Martins Ferry, Trail to battle for 3A championship

Pictured is the 2016-17 Martins Ferry Purple Riders

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Both Martins Ferry and Buckeye Trail have high expectations for the Ohio High School Athletic Association basketball tournament that begins in just a few weeks.

However, before any attention shifts to that tournament, the Purple Riders and Warriors are focused on the current pennant chase.

Top-seeded Martins Ferry and third-seeded Buckeye Trail will meet today at 2:30 p.m. for the OVAC championship in Class 3A as part of the day-long Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center.

“We’re excited and honored to be a part of this game,” first-year Martins Ferry head coach Derek Edwards said. “Being in this game means a lot to our program, school and athletic department.”

The Purple Riders (19-2) are making their debut in the title game, which is hard to believe when you consider they’ve been to three regional tournaments in recent memory.

“We’ve had some talented teams in recent memory and made some nice runs in the tournament,” Edwards said. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity we have in front of us.”

Today’s trip to OUE appeared to be a foregone conclusion Tuesday evening when the Riders owned what appeared to be a commanding 14-point lead entering the fourth quarter. However, a few missed foul shots, turnovers and Linsly buckets later, the game was headed for overtime where the Riders pulled out a 58-55 victory.

“I liked a lot of the things we did for three-and-a-half quarters,” Edwards said. “We ran great offense the entire game and took what the defense was giving us, but down the stretch, we didn’t execute very well and Linsly came back like a good team will. But, I am very proud of how the guys kept playing and were able to close out the game.”

It’s the second straight game where similar things happened for the Riders. At River, last Friday, the Purple Riders squandered a six-point lead in less than a minute and eventually lost in overtime.

“There is always something you need to work on, especially toward the end of the season and (finishing games) is one area where we need to improve,” Edwards explained. “I still love the way we’re playing going into this game and the tournament, but we do need to improve if we’re going to accomplish all of our goals.”

Meanwhile, Buckeye Trail, which also needed OT to advance, was able to exact some revenge in its semifinal. The Warriors (16-5) took down Fort Frye, which had swept Trail during the pre-OVAC portion of the regular season, 68-66.

“(Beating Fort Frye) was a nice step for us,” rookie head coach Gary Chumney said. “They’ve been the class of our league (the PVC) for a long time and it’s the kind of program we’ve wanted to get to at some point.”

Though the win against the Cadets was one the Warriors had been longing for, Chumney hasn’t had trouble in getting his team re-focused as it prepares for a talented Riders’ squad.

“This team is focused and we’re well aware of how good Martins Ferry is,” Chumney said. “They’re a very experienced team with eight seniors. They’re very well rounded. They beat Steubenville and they’re ranked 11th in the state, which tells me they’re no fluke.”

On top of getting past the Cadets, Trail is also looking to go out on top. With it set to join the Inter-Valley Conference next school year, Trail will no longer take part in the OVAC tournament.

“The OVAC’s always been a in Trail’s history,” Chumney said. “I was on two OVAC-winning teams when I was in high school, so it definitely means a lot to me personally. Plus, it means a lot to our guys after watching our girls win last weekend. We’re going to go down and give it our best shot.”

Both the Riders and Warriors like to hang their hat on the defensive end of the floor. Trail employs more of a full-court pressure approach, while the Riders buckle down in the halfcourt.

“Speed is one of our strengths, so we like to let the guys get out and use that,” Chumney said. “There have been some games where we’ve struggled offensively, but our defense has been able to keep us in it. We got some big stops when we needed them (at Fort Frye) the other night.”

The Purple, meanwhile, is allowing just over 40 points a game.

“We’re a fantastic half-court team, defensively,” Edwards noted. “At this point (in the season), it’s vital to continue to be that way if you’re going to win and keep playing. We still have things to clean up and improve on, but I like where we are.”

When he began preparing for the Warriors, two players really stood out for Edwards. Those are senior post Jacob Doudna (6-6) and Troy Pontius, who plays on the perimeter. They average 12 and 13.5 points per game, respectively.

“(Pontius) is a talented guard who can take it 90 feet on you in a hurry,” Edwards said. “Doudna, inside, is a handful. We’re going to have to keep them out of the paint and limit them to one shot per possession.”

Other members of the Warriors’ starting five are C.J. McCall, who is coming off a 20-point outburst against the Fort, sophomore Zach Grafton and Trey Dougherty, who is Trail’s top defender. McCall averages 13.5 points a game, while Grafton adds 10. Brandon Barnett, Justin Jones and Dylan Beaver round out the Warriors’ rotation.

“We’ve had basically a different leading scorer almost every game,” Chumney said. “We really have six guys we can count on on any given night. Being balanced has made us tougher to defend.”

The Purple Riders have been extremely balanced, too.

The inside-outside combination of seniors Zac Selby and Darius Ray lead the way. Selby checks in at 15 points and nine rebounds per game, while Ray is the team’s leading scorer at 17 points a night.

Senior Jack Davis has been a solid contributor as well, scoring 11 points a game.

In the backcourt, seniors Shane Schuster and Javon Garriel reside. Schuster averages nearly seven points a game and is the Riders’ “lock-down defender” according to his head coach. Garriel is also a solid defender and he “manages the offense.”

Off the bench, the Riders utilize Micade Masters, who has had some big games, and Darrell Price. Logan Selby provides depth on the interior.


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