ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Steubenville's girls put on a couple of clinics Saturday to capture the Class 4A championship in the Wheeling Hospital Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Tournament.
The first came at the free-throw line where Big Red knocked down 11 straight during the final minutes of the contest played inside the Health and Physical Education Building at Ohio University's Eastern Campus.
Those points, coupled with a sorely needed triple by Taylor Young, helped the event's top seed overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and dispose of third-seeded Martins Ferry, 45-36.
The second clinic took place on the defensive end. Phil Casinelli's club held the Riders scoreless for the final 2:56, forced several turnovers and recorded two key steals, one by Abby Taylor and the other by Dominque Wilson.
"I can't be more excited for the girls," Casinelli after Big Red earned its first OVAC title since 2007. "They did this. I have the easy job, they have the hard job, going out there and playing hard for 32 minutes. They deserve everything they got here."
After Meghan Rose sank both ends of a 1-and-1, Martins Ferry was up 36-31 with 2:56 left. That's when Big Red went to work.
Young cut the margin to three when she swished a 3-ball. Mytia Barker was fouled on Big Red's next possession and nailed them both. Taylor swiped the inbounds pass and drew a foul as she went up strong. Her makes from the stripe gave Casinelli's crew the lead for good at 38-36.
Wilson got her steal when Ferry took the ball to the offensive end. That led to Hannah Masloski going two for two from the line. Barker and Lysaih Rice were the next Big Red players to drill freebies. Emiley Masloski ended the deciding 14-0 run by going one for two.
"Obviously, we took a deep breath in the fourth quarter," Casinelli said. "Those free throws in a close game are the ones you magnify. I told the girls to put each possession in the past. You could go 0 for 10 from the line but when you make those free throws late, those are the ones people will remember. We did a great job there."
Before hitting 11 straight, Big Red was 1-for-5 during the final frame.
When asked to describe what happened during the final minutes, Martins Ferry's Lindsay Coyne simply said "the game of basketball."
"They hit a big 3 and made their free throws," she said. "The ball went in for them and it didn't go in for us."
As Casinelli pointed out, Big Red "had trouble scoring in the third quarter and early fourth (his girls were just 4-for-18 from the floor during the second half).
"Playing good defense kept us in the game," he said. "I told the girls with about four minutes left that we were OK. We picked it up on the defensive end (Big Red applied full court pressure), got some steals and were able to end the game on a 14-0 run."
A conventional three-point play by Rice allowed Big Red to grab an 11-9 lead after one. The quarter featured five lead changes. Rice, just a freshman, finished the stanza with five points, two rebounds and a pair of block. Ferry senior Jessica Kinney, meanwhile, scored seven of her team's nine points.
Two triples by Emiley Masloski (the second coming via the bank-in route) allowed Big Red to grab a 22-16 advantage at the intermission.
Ferry opened the third with an 8-0 run (Kinney scoring six of the eight) to grab a 24-22 lead. Taylor scored off a feed from Hannah Masloski to square the score. The Riders went back on top 27-24 before Emiley Masloski sank two free throws and Rice scored after grabbing an offensive rebound. Big Red took a 28-27 lead into the final eight minutes.
"It was a real roller coaster ride," Casinelli noted. "Obviously the first half was nip and tuck. We felt good going into halftime. We knew they were going to make their runs but we thought we had control.
"Then we went stagnant on offense. We weren't even getting looks. Defense kept us in the game. We don't have a senior but we are a mature team. We didn't panic; we stay composed and executed down the stretch. We got key rebounds and key free throws."
Emiley Masloski paced Big Red's balanced scoring attack with 12. Rice finished with 11 (she also recorded three steals and two blocks) and Barker eight. Big Red hauled down 27 rebounds, Barker collecting 11 and Rice nine.
"Lysaih is very athletic and she makes thing happen," Casinelli said. "When she makes a mistake, she is able to recover because of her length. We need her on the boards and we need her to guard people. We try to make things simple for her because she is a freshman, but on the other hand, we now expect that out of her.
"She has been playing great for us and she's gotten more minutes since Emiley's injury. She is an inside presence and really gets after it."
Casinelli added Rice, Brittany Body and Taylor all guarded Ferry's Kinney and "that's a tough task to play an outstanding player on the defensive end then come back and do what you need to do offensively."
Kinney took game scoring honors with 25. She also hauled down eight of her team's 34 rebounds.
"I want to congratulate my girls," Coyne said. "I'm very proud of them. They're playing great basketball. They play hard and gritty. I feel bad for them because I know how hard they play."
Ferry, now 13-9, will open Division III sectional play Saturday against Steubenville Catholic Central.
"We're peaking at the right time," Coyne added. "It's 0-0 and anyone's ball game starting next Saturday."
The OVAC game marked the third meeting of the year between the clubs. Ferry won the first game 61-59 and Big Red the second, 52-49.
Big Red begins Division II tournament play Wednesday, tangling with East Liverpool. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. at Union Local.
"We're a mature group of girls," Casinelli said. "We get along and chemistry is huge. We know our roles and sometimes our roles differ depending on the game. We stick together and that's the most important thing about our team."