ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The year was 1998.
Bill Clinton was president. The Denver Broncos were Super Bowl champions and singing legend Frank Sinatra died.
It was also the last time Martins Ferry advanced to the boys' basketball regional tournament.
Was, however, is no more.
That 15-year, Sweet-Sixteen void was impressively filled Friday night at Ohio University Eastern. Coach Jeff Sabatino's Purple Riders punched their ticket to Athens via a 56-48 triumph against perennial power Garaway in an Ohio Division II District Final.
Martins Ferry will take its 14-8 mark to Ohio University, where it will face Ironton at 6:15 on Wednesday night.
''This feels special. I was fortunate to have two of my Ferry teams make the regionals early in my career and said 'hey, this is easy.' I found out it isn't. It's been a long time coming,'' Sabatino said. ''We did it playing two freshmen and two sophomores at times, which defies the odds.''
Sabatino was right on when he said his two seniors (Cody Schau and Tyler Strama) and junior (Robert Vargo) came up big. The trio combined for 47 points and dominated the final quarter.
The Purple Riders also received exceptional point play from savvy sophomore Jake Barritt while 6-foot-8 freshman Emilio Appolloni's length proved problematic for the Garaway offense. Arjay Burress came off the bench to provide boundless energy.
Garaway checked out with a 20-5 mark, a season in which they went unbeaten in the Inter-Valley Conference. Coach Dave Schutt's team advanced to Friday's final by taking out a fine Buckeye Trail team Tuesday.
''Ferry's size was definitely an issue. Appolloni is 6-8, Vargo 6-6, Strama and Schau are both 6-3. That is a tough matchup for us,'' Schutt said. ''That is why we went zone in the first half to try and clog the paint. In the second half we wanted to pressure fullcourt so we switched to man. We turned them over several times in the third quarter but they did beat us for some easy buckets.''
Garaway started the game nailing 3-pointers. The Pirates drained three treys in the first quarter en route to an 11-8 lead.
Ferry responded with a fine second quarter, receiving scoring from five players and using its size on the defensive side, outscoring the Pirates 14-6 to grab a 22-17 halftime cushion.
The third period saw Garaway ratchet up the fullcourt pressure. It proved effective as Ferry committed seven turnovers, enabling the Pirates to roll back on top, 35-34, entering the final quarter.
Much to to their credit, the Purple Riders exhibited the poise of a champion, executing brilliantly in the final eight minutes as Strama came up especially huge, netting nine points and imposing his will on the Pirates inside.
Back-to-back goals by Schau and Vargo, the latter coming with 2:55 to play, gave Martins Ferry some much-needed breathing room at 45-39. Garaway used a Logan Erb goal to cut it to four.
Ferry proceeded to go to the foul line, only to miss the front end of a 1-and-1. Vargo, however, got the rebound, laid it in and drew a foul. His free throw upped the lead to 47-42 with 1:50 showing.
Winston Mullett drained a 3 for Garaway to make it 48-45 with 1:41 showing. It proved to be the Pirates' last gasp.
Vargo was fouled on another offensive rebound and converted a free throw. Schau scored at the 1:11 mark followed by a Strama bucket inside a minute later that was the final nail in the Garaway coffin as the advantage mushroomed to 53-45.
''We took Garaway's best shots in the third quarter and withstood it,'' Sabatino said.
Schau and Vargo each had 16 points while Strama delivered 15. Vargo also collared 15 rebounds.
Garaway placed three players in double figures, topped by Tyler Walter's 16 tallies. Duane Troyer produced 14 points while Mullet ended with 11.