MARTINS FERRY - Jeff Sabatino could almost see it coming.
While his team led 17-16 after one period, the Purple Riders strained for every point they scored, like they usually do, while the Red Devils still managed 16 despite a rough start shooting the ball.
"We had to work so hard the whole game, while St. Clairsville scores almost effortlessly," Sabatino said. "It's hard to work that hard for 32 minutes and you've got to attribute a lot of that to St. C. because they play pretty good defense, but they don't get nearly enough credit for how well they defend."
The Red Devils (11-2) eventually found the range, continued to receive balanced scoring, and the Purple Riders (3-8) eventually wore down with "fatigue," leading to a deceiving 70-52 Red Devils' runaway.
"In our last seven or eight games, we've played everyone tough until (Tuesday night)," Sabatino said. "We looked a little like the Linsly game where we played well for two-and-a-half quarters and they had more energy than we had. They were in another gear late and that was the difference."
St. Clairsville, which has won 10 in a row since a loss at Indian Creek in early December, took the lead for good in the second quarter and gingerly pulled away thanks to the offensive spark supplied by juniors Dan Monteroso, Riley Carlton and Adam Jeffries.
"You can go through the whole game and point to times where each of the guys we played did something to contribute," St. C. coach Kim Clifford said.
"It really didn't seem like we had that kind of gap. I think the kids understand it's all about the next possession and the cliche about playing one possession at a time is so true because that's what allowed us to sneak away."
After allowing the Riders 17 in the opening period, the Red Devils limited the hosts to the same total in the middle two periods, which allowed a one-point deficit to turn into a 10-point lead, 44-34, entering the final quarter.
According to Clifford, there were no serious defensive adjustments, but it was more about desire.
"I think we just played a little harder and we emphasized that if you're not shooting it real well, you'd better be relying on your defense," Clifford said. "We came out and didn't shoot very well or defend very well, which is a really bad combination, but I think the kids eventually understood what they understood what they had to do."
Monteroso scored 11 points in the first half, but became more offensive minded in the second half. He scored nine in the third and then capped his 33-point outing with a 13-point fourth quarter, which included a dunk off a perfectly thrown lob by Jerrid Marhefka.
For a stretch, it appeared as if Monteroso was in a game of 1-on-1 with Ferry junior Cody Schau, who continued to impress. He scored a team-high 25, including a break-away flush in the second quarter.
"There was a stretch in the second half where we had about eight empty trips in a row after we hadn't hardly any the whole game," Sabatino lamented. "That was probably the difference because they hit a couple of 3s and once it got to double figures, we really had to get out and chase them."
Along with Monteroso, Carlton hit both of the bonus baskets in the third and Jeffries came up big in the fourth, scoring six of his 14 in the final stanza.
"Even though (St. Clairsville) doesn't play that many guys, they wore us down," Sabatino said. "But, I thought we did a lot of good things against a good team, but we just ran out of gas."
Marhefka, who was saddled with foul trouble, finished with seven points. Junior banger Joel Giffin also donated solid minutes on both ends of the floor.
Schau's offense was complemented by Tyler Strama, who scored 14 points. Sophomore Robert Vargo added nine off the bench.
St. Clairsville will look to take another step toward sewing up a home game in the upcoming OVAC Tournament on the road Friday at Buckeye Local. The Purple Riders have a busy weekend ahead, travelling to Indian Creek Friday before playing host to Union Local the next night.