ATHENS - Only four teams in the state of Ohio end their season with a victory.
Unfortunately for St. Clairsville, the Red Devils realized the harsh reality of that a few victories short of their ultimate goal Thursday evening at Ohio University's Convocational Center in the Division II region.
The Red Devils, who were seeking a return trip to the OHSAA State Tournament next week in Columbus, were denied by a talented and gritty New Philadelphia squad, 65-50, in the regional semifinal.
The St. Clairsville bench, from left, Jerrid Marhefka, Dylan Campbell, Riley Carlton and Dan Monteroso watch as the final seconds tick off the clock Thursday night in Athens. The Red Devils saw their impressive season conclude with a 65-50 loss to New Philadelphia in the Division II?regional semifinals.
"What can you say? New Philadelphia was better than us tonight," said St. Clairsville head coach Kim Clifford, fighting back emotion, after he addressed his team, including seven seniors, for the final time. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. We didn't defend as well as we could have and we didn't score the ball as well as he could have. As a result, New Philadelphia was better."
While the Red Devils finish their season with a strong 22-3 record, New Philadelphia will return to the campus of Ohio University on Saturday to meet Vincent Warren, which dispatched the host school, Athens, in the nightcap.
St. Clairsville, which never led in the game, has continually been slow out of the gates this season in first quarters. However, the Quakers are the first team that didn't allow the Devils to make one of their patented runs.
"At this point (in the season), you can't afford a slow start," Clifford said. "We didn't start out well and, really, we didn't play well most of the game. Anytime we made a run, New Philadelphia always had the answer. We made runs like that throughout the years and teams didn't answer, but they answered."
New Philadelphia, which fell to the Red Devils in last season's regional final, knew coming into the game that it had to find a way to contain splendid St. C. senior Dan Monteroso, who came into the regional averaging 37 points a game during the tournament.
The Quakers executed their game plan to a tee as they ran continual double teams at him and switched everything, never allowing the Eastern District's Player of the Year any kind of room to operate.
That defensive effort carried over to the offensive end, evidently. New Philadelphia led 13-9 after one and really turned it on in the second quarter.
The Quakers scored the first 11 points of the second and held St. C. without a field goal under senior Jerrid Marhefka knocked home a 3-point goal from the right corner with just five seconds to go in the half.
"We normally knock down shots and tonight we didn't," Clifford said. "We missed shots that we normally make. They were really aggressive, very patient and did an outstanding job. It's not so much anything we did or didn't do, but all of the credit deserves to go to them."
The Quakers led 30-11 at one point in the second quarter, but held a 32-16 lead at the intermission. Sophomore Dylan Hagan ignited the spurt with seven in the econd. Plus, junior pivot Ethan Boose was a continual thorn in St. C.'s side on both ends, scoring 11 of his 17 in the first half.
St. Clairsville came alive in the third quarter, to an extent. Marhekfa scored seven and Monteroso, who was limited to eight in the first half, scored two leaners.
All told, the Red Devils scored 14 points, but gained nothing on the Quakers, who continually had the answer when they needed it.
"We pressed a little bit, got some steals, got it to maybe 12 at a point and I thought if we could get it under 10, we might be in business," Clifford explained. "But, each time, they hit a shot, got an offensive rebound and scored. They just did the things that they needed to do to win this game and maybe the next game, too."
The Devils never did get any closer than 13 at 48-35 and were forced to foul basically the entire second half of the fourth quarter, but the Quakers relied on junior ace Marco Columbo, who scored nine of his 16 in the fourth.
The Quakers were led by Hagan, Boose and Colombo, who all scored 17. Colombo eight rebounds.
Monteroso finished his final prep game with 19 points and a team-high seven rebounds. For his career, the Purdue football signee netted 2,340 points, which ranks him 18th in Ohio prep history.
"New Philadelphia had a really good game plan to make us hit shots and we just didn't hit them," Clifford said.
Marhefka finished with 12 points. Senior Adam Jeffries added eight points.
Along with the aforementioned trio of 12th graders, other seniors who suited up in the St. C. hoop uniform for the final time include: Riley Carlton, Dylan Campbell, Jared Burghy, Zach Keylor and Jay Gossett.
"It's hard right now, but this group is part of the best basketball team in the school's history," Clifford said, again fighting back emotion. "What am I going to say right now? Maybe, in a week or so, we'll get together and talk about it, but they're all going to be good memories."
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