Martins Ferry downs Garaway in Division 3

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Martins Ferry doesn’t claim that it’s one of the top 3-point shooting teams around.

The Purple Riders prefer to rely on their inside attack, featuring senior Robert Vargo.

However, as they proved Friday night in the Division III Eastern District Championship, opposing teams had better not totally focus on Vargo or sophomore runningmate Emilio Appolloni on the interior because guys like sophomore James Edwards and junior Jake Barritt are more than capable of making them pay.

Garaway is a firm believer after the Riders’ back-court duo teamed for seven 3-pointers that helped lead the Riders to its second straight district championship and trip to the Sweet 16 in Athens next Wednesday by virtue of a 57-43 victory before a packed house at the Health and Physical Education Center on the campus of Ohio University Eastern.

“There aren’t too many years when I’ve been disappointed with our tournament play,” said Ferry coach Jeff Sabatino, who led his alma mater to its fifth regional appearance under his watch. “We just played four teams, all of which I thought were great and had at least 15 wins, but we’ve played very well and we were tough again when push came to shove.”

Push came to shove in the early moments of the second half. Ferry shot out to an 11-7 lead after one and owned a 20-15 edge at halftime.

However, the Pirates, who are perennial entrants in the district title game, scored the first eight points of the third quarter to take their first lead of the contest at 23-20.

Sabatino thought about calling a time out to slow the Garaway momentum, but Vargo got free on the interior behind the press for a layup.

“The lack of a timeout at that point actually got us a bucket,” Sabatino said.

After the Riders got a stop on the defensive end, it was Edwards’ time.

He put Ferry back on top with a 3 from the wing and after Garaway tied it at 25, he hit 3s on the next three trips, forcinag Pirates’ coach Dave Shutt to call a time out.

“Edwards just decided he was going to go unconcious,” Sabatino said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a guy who made four straight 3s. He really was special because sophomores usually don’t do things like that.”

The Riders used Edwards’ hot hand to ignite a 16-2 run to close the quarter and take a commanding 41-27 edge into the fourth quarter.

“It was (Edwards) night, I guess,” Shutt said. “It was kind of a pick your poison. Do you focus on (Vargo or Appolloni) or let them shoot 3s? We wanted to clog the lane as much as possible, but my hat’s off to Martins Ferry because that stretch they went on in the third quarter was actually one of the better stretches I’ve seen in a while. You can only use so many timeouts or say so many things.”

Edwards scored 14 of his game-high 23 in that third quarter.

The Riders’ spurt to end the third basically took all of the wind out of the Pirates’ sails. The Ferry lead was never trimmed under 10 in the fourth quarter.

“Early in the year, I couldn’t find an avenue (that best suited us) and we were losing games, which was my fault,” Sabatino said. “But, we found an avenue, both offensively and defensively, and the kids started buying into it and executing. I knew we could rebound and be patient, but when we started executing (offensively), I knew we had a chance (to make a run) and be special in the tournament.”

While Edwards’ scoring barrage led the way, he was by no means alone.

“The last two games it’s been Edwards’ turn,” Sabatino said. “The previous two games it was Vargo. Jake Barritt has stepped up of late. Really, it can be anybody. These guys just have the knack of being prime-time guys when (the game) is on the line.”

Vargo, who once again played like a guy who wasn’t going to be denied, netted 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. In the process, he eclipsed the 1,000-point barrier for his career.

Barritt, who continued to handle the floor game and play solid perimeter defense, got the Riders off and running with back-to-back 3s to begin the game. He finished with nine points.

Garaway was led by Sam Gebhardt’s 13 points.

Both teams collected 23 rebounds. The Pirates were charted for five turnovers, which was two fewer than the winners.

Next up for the Riders is an opponent to be determined in the next couple of days. Lucasville Valley, Dawson-Bryant, South Point and Portsmouth will play today in Athens in the district semifinals. The winners will play Sunday at 4 p.m. for the right to take on the Riders.