ATHENS - Each and every St. Clairsville player had ulterior motivation for wanting to make it to the state tournament.
Obviously, they wanted to become the first Red Devils' team in history to earn the trip to Columbus.
But, they also wanted to be the first group to get their head coach, Kim Clifford, to the state tournament as he enters the twilight years of his career.
After Saturday's 63-59 victory against New Philadelphia in the Division II regional final on the campus of Ohio University, Clifford becomes the only active boys' coach in the immediate area to have a regional title on his resume.
The only other boys' coach in the OVAC with an Ohio regional title is Fort Frye's Dan Liedtke. Taking it a step further, Clifford becomes one of only four active area coaches to have won a district boys' crown. He joins Jeff Sabatino, Ed Andes and Lou Tolzda.
Obviously, these sorts of seasons don't come around every year for teams in the Ohio Valley, which is what makes it even sweeter for the Red Devils.
"To be able to look back and say we made it to the state tournament is nice, but I don't want to be judged on that," Clifford said. "I've had an unbelievable run both as a teacher and coach, so I really don't want to be judged at all."
Even prior to Saturday's victory, Clifford was going to be judged as a winner and a class act, who year-in and year-out, put a good, well-coached team on the floor. Eventually, he'll probably find himself in the 400-win club and further down the road, he'll find himself in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame and OVAC Hall of Fame.
"To bring (the regional title) to Coach Clifford is something really special that we'll remember for a long time," said St. C. junior Riley Carlton.
They won their first OVAC title, notched their first district title to earn the trip to the Convocational Center and now they're the first Belmont County team since Bellaire in 2004 to earn the right to go to Columbus.
Suffice to say, Clifford and the Red Devils' backs are clear of any monkies that maybe fans, opponents or even the media can throw out.
"I've never had a monkey on my back," Clifford said. "Obviously, I want to win, but being around the kids and basketball are the most important things to me. I'm not saying this to be humble, but I am a basketball junkie and it's been a good ride for me. These kids are winners."
Clifford's cell phone was working overtime this past week fielding calls from former players, coaches and even high school classmates.
Something tells me, he's going to need a new plan before the end of this coming week.
GIVE ME THAT BALL
Monteroso grabbed the game ball as New Philadelphia's final shot was off the mark and the horn sounded, sealing the deal for the Red Devils.
It wasn't the regional title or the school's trip to the state tournament that shot through Monteroso's mind immediately.
"The first thing I thought about was all those times our parents and everyone took us around the country to play basketball," Monteroso said. "It helped so much. We wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for their willingness to do that."
On top of grabbing the game ball, Monteroso left the Convo with the net draped around his neck. This marks the third straight tournament that Monteroso has wound up with the net.
But, he certainly earned it after scoring 29 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and becoming the Red Devils' all-time leading scorer in the first half.
To a man, the four Red Devil players we talked to after the game spoke highly of the efforts put forth by assistant coach Eric Gay and his willingness to drive teams all over kingdom come to play hoops when they were young.
"When we were in sixth, seventh, eighth grade ... Eric Gay did everything for us," Monteroso said. "If it wasn't for that man, we wouldn't be here right now. We give him a tough time, but we owe him a ton for everything he's done."
Clifford shook a lot of hands and gave a lot of fist pounds after the game, but his most special embraces came with his wife, Penny, son Ryan, who is one of the Devils' assistants and younger sons, Justin and Kurt.
"It's very special to share this with our entire family," Kim said.
Ryan received a huge hug from his wife, Jen, and his son, Kaden, might have had the biggest grin of anyone in the arena.
Justin Clifford, who is the head coach at Harrison Central, was getting a little misty eyed as he watched his dad accept the game ball.
"Justin came over last night and in between of tossing the grandkids around a little bit, we were watching film, and Kurt's gotten into coaching at Tallmadge, so it's a great ride," Kim said. "To have your family be part of your business is unbelievable."
OFF TO COLUMBUS
St. C. Athletic Director Kelly Rine and head coach Kim Clifford will head to Columbus this morning for the official state tournament meeting. Advance ticket information will be released early in the week.
We do know that St. Clairsville will wear its white jerseys in Columbus.
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