ATHENS - The deeper the tournament trail runs the more excitement builds.
Unfortunately, unless a team ends up with the ultimate prize of cutting down the nets next week in Columbus, the final result becomes even tougher to swallow.
Martins Ferry was faced with that cruel reality Wednesday evening on the campus of Ohio University inside the Convo.
For the second straight season, the Purple Riders saw their season come to a close in the Division III regional tournament, two wins shy of reaching the Final Four.
Talented Lucasville Valley (24-2) proved to be too much for the Riders en route to a 69-49 victory in a game in which it never trailed.
"I thought this was the poorest game we've played in the four times we've been down here (to the regional)," said Purple Riders coach Jeff Sabatino. "I thought we played great and overachieved for most of the season, but that wasn't the case tonight. Lucasville Valley is really good and played very well."
Sabatino simply couldn't put his finger on why his team didn't play the way it had played during its previous four tournament games.
"Something just wasn't there," Sabatino said. "I think we would have been in trouble no matter who we had played tonight. We were out of sync, and I can't tell you how many mental mistakes we made tonight. We generally don't make very many, especially during our tournament run."
All of those factors allowed the Indians to seize control early. Lucasville Valley led twice by nine in the first quarter and eventually held a 19-12 lead after one period.
Ferry posted the first two buckets of the second quarter, but the Indians closed on a 15-7 spurt to take what felt like a commanding 11-point edge into the half.
"I think the atmosphere of this level and this place have something to do with it," Sabatino said of his team's slow start. "Once we missed shots early and got behind, we had to play at their pace. We're not built to play that way. We're built to play much more patient and disciplined, but we couldn't play that way because it got away from us early."
Much the same way he's done throughout the last month of the season, sophomore James Edwards supplied the Riders a spark in the third quarter. The Riders got within six at 38-32 after Edwards scored his seventh straight point in the period on a floater.
However, Valley's Brian Rolfe and Jordan West tallied on back-to-back trips to ignite a 10-4 Indians' spurt to end the quarter.
"They got great shots and we had to do some things we didn't want to do," Sabatino explained. "We had to press in a variety of ways, we had people out of position and in spots they're not accustomed to. Make no mistake about it, the shots you get when you're behind aren't the shots you get when you're ahead and they were wise enough to take advantage of really good shots."
The Indians made sure there'd be no miracles needed as was the case during their Southeast District tournament games last weekend. They went on a 15-2 run in the fourth, which stretched the margin to as many as 25 before the Indians emptied their bench.
"Once we fell behind, we were at their mercy," Sabatino said. "We didn't even look like ourselves because we couldn't. We dug ourselves a hole by missing some shots we probably should have made, but the rest of it was Lucasville Valley being pretty good and playing well."
The loss ends the brilliant career of talented senior Robert Vargo. After surpassing 1,000 points in the district championship, Vargo was bottled up pretty well by the Indians, who weren't small by any means.
Vargo struggled to get untracked early in the game. He didn't record his first field goal until the early moments of the second quarter. He finished with yet another double-double, however. He grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with his 13 points.
Edwards led the Riders in the scoring column with 15 points. Sophomore Arjay Burress scord 10, but missed much of the second half after suffering an ankle injury.
Lucasville Valley produced a quartet of double-figure scorers. Hayden Dunn - an all-Ohio candidate - scored 18 points and snagged nine rebounds. West added 17 points and nine boards. Chris Flowers, who came up big time and time again, added 13 and Rolfe finished with 12.
Ferry was guilty of 13 turnovers, many of which led to run-out opportunities. The Riders were outrebounded, 31-19.
Lucasville Valley will go after the state tournament berth on Saturday night against Columbus Bishop Ready, which bounced Wheelersburg in the nightcap.