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Buckeye 8 Challenge tips Saturday at OUE

CADIZ — Justin Clifford is a busy man these days.

Not only does he have his normal day-to-day duties at Harrison Central High School and with the Huskies basketball program, he’s also deep into the planning of the annual Buckeye 8 Challenge.

The sixth event is slated to tip off Saturday morning at Ohio University Eastern in St. Clairsville with a six-game card on tap.

“I think there are going to be some great games and matchups taking place,” Clifford said. “Everything’s going well, from a planning perspective, and we’re just hoping that continues at the event.”

The Buckeye 8 Challenge began with the idea of having all Buckeye 8 teams take on an entire collection of teams from another league within the Eastern District, but it never fully got to that point.

“When this started, OUE was a sectional and district site, which was a draw for a lot of teams for a chance to get a game on that floor,” Clifford said. “Now, with the tournament games being held more at the home sites, that’s not as much the case, but for the OVAC schools, OUE is obviously still the host of the championship, so it’s a chance for them to gain experience on the court and also a chance to challenge themselves early in the season to see where they are.”

Clifford believes that every game on the card is intriguing.

“I am looking forward to them all, honestly,” Clifford said. “I know I am a basketball guy, but all of these games on the schedule have a chance to be really good. I am not just saying that to promote the event either.”

Action begins at 11 a.m. with Union Local taking on Philo, which features sophomore A.J. Clayton, who is highly regarded among Ohio’s Class of 2022.

Fort Frye and Wheeling Central will meet in the second game of the day at 12:45 p.m.

“Fort Frye and Wheeling Central are two very good basketball programs that have have a lot of success,” Clifford said.

Steubenville and Hamilton Township to take the floor at 2:30 p.m.

“Both Steubenville and Hamilton Township wil be looking to get the ball up and down, so that should be entertaining,” Clifford said.

Meadowbrook and East Liverpool tangle at 4:15 p.m.

“East Liverpool is one of the better teams in the entire Buckeye 8, if not the team to beat in the league and obviously, we know what kind of success Meadowbrook has had in recent years,” Clifford said.

St. Clairsville and Oak Glen are slated to tip off at 6 p.m. in a rematch of an OVAC Class 4A semifinal from a year ago.

“A good chance for both of those teams to see where they are early in the year,” Clifford said.

The final game of the day pits Harrison Central taking on Dublin Scioto at 7:45 p.m.

“I think kids will remember playing Dublin Scioto in front of a crowd rather than just a regular season game,” Clifford said. “The event has grown because I think teams are seeing the opportunity to get on the court and play good competition in an event that runs very smoothly. So, teams are saying, ‘why not be a part of it? It’s better than playing in Timbuktu on a Tuesday night.'”

Hamilton Township, which is located in Columbus, is coached by Shadyside graduate Billy Merryman. Philo is coached by former Buckeye Local head coach Greg Haberfield and Clifford was college roomates at Muskingum with Scioto head coach Mike Moler.

“We’ve got teams from outside of the area, but even those teams come in with a little bit of a local feel,” Clifford said. “For Billy Merryman, it’s always great to be able to bring your team back to the area in which you’re from and being able to play against Mike’s team and having some connection with him makes it intriguing.”

St. Clairsville and Harrison Central are the only two schools to take part in each of the previous five Buckeye 8 Challenges.

An MVP will be chosen from each game and every player taking part will receive a shirt and backpack.

One ticket is good for the entire day.

The chief sponsors for the event are Unified Bank and Milleson Insurance.

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