Fair warning to future Purple Rider opponents - there is no lead too big against this young Martins Ferry team.
Faced with an 18-point deficit early in the second period, Ferry resorted to the best two weapons in its arsenal - Cody Schau and Robert Vargo - to lead a comeback as the Riders posted a 62-55 win over Buckeye Local on the Panthers' boards in Connorville Friday night.
With the win, coach Jeff Sabatino's Riders improved to 2-0 on the young season and return to the hardwood on Tuesday playing at Harrison Central in a game that was originally slated for Ferry, but recently switched.
Coach Jay Morris' Panthers, playing at home for the first time after opening the season at 1-2 on the road, fell to 1-3 and have the unenviable task of trying to rebound on Tuesday at St. Clairsville.
"We had one senior, two sophomores, a junior and a freshman out there, so we are pretty young," Sabatino said after the big win. "We have two seniors injured that would have been starters and we don't know when either of them will be back.
"I have to say that Buckeye could not have played any better than they did in the first half," the Rider coach pointed out. "I expected to see a different team than the team we saw play at Indian Creek the other night.
"They have a very good team. They were making threes and we were in their face when they were shooting them and they still made them."
Martins Ferry opened with a quick 4-2 lead on back-to-back buckets by Vargo to open the contest, but the hosts used their pressure defense and a fast-paced offense to go on a 25-3 run. John Rozenek converted two at the line, Kyle Michalo tossed in a deuce from the corner, Brennen Czuchran scored consecutive goals and Tommy Hamilton added a bucket to give the Panthers a 12-4 lead.
Schau canned a trey before Czuchran added one at the stripe and Michalo meshed the first of his seven threes to push the lead to 16-7. Vargo scored off a rebound before a Michalo trey and a Czuchran score off a rebound ended the first frame with Buckeye up by 21-9.
In the second session, the Panthers continued their hot pace with back-to-back three-pointers and a 27-9 upper hand. Schau would help bring the Riders back in a flurry by converted three straight jumpers and after Vargo netted consecutive buckets, Schau turned a midcourt steal into a dunk that narrowed the gap to 27-21.
Later in the second, the Riders scored seven straight that pulled them within 32-30, but Rozenek and Michalo converted buckets around a Vargo score for a 36-32 lead at the intermission.
A closely played third period concluded with the visitors scoring five straight to end the session and knotting the score at 46.
In the final frame, Schau and Vargo combined for five to give the Riders a 51-46 lead. Michalo drilled a trey to cut the margin to 51-49. Vargo scored off a rebound, Schau added a layup score and the pair split four at the line to extend the margin to 59-49. A three-pointer by Buckeye's Dylan Williams closed the gap to 59-52 with 1:24 on the clock, but the Riders held on for the win.
"I have to give our team a lot of credit. They were down 19, battled back to take the lead and then were able to hold that lead. They proved tonight that no lead is insurmountable," Sabatino added. "But when we got down, Cody Schau put us on his back and carried us. He just made shot after shot after shot.
"Schau was spectacular and (Robert) Vargo was impressive inside. He made the shot and he grabbed rebounds when we needed him too. That's an awful good twosome there."
"The difference between the first half and second half for us was no offensive boards," Morris said afterwards. "To their credit, they came back from a big deficit and got the lead back. Schau and Vargo were just tremendous for them tonight."
Schau led all scorers with 31 points and Vargo added 28 along with his 10 rebounds. Schau grabbed eight strays.
Michalo cashed seven three-pointers while leading the Panthers with 25 points. Czuchran added 10 points and eight rebounds. Rozenek and Shane Duncan had six rebounds apiece.In the jayvee contest, Josiah Burress scored 12 points and Dustin Schau added 11 as the Riders notched a 41-28 win. Cory Donahue led Buckeye with six points. Varsity scoring:
MARTINS FERRY (62) - Barritt 0, 0-1 0; Sears 0, 0-0 0; A. Burress 1, 1-2 3; Vargo 13, 2-3 28; C. Schau 11, 8-11 31; Appolloni 0, 0-0 0. Totals 25-41, 11-17. BUCKEYE LOCAL (55) -Marshall 0, 0-0 0 Czuchran 4, 1-2 10; Agnew 2, 0-0 6; Williams 1, 0-0 3; Duncan 0, 0-0 0; Rozenek 2, 2-3 6; Michalo 9, 0-0 25; Hamilton 2, 1-2 5. Totals, 20-56, 4-7.
Three-point goals: Martins Ferry (1) - Schau, 1. Buckeye Local (11) - Michalo, 7; Agnew, 2; Czuchran, 1; Williams, 1.