ST. CLAIRSVILLE - It didn't take quite as long for St. Clairsville to earn its second Ohio Valley Athletic Conference championship as it did its first.
The Red Devils put the cap on a brilliant 19-2 regular season by making it back-to-back in the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championships.
St. Clairsville took Steubenville's best shot - actually several shots - before posting a hard-earned 62-58 victory in front of a jam-packed crowed at Ohio University Eastern's Health and Physical Education Center on Saturday afternoon.
"It's very special to repeat," St. C. coach Kim Clifford said. "You hear coaches at different levels talk about how tough it can be to get the first one, but staying there is an even tougher task. It's just a tribute for these kids."
The Red Devils' victory completed the season sweep of Big Red, but the latest meeting was much more difficult seeing that the Devils won by more than 20 during their clash in Belmont County last month.
"We expected a battle," Clifford said. "We designed our (regular-season) schedule to play in a lot of big games to prepare us for these types of games and I think that paid off for us."
Each time it appeared as if St. C. was on the brink of pulling away from Big Red, Steubenville answered and it usually did it with a defensive tenacity that forced the Devils into an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers.
Plus, Steubenville held St. C. without a field goal in the fourth quarter. However, the Devils cashed 14 of 16 from the charity stripe, which kept Big Red at bay down the stretch.
Steubenville also limited Devils' senior all-Ohioan Dan Monteroso to just a pair of foul shots in the fourth quarter as it made its surge. However, he did score a game-high 28 points in the game.
"All we wanted to do was win by whatever means it took," Monteroso said. "We're excited to win this and now we want to go into the tournament with a head of steam. All eyes are forward to the tournament."
Steubenville tied the game at 55 on a John Linn bucket with just over two minutes to play. Senior Dylan Campbell, who hit two big triples in the first half, converted a pair at the line. St. C. then stole the in-bounds pass and senior Adam Jeffries cashed one of two at the line, making it 58-55.
Big Red got one of two at the line and fouled steady senior Riley Carlton. He calmly sank both once again. Carlton, who had missed basically the last three games due to an injury, was 6 of 6 at the line in the fourth and finished with 10 points.
"The kids really focused in on that final three minutes," Clifford said. "Give Steubenville a ton of credit because they just wouldn't go away, but our kids really gutted it out when they had to. I think, again, part of that is due to experience."
West, who was exceptional on both ends for Steubenville, cashed a floater, making it 60-58. However, St. C. was able to get the ball back into Carlton, who iced the game with two more at the line.
"It's tough when you send a good shooting team to the line that many times," Steubenville coach Mike Haney said. "I thought we played good, aggressive team defense, but we just fouled too much. Our kids played as hard as they could and I don't think they have anything to hang their heads about."
St. Clairsville led 22-20 after one and 31-30 at the intermission. Monteroso scored 14 in the first half. The Devils seemed to be in command after surging to a 48-41 lead entering the final chapter.
"I just told the kids let's have more points at the final buzzer," Clifford smiled. "This was like a heavyweight fight throughout. Luckily, it was our day."
Monteroso and Carlton's scoring was aided by senior Jerrid Marhefka's eight points. Campbell also finished with eight.
Steubenville, meanwhile, was led by West's 26. Senior Mylik Young scored 10 points, while Tajuan Lawson and Adam Sterling each had seven for Big Red.
Steubenville held a 29-22 edge on the boards. West completed the double-double for Big Red with 11 rebounds. Monteroso had six rebounds, four steals and swatted three shots as he stuffed the stat sheet once again.
Steubenville is now 15-6 on the season and will open Division II sectional play back at OUE against East Liverpool on Saturday.
"I told the guys that a lot of players never get a chance to play for a championship, so we wanted to enjoy the opportunity. Obviously, we would have enjoyed it a little bit more had the outcome been different," Haney said. "We'll go back to work and get ready for the sectional."
St. Clairsville will open defense of its sectional, district and regional championship on Feb. 27 against Edison.
"We need to get some rest," Clifford admitted. "We've played a lot of games down the stretch here and we need to get our legs back under us a little bit. I know these kids are excited to try to make a run again."