local, first-year Martins Ferry head coach Lindsay Coyne said her team has received about as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield during one of his stand-up acts.
"I hope everyone starts recognizing that Martins Ferry is a good basketball team," Coyne stressed after the 43-42 win over the No. 2-seeded Jets. "I don't think these girls have been getting enough credit around the Ohio Valley, but we're ready to take on the next level."
That would be Steubenville, which entered the Martins Ferry Holiday Tournament unbeaten in 10 starts. The Purple Riders took care of that with a 61-59 upset win, but Big Red evened the score inside its Crimson Center a month later, 52-49.
"It's the rubber match, I guess. We split this year," Steubenville head coach Phil Casinelli said after taking in Wednesday's semifinal. "They're a great team and it's going to be a great game.
"It was a close game when we played them down there, and it was a close game at our place," Casinelli added. "We're looking forward to the challenge, and I'm sure they are as well."
Martins Ferry, which has won three straight after four consecutive setbacks, enters the championship contest on a roll, while Steubenville has struggled of late, losing seven of their final 11 outings after the perfect 10-0 start.
"They're gritty too," Coyne said of Big Red. "They are very similar to us in certain ways."
She said in order for the Purple Riders to come out on top, they will have to duplicate Wednesday night's effort.
"We will have to do all the little things right," Coyne, a former Martins Ferry and Wheeling Jesuit University court standout continued. "We have to take care of the basketball, box out and play as hard as we have been.
"We must put a body on them when the shot goes up because they are a very athletic team."
Martins Ferry is led by returning Division III all-stater Jessica Kinney. The 5-9 senior averages 21.5 points per outing and surpassed the 1,000-point barrier at the end of last season. She is on pace to finish well up on the Riders' all-time scoring list.
"Jess is a player," Coyne noted. "She has a great sense of the game and has really developed into one of the premier players in the valley."
Kinney is joined in the starting lineup by classmates Meghan Rose, Kylie Stalder, Shaina Oberdick and junior Morgan Stalder. Senior Addie Suriano, junior Dionna Lee, and freshmen Tyrah King and Shaye DeLeonardis round out the roster. Junior Ashlei Ray was lost early in the season due to a knee injury.
King, although scoring only three points, pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds against Union Local.
"These girls have brought it day-in and day-out," Coyne said. "They've been playing great basketball ... team basketball. They are gritting it out and paying attention to all of the little things. They are executing our offense and defense they way they are coached."
Clinging to a precarious 1-point lead with time running down, the Purple Riders executed their delay game to perfection as Kinney and Rose were the primary ballhandlers.
"We played very smart there at the end of the game," Coyne recalled. "We were very careful about not turning the ball over. That just says a lot about my senior leadership. (Meghan) Rosie hitting those free throws and Jess wanting the ball in her hands."
In holding onto the ball, Union Local opted to foul Rose, who drained both the first time around to make it 42-39. Then, a few seconds later, the Purple Riders' point guard made it a 4-point cushion, which proved to be the game-winning point as the Jets' Cori Medley banked home a trey at the buzzer.
"That was an outstanding game," Casinelli said. "Both teams played very well."
Big Red, which does not have a senior on their roster, is led by juniors Emiley Masloski and Mytia Barker. The 5-6 Masloski is still recovering from a knee injury and still isn't at 100 percent. She had 10 points in Steubenville's 53-39 semifinal win over No. 4 Oak Glen Tuesday night. The 5-8 Barker paced the winners with 18 points, and also grabbed nine rebounds.
"Mytia has been having big nights since Emiley's injury," Casinelli noted. "She has stepped up with her rebounding and scoring. We're putting her in unusual positions and she's been doing well at the point."
Another threat for Steubenville is freshman Hannah Masloski, who knocked down nine points against the Golden Bears.
"We've had different girls step up at different times," Casinelli allowed. "We've dealt with our share of injuries, but different girls at different times have stepped up in different ways, be it on the offensive or defensive end of the court.
"We've struggled of late," he continued. "We had a stretch of games where we didn't play so well, but the girls have stuck to the game plan. We played good basketball Tuesday night, and hopefully, we can continue that Saturday."
Saturday's appearance will be the third title game for Martins Ferry.The Purple Riders lost to Barnesville and defeated St. Clairsville. Big Red is back for the first time in four years.