ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team.
That was the case in the Class 4A championship game of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys' Basketball Tournament.
Union Local, Ohio's top-ranked Division III team in the Associated Press Poll, came into the OVAC title game with a spotless 20-0 record. However, Steubenville was simply too fast, too long and too talented Saturday inside the Health and Physical Education Center at Ohio University, in handing the Jets a 63-51 setback before a standing-room-only crowd.
"There's no shame in losing to Steubenville," Union Local coach Ben Porter said. "We'd been tested during the season, but Steubenville is a very good, athletic team and we dug ourselves too big of a hole early."
Big Red, which came up short to St. Clairsville in the 2013 title game, came out from the opening tip playing like a team on a mission.
"We talked about getting off to a fast start," Big Red oach Mike Haney said. "We made them use some timeouts early in the game. We were able to keep the pace going."
Steubenville trailed 4-2, but in a blink of an eye had seized control. Big Red used seven points from both Brandon Herring-Hill and Adam Sterling to set the tone, which led to a 22-10 advantage after one quarter.
"We knew how athletic they were, but falling behind really was tough because you just can't afford to do that against a team as good as Steubenville."
Big Red (18-3) continued in the second quarter, stretching the margin to 42-22 at the intermission. Sterling, who scored 19 points, got a steal and dunk in transition and then buried a 3 from the wing to ignite the droves of Big Red faithful that made the trip.
"We did a good job of shooting the ball from behind the arc," Haney said. "I think we'd made 132 3-pointers for the season coming in. That's probably more than I want to shoot because I want guys driving to the bucket more."
Steubenville connected on four of its five 3-pointers in the first half, which didn't totally stun Porter.
"Some teams have athletic players who are unable to shoot, but they have kids who can shoot and know how to play," Porter said. "Steubenville is a football school, but Coach Haney has done a great job of turning it into a competitive basketball school, too."
Union Local (20-1) made a run in the early moments of the third quarter. Working the ball inside to Colton McKivitz and David Paulick, the Jets were able to get on a bit of a spurt, but Sterling dialed long distance again to keep them at bay.
The Jets made it an 11-point game entering the fourth and was able to get as close as seven after Eric Dunfee hit a triple from the corner, but Big Red was able to fend off the rally.
"This is a tribute to our seniors," Haney explained. "They had a bad feeling after last year's game, so they wanted to get back here and get back at it."
Big Red was led by Sterling's 19 points and seven rebounds. Herring-Hill added 16 and impressive freshman Charles Reeves added 10.
Union Local was paced by McKivitz's 16 points and 12 rebounds. Paulick finished with nine, while Trenton Tipton, Gavin Porter and Dunfee evenly divided 21.
The Jets did welcome the return of Kaleb McDiffitt to the lineup. He came off the bench, played only in the first half and scored three points.
"The OVAC (title) is important to us and this is a great event before the (sectional) tournament," Porter said. "We've got a week to get healthy and the rest at this time of the year is really big. We're going to take (Sunday) off and get back at it on Monday and start preparing for Coshocton."