COLUMBUS, Ohio - The St. Clairsville Red Devils have reached the pinnacle of the prep basketball season.
However, don't think for a minute that they're content with just being there.
Coach Kim Clifford's squad, which has won 22 games in a row since stubbing its toe to Ironton in December, is headed to its first Ohio High School Athletic Assocation State Tournament and will hit the Jerome Schottenstein Center floor on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus at 2 this afternoon to meet 23-3 Elida in the second Division II state semifinal.
"We're going to savor every second of this experience," Clifford said. "We've got an itenterary for the weekend to have a good time and squeeze some basketball into the weekend, too."
The winner of St. C.-Elida contest will meet the winner of Friday's opening semifinal, which pits Mentor Lake Catholic against unblemished Dayton Dunbar. The Division II state title game will be played at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
"We'll be the same guys we've been all season," Clifford said. "We'll be very business-like when it's time and there will be smiles on our faces after practice."
Three of the four teams converging on Columbus this weekend are in the tournament for the first time. Elida, which has an enrollment of 316 boys, is making its state tournament debut under sixth-year head coach Dennis Thompson.
"We had very high expectations coming into the season," Thompson said. "We returned some really good players and some good role players to go along with them."
As hectic of a week as it's been for the Red Devils in terms of team functions, pep rallys, dinners and preparation, Clifford has maintained that it's still a business trip for his team, but at the same time, he doesn't want his club uptight about the entire trip either.
"We've always tried to keep things in perspective that this is a kids' game, played by kids and we don't want them to be adults," Clifford said. "In our lockerroom at the regional, we had kids playing the manager in a foosball game. You can have fun without goofing around and being serious at the same time."
What might be the most difficult thing for Clifford and company to accept is the fact that regardless of what happens this weekend, the Devils will be turning in their uniforms soon.
"I like hanging out with these guys - both players and coaches - but we realize it has to end sometime," Clifford said. "Thank God, we've had another week together."
As for Elida, the Bulldogs have really hit their stride since the early portion of February and continued their roll throughout the tournament. They reached the state tournament after dispatching Cleveland Benedictine and Sandusky Perkins in last week's regional tournament.
Reggie McAdams is the team's best basketball player.
McAdams was named one of five Division II State Players of the Year by the Associated Press earlier this week after a season in which he netted 22 points a game. The 6-foot-6 point guard is the all-time leading scorer at Elida with 1,680 points.
After McAdams, the Bulldogs are quite balanced. Sophomore sparkplug Dakota Mathias (6-4) and senior Cory Royster (6-4) after 12.7 and 11.9 points per game, respectively.
Royster is a double-double guy who weighs 250 pounds, but according to Thompson, he's a tremendous athlete with agility and soft hands on the interior.
Junior Ebin Stratton (6-3) is the Bulldogs' best defender. He's extremely long and will probably draw the assignment of guarding St. C. junior Dan Monteroso.
Junior Aric Thompson (6-2) checks in with 8.1 points a game. He's the son of the head coach and shoots 46 percent from behind the line. Because of McAdams' ability to draw defenders on penetration, Thompson has made a living at getting his feet set.
Cat-quick guard Mike McDonald is Elida's top substitute and their seventh man is Brandon Stinson, who transferred to Elida from Lima Senior.
On the defensive side, the Bulldogs allow just 45.3 points per game and have been exceptional through the tournament. They've shown man for much of the season, but have utilized some zone to neutralize opposing teams' good players in the tournament.
St. Clairsville doesn't plan to change much of its attack. The Red Devils will still rely heavily on Monteroso, who was also named one of the Division II co-players of the year in Ohio.
Monteroso has had a tremendous season and career. He's averaging 26.5 points a game and 10 rebounds. He became the school's all-time leading scorer in the regional final last weekend against New Philadelphia.
Along with leading St. C., Monteroso's scoring averaging is tops in the state tournament this weekend.
"Dan's a really, really, really big part of why we're here," Clifford said. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again, 'Willie Shoemaker didn't win the Kentucky Derby on a donkey. We're riding him, but boy does he have a good cast to go with him."
While Monteroso commands a lot of the attention - and rightfully so - he's by no means alone and he's always quick to point that out.
Junior point guard Riley Carlton averages nearly 15 points a game. He came up huge in the first half against New Philadelphia on both ends of the floor.
Juniors Jerrid Marhefka and Adam Jeffries are both key contributors, netting nine a game. Both are solid three-point shooters. Marhefka is a lock-down defender and Jeffries cashed two game-sealing foul shots in the regional title game.
Rounding out the starting lineup is sophomore Joel Giffin. He scores less than two points per game, but is a solid rebounder and post defender.
"You can point to both games in the regional for each kid and find a key play that they made," Clifford said. "Everyone on this team understands that their success is based on the team's success. Team success leads to individual accolades and if you can get kids to understand that, it makes it a lot easier."
Off the bench, the Red Devils go as many as seven deep, but did go eight in the regional final.
Junior Dylan Campbell, who hit five treys in the regional, is the sixth man, while junior Jared Burghy is the seventh man. Junior Zach Keylor saw action in the regional final.
The balance of the St. C. roster includes: sophomore Jared Derosa, sophomore Tanner Nemeti, freshman J.C. Coleman and sophomore Dylan Panepucci.