ATHENS - It's been a history-making, storybook season for the St. Clairsville Red Devils.
And they're about to add another chapter.
After fending off several late runs by New Philadelphia, the Red Devils are members of the OHSAA Division II Final Four after winning the regional title inside the Ohio University Convocational Center by a 63-59 score.
St. Clairsville’s Dan Monteroso (5) makes his way past a New Philadelphia defender Saturday afternoon in Athens.
Photo by Paul Krajnyak
"This is unbelievable," exclaimed St. C. coach Kim Clifford shortly before climbing the ladder to cut down the championship net. "We've got one more week of practice no matter what and as a basketball junkie, that's all you can ask for."
For the first time since closing out their home schedule in the middle of February, the Red Devils will shift from playing on Ohio University property to playing on the campus of The Ohio State University on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. against Elida. The Bulldogs defeated Perkins, 63-53, Saturday night.
"We're anxious to begin finding out information about who we play and start preparing," Clifford said. "We're certainly going to enjoy this one, and we'll get ready to go out and compete with whomever we play."
The Red Devils, who had never won an OVAC title or a district title before this season, did it the way they've done it all season in every regard. And as has been the case all season, the now 23-2 Red Devils won't begin to rest on their accolades.
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again ... we're not done," said junior standout Dan Monteroso, who was wearing his third consecutive net around his neck. "Coach (Kim) Clifford isn't ready for it to be done, and we're definitely not ready, so we're going to keep it going."
St. Clairsville shot out of the gates like gangbusters, racing to a 21-11 lead after one and a 39-27 upperhand at halftime thanks to the play of its talented backcourt duo of juniors Riley Carlton and Monteroso.
Monteroso's first half and entire game made New Philadelphia coach Chad Spurgeon second guess his original game plan.
"If I had to do it all over again, I certainly would have tried some kind of junk defense against him," Spurgeon said. "He's not that physical, but he's certainly quick and really talented."
Monteroso scored 17 of his game-high 29 in the first half, while Carlton rang in all 15 of his points in the first half. In the process, Monteroso passed Clyde Eades and became the Red Devils' all-time leading scorer.
"We were loose and these kids just like basketball," Clifford said. "When we came out, we just looked like we were playing a game. It wasn't a big game ... it was just a game."
In the second half, New Philadelphia (18-7) scored 16 of the half's first 20 points to knot the game at 43 with 2:47 to go in the third quarter.
"I don't know if we relaxed or whatever, but having said that, give New Philadelphia credit because they came out and turned it up a notch," Clifford said. "We settled down and made another spurt and regained some of that separation, which was big going into the fourth quarter."
Monteroso stopped the bleeding and put the Red Devils up for what proved to be for good on a driving bucket and on the next trip, junior Jerrid Marhefka - an all-Ohio defensive back - picked off a Quakers' pass and raced the other way for a transition bucket.
After a New Philadelphia triple by Marco Columbo brought New Philly within one, but the same St. C. duo of Monteroso and Marhefka closed the quarter with back-to-back buckets to make it a 51-46 reading after three.
"When they tied it, we just had to dig in and play solid defense," Marhefka said. "We were able to come back on the offensive end, did our thing, scored a few points and got rolling again."
Junior Adam Jeffries stretched the lead to seven when he cashed his only field goal of the game, a triple from the right wing.
Each time it appeared as if New Philadelphia was ready to make a spurt, St. C. always had the answer in the final quarter.
New Philly's Scott Kinsey tallied a rebound bucket to make it 59-56 with less than 40 seconds to go. St. Clairsville left the door somewhat open after it was victimized by three straight trips with turnovers.
However, the Quakers were unable to capitalize. Monteroso again stopped the bleeding by cashing two foul shots to stretch the lead back to five at 61-56.
Senior Ron Miller kept the Quakers, who were out of time outs, in it when he hit a well-contested triple from the left wing.
However, Jeffries knocked down two free throws to seal the deal, setting off a St. C. celebration.
"I felt really confident when I went to the line," Jeffries said. "I knew they were going to be on. This is just a great feeling and to have the chance to play in the Schott is a great feeling."
Monteroso complemented his scoring with 10 boards to complete the double-double. Marhekfa added 10 points.
The Quakers held a slim 22-19 edge on the boards. Both teams were guilty of 12 turnovers.