MORRISTOWN - There's an adage in sports that says it's tough for one team to beat another three times.
Union Local didn't buy into that theory Tuesday night.
The Jets - the state's top-ranked team in Division III - took step one toward claiming the OVAC Class 4A title for the second time with a 46-40 victory against fourth-seeded St. Clairsville in front of another huge crowd.
Photo by SETH STASKEY
Union Local’s Trenton Tipton drives against St. Clairsville’s Joel Giffin on Tuesday night.
"The kids realize that we're in the point of the year where every game counts and all six of the guys we played contributed for us," said UL coach Ben Porter, who watched his team improve to 20-0.
The victory sends the Jets to Ohio University Eastern at 12:30 on Saturday to face Steubenville, which was a 76-74 winner against East Liverpool in the other 4A semifinal, for the conference title.
"Steubenville's a very good team, so we're going to need a good strategy in place to give ourselves a chance," Porter said. "It's nice to be playing in the game. The Buckeye 8 and OVAC titles are goals for us, but we also realize that you go home when you lose in the tournament, so we're prioritizing to be playing our best ball in the tournament."
The Jets, who once again played without sophomore catalyst Kaleb McDiffitt because of injury, appeared as if they were about to cruise to their easiest victory of the three against the Red Devils. Establishing their inside duo of Colton McKivitz and David Paulick, the Jets built a 15-6 lead after one and upped the margin to 27-16 at the intermission. Combined, the Jets' bigs had 16 points and nine rebounds.
"We didn't get it done inside early in the game on the defensive end," said St. C. head coach Kim Clifford, who watched his team dip to 10-10. "We dug ourselves in a hole early in the game. Their big guys controlled the boards and scored the ball well in there, too.''
Along with the Jets' post play, their zone defense again gave St. C. fits in the first half. The Devils connected on three, first-half 3-pointers, but were still off the mark on several others.
Both teams traded runs in the third quarter before the Jets closed the period by scoring seven of the final eight for a 39-26 upperhand.
Those truggles from behind the arc were non existent in the fourth as senior Jared Derosa caught fire. He hit 3s on back-to-back trips and Daniel Trouten scored on a floater, making it 39-34.
However, the Jets' senior Eric Dunfee continued to ring up big shots as he hit a a trey from the corner to push the Jets lead back to 42-35.
Derosa, however, got free twice more and with a little more than a minute to play, the Devils had the ball and a chance to take their first lead. However, their look from the corner was long, the Jets controlled the board and St. C. was forced to foul.
"I am really proud of how our last couple of groups played," Clifford said. "We had a chance to take the lead, but just couldn't knock down a shot. Our guys fought and gave it everything they had, but we just couldn't get over the hump."
Gavin Porter, who has filled in admirably for McDiffitt at the point the last two-plus games, beat a St. C. defender off the bounce for an easy chance, extending the lead back to four. He was then fouled after another St.C. empty trip and calmy cashed in both free throws to ice the game away.
"I thought Gavin did an exceptional job at the point," Porter said. "He got the ball where it needed to be and I don't think he had a turnover, which speaks volumes of his play. Give St. C. credit because they didn't go away and Derosa hit some tough shots. I thought we got a little bit tight, but I am just happy for our kids."
The Jets had three players in double figures. Paulick led the way with 12, while McKivitz had 11 points and eight rebounds. Porter added 10.
St. C. was paced by Derosa's 18, which all came on 3s. Trouten and sophomore Brendan Ferns each had eight.