MORRISTOWN - The first Associated Press state poll came out earlier this week, listing Union Local eighth in Division III. Ben Porter didn't let his team get caught up in that and it showed Friday night inside of a packed Union Local High School.
Using a strong second half, the unblemished Jets kept on soaring by virtue of a 49-40 victory against rival St. Clairsville.
"I think we were a little nervous and stiff to start the game, but I told the kids that (polls and standings) are things we can't control," Porter said. "It's an honor, but it's also early in the season. We respect all of our opponents and in this league, you'd better be ready to play every time you come out."
Union Local’s Kaleb McDiffit (2) soars to the basket as St. Clairsville’s Brendon Ferns defends Friday night.
The Jets' nervousness coupled with St. Clairsville's stingy defense resulted in the Red Devils owning a 18-16 lead at the half.
"We've had a chance to watch St. Clairsville a couple of times and we knew they're tremendous defensively," Porter said. "We started out kind of slow, but I thought if we could just persevere and push through, we'd be OK in the second half."
Porter's thoughts were on the money.
Opening the third quarter with the ball, Union Local worked junior Gavin Porter off a back cut for an layup that knotted the game and seemed to energize the Jets (8-0).
"Coach (Zach) Delman drew that up at halftime and it was a good set to get us going," Porter said. "Once the ball goes in the hole, everything else starts falling into place and we were able to get it going."
St. Clairsville coach Kim Clifford, who was publically recognized by the Jets during the pre-game for his 400th career victory, could feel the momentum start to shift on that bucket as well.
"They caught us on that play and it gave them some life," Clifford said. "It was a good play. We gave great effort, but we missed some shots we needed to go in critical situations. They made some plays."
That bucket got Porter going. After being limited to a 3-pointer in the first half, Porter scored nine in the third quarter, including a step-back 3-pointer that pushed the Jets to a 30-24 lead. David Paulick, who gave good minutes off the bench on the interior, and savvy sophomore guard Kaleb McDiffit each tallied to end the third quarter, pushing the Jets to a 34-27 upperhand.
"That third quarter got us going," Porter said. "We knew St. Clairsville was going to make a run."
Again, Porter was spot on.
The Red Devils, behind five quick points from Brendan Ferns and a pair of Jared Derosa free throws, knotted the game at 34-35. Union Local was unfazed and proceeded to score 10 of the game's next 12 to take over. A big play in the spurt was a conventional three-point play from pivot Colten McKivitz.
"Every time we play St. Clairsville it's a battle and (this) was no different," Porter said. "In the end, the players make the plays and our kids made the plays to put us in a position to win the basketball game, so this is a credit to them."
The Jets were paced by Porter's 14. McDiffit turned in 11 points, while McKivitz and Trenton Tipton evenly divided 14.
St. Clairsville, which saw its 36-game winning streak inside the Buckeye 8 snapped, was paced by freshman Michael Scarnecchia's 13. Ferns and Derosa each had 10.
"We struggled on the offensive end, but you're not going to always shoot it well on the road," Clifford said. "I love this league. You come in and there's a lot of tension and everyone gets their money's worth. If you're a high school kid, these are the types of games you want to play in."