Ferry Edged By Wheelersburg In 1982 Regional
Riders just missed state tourney
“We didn’t lose…the clock just stopped and we ran out of time.”
Those were the words of Martins Ferry boys’ basketball coach Larry Duck following a heart-breaking 71-69 loss to Wheelersburg in the OHSAA Class AA Regional Championship on March 20, 1982.
Ferry entered the game with perhaps the most balanced team in memory — the entire starting five (seniors Dennis Swearingen and Anthony Davis and juniors Chuckie Allen, Willie Scarfpin and John Hajdin) and the sixth man (senior Bruce Woods) averaging in double figures between 10.7 and 14.5 points per game and the seventh man (senior Barry Voytecek) not far behind at 8.5 — and a fast-paced attack that averaged more than 80 points per game.
However it was Paul Newman — no, not that Paul Newman — who stole the show.
While Ferry had scoring punch and athleticism, the one thing it didn’t have was size as only two players were taller than six foot (Hajdin at 6-3 and Scarpin at 6-2), Wheelersburg had Newman who stood tall at 6-8.
Not surprisingly, the Pirates — who came into the game with a sparkling 24-1 record and ranked eighth in the state poll — went to Newman early and often and the Wheelersburg post responded.
When the dust cleared, Newman had poured in 42 points on 19-of-31 shooting and added 14 rebounds to deny the Purple Riders what would have been their first appearance in the state tournament since 1944.
“Our kids played a super game,” Coach Duck said following the heart-breaking loss. “They gave it everything they had. I’ve played for and coached a lot of fine teams before, but I have never been associated with a group who gave this much effort. I’m very proud of this bunch.”
Ferry led 17-16 after a back-and-forth first quarter, with Newman getting off strong with 12 points while Swearingen had eight for Ferry.
The Riders went on a 10-point run early in the second period to take a 29-19 lead and it was still a nine-point edge, 34-25, with just over two minutes remaining in the first half when things temporarily went south.
Wheelersburg took advantage of four MF turnovers and closed the half on an 11-0 run to take 36-34 halftime lead. Newman scored 13 more in the round and Allen had eight for Ferry.
Wheelersburg worked its way to an eight-point lead (46-38) mid-way through third quarter, but Ferry went on another 10-0 run before the Pirates were able to slip in front, 52-50, by the end of the period.
The Pirates had leads of five and seven points in the fourth frame, but Ferry refused to concede and got the final margin to two before the buzzer sounded.
Allen finished as Ferry’s top scorer with 25 points while Swearingen closed out a 1,000-point career with 19. Woods chipped in nine and Hajdin had eight, with Hajdin and Davis each grabbing 10 rebounds.
Newman’s top support came from guard Brad Walke with a dozen.
Looking back 38 years later, Coach Duck still shakes his head at how close his team came to reaching Columbus.
“It just seemed like we were always an inch away,” he recalled earlier this month. “We had it down to a two-point lead and had the ball, and if we’d had 30 more seconds, I truly think we would have won it. They didn’t beat us…they were just two points ahead on the scoreboard when time ran out.”
The outcome certain didn’t make the Rider coach’s day.
“Paul Newman was just too much for us that night,” he lamented.
Duck felt it was more than just physical talent that carried the team that far.
“They were all so strong mentally,” he offered, “and they were very unselfish kids. Bruce and Barry would have started for most teams, but they were so valuable off the bench and willing to contribute that way.”
Also recalling that fateful night was Swearingen, an OVAC and Martins Ferry Hall of Famer who went on to play football at Ohio University.
“The first thing I remember is Paul Newman was 6-8 or 6-9 and our two tallest guys were 6-2 or maybe a stretch to 6-3,” he said, “so we tried to use our speed, but he was so hard to defend.
“If we could have gotten him into foul trouble and got him off the court,” Swearingen continued, “it would have been a different story.”
Like Duck, Swearingen pointed to the team’s camaraderie as much as its talent and he credited the coaches for building on that.
“Coach Duck and Coach Gala (assistant Joe Gala) were awesome coaches,” he said. “The way they utilized our skills and fostered the team environment made it fun to practice and play for those guys. We knew they cared for us personally.
“We were such a close group that we still keep in touch today and are all great friends,” Swearingen added.
Other members of the team were Jimmy Hood, Randy Doughty, Frank Wallace and Mark Mills.
Ferry finished with a fine 20-5 record, and the five losses were by a combined total of nine points – none by more than three – but the Riders were unranked all season long.
“I thought we were a lot better than most people gave us credit for,” Coach Duck said after the loss to Wheelersburg. “I’m not saying we should have been number one or even number 10, but we should have at least bee in the ‘others’ category and that upsets me. After all, these kids deserve it with the type of season they had.”
An estimated 1,500 purple-clad fans made the trip to the Ohio University Convocation Center in Athens, including six busloads of Ferry faithful.
Wheelersburg went on to lost to Youngstown Rayen (61-45) in the Class AA State Semifinal to finish the season at 25-2.