MEADOWBROOK - Winning sectionals titles never gets old.
Just ask Jeff Sabatino.
The veteran Martins Ferry coach watched his Purple Riders make the plays down the stretch, handing him his 12th sectional crown and second successive, with an exciting 55-50 victory against Buckeye Trail Friday night at Meadowbrook.
The victory improved the Riders to 13-9 on the campaign while also punching their ticket into the Division III District Tournament at Ohio University Eastern. Ferry will take on the winner of today's Union Local-Sandy Valley contest Tuesday at 8 p.m.
"It's an exciting time of the year. We are playing well and displayed a lot of character in our two sectional wins," Sabatino said. "Trail was playing seniors while we had a lot of sophomores out there. Winning sectional titles are always nice and doing it back-to-back makes it even a little sweeter."
The setback spoiled a comeback by Rod Gray's Warriors. Trial (15-9) trailed by 11 with four minutes to play but roared back to grab a short-lived lead in the final two minutes.
The sophomore tandem of James Edwards and Arjay Burress led the scoring with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Edwards knocked down a trio of 3-pointers, while Burress did much of his damage along the baseline.
Eastern District Player of the Year Robert Vargo checked in with a double-double, scoring 10 points to go with 15 rebounds.
Junior point guard Jake Barritt solved the Trail pressure while directing the Riders' offense, dishing out 10 assists. Sophomore Emilio Appolloni, limited to four first-half minutes due to foul issues, ignited Ferry with six points to start the third quarter, erasing a six-point Trail halftime lead.
"At halftime, we just wanted to get our starting five on the court at the same time. We had foul issues which forced us to play many different combinations which we are not comfortable with," Sabatino said. "But we really stepped it up defensively in the third quarter and made the stops right from the outset."
Ferry outscored the Warriors 19-7 in the third to gain control. Appolloni and Burress each scored six points in the frame while Vargo chipped in four.
The Purple Riders' surge carried over into the fourth period, forging its largest lead at 49-38 on a Barritt bucket with just over four minutes remaining.
The Warriors began to heat up in the fourth with 12-0 run, capped by a Josh Toland hoop with 1:40, to give the Warriors a 50-49 advantage.
A Burress steal yielded a three-point play by Edwards, which propelled the Purple Riders to a 52-50 lead with 1:10 left. Trail misfired on its ensuing possession and the Riders killed some clock before Edwards calmly drained two more free throws with 34.6 remaining for a 54-50 lead.
Another Warrior misfire led to one more Edwards' charity toss with 15.4 left.
"Everyone did a great job in the second half," Sabatino said. "Robert got every rebound. Jake blew by people and created. James and Arjay came up big in the scoring column and Emilio means so much to us defensively and also was our offensive catalyst in the third quarter. For the second straight game, we made it tougher than we had to, but you gain a great deal by winning this way."
Lane Starr led the Warriors with 16 points. Jed Burga delivered 14 and Toland netted 12 markers.