ATHENS - The St. Clairsville Red Devils have spent much of the last month venturing into uncharted territory.
Now, they're on the cusp of something extremely special.
The Red Devils' dream season continued inside Ohio University's Convo on Thursday evening with an impressive, hard-earned 59-52 victory against Chillicothe (16-8) in the Division II regional semifinals.
St. Clairsville’s Dan Monteroso advances the ball Thursday.
Photo by Kim North
"I am really proud of how tough the kids were," St. C. coach Kim Clifford said. "Guys made plays and we'll have our 78th practice (Friday), which is a great thing. The reason we're where we are is because of our approach, and our approach for (Saturday) won't change."
The Red Devils (22-2) will make another trip to the Covo on Saturday with a berth in the Division II Final Four on the line. They'll face Eastern District counterpart New Philadelphia, which dispatched Waverly in Thursday's nightcap, 50-48.
"The first thing the kids said after the game was that they're not satisfied," Clifford said. "We've got a short turnaround, but we'll get a scouting report put together and get to work on (New Philadelphia).
Before any attention could be shifted to the Quakers, the Red Devils had a tall task - literally and figuratively - to contend with in a Cavaliers' squad, which featured 6-foo-8 post player Malik London, who is headed to Cleveland State University.
St. Clairsville came out of the gate showing no signs of nerves or intimidation as the Red Devils shot out to a 10-4 lead, but were tied at 10 at the first stop.
Talented junior Dan Monteroso filled it up for all 10 of those points. He hit two triples and shot a tear drop over the out-stretched arms of London.
The Red Devils continued to play well in the second and received a bench spark from junior Dylan Campbell, who buried two treys. Junior Jerrid Marhefka also dialed one in from distance and Monteroso had five, sparking St. C. to a 24-18 lead at the break.
"Our team has played basically the same all year with big basket after big basket," Clifford said. "You can go through the season, pick out a kid and remember a time when he made a big shot and (Thursday) it was Dylan."
Campbell's hot hand continued into the second half and it was even more clutch as the Cavaliers came out of the locker room and scored eight of the first 10 in the half to knot the game at 26-26.
After junior Riley Carlton answered a Chillicothe bucket, the Cavaliers grabbed their first of only two leads they enjoyed in the contest on a triple by junior Aaron Elliott.
However, Campbell had the answer again from the right corner. Slick Cavaliers' sophomore Zach Johnson kissed one off the glass to put the Cavaliers up, 33-31, but Campbell got free again and made the Ross Countians pay dearly.
"What a clutch performance from Dylan," Clifford said. "We knew the big kid (London) was going to hang in (the paint), but Dylan's a really, really good shooter. He's not had as many opportunities with the other guys."
The Red Devils got off to a strong start in the fourth quarter thanks to a triple by junior Jerrid Marhefka, who meshed a triple from the left wing.
Chillicothe climbed within one at 41-40, but Monteroso, who was held primarily in check in the second half, was fouled in the act. After a Chillicothe player was whacked with a technical, Monteroso found himself at the line for four and made three. Chillicothe eventually tied the game at 46 on a bucket by London, who finished with 24 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.
However, Marhefka wasn't phazed. He proceeded to score six straight points. He buried a trey on the third St. C. shot of the possession and then stepped in the passing lane and converted an and-one to make it 52-46.
After Marhefka's barrage, the Cavaliers found themselves in foul mode. All told, St. C. cashed 11 of 17 in the fourth quarter from the stripe.
"Our thing was to stay aggressive," Clifford said. "Our motto this week was to not shoot the ball into his hand. As long as we didn't do that, we thought we'd be OK."
Monteroso led the Red Devils with 23 points, including 15 in the first half. He also had 15 rebounds. Marhefka added 16 and Campbell added the four treys for 12.
London was complemented by Johnson's 12 points for the Cavaliers.