When St. Clairsville and Steubenville locked horns in Belmont County last month there was a feeling that it wouldn't be the last time they saw each other.
The feeling turned into a reality late Tuesday evening when both prevailed in their semifinal round games of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championship.
However, this upcoming meeting with have much more at stake.
The Red Devils and Big Red will tangle at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Class 4A championship game.
"It's always nice to be back in this game," said St. C. head coach Kim Clifford. "The OVAC does a good job with putting on this tournament. What I like about it is it's sort of like how the colleges do with their league tournament preparing them for the NCAA Tournament."
St. Clairsville - the top seed in 4A - cruised to the title game with a 76-48 victory, while Big Red - the second seed - turned some heads when they thumped Harrison Central, 77-41, to reach the title game.
"We're excited to be here and excited to face St. Clairsville again," said Big Red head coach Mike Haney. "Getting into the OVAC Tournament is definitely one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We accomplished that and we earned a home game, which is a goal, so we'll focus on the next goal, but we realize what a challenge we have in front of us."
Against the Huskies, Big Red was able to use their pressure defense to ignite their offense, which is the exact way they like to go about their business.
"We knew how many veterans Harrison Central had and the previous few times we'd played them, all of the games had been tight," Haney said. "We played well, shot the ball well and played good team defense."
The Red Devils, meanwhile, had no issues with the Purple Riders, who were short-handed. Senior standout Dan Monteroso scored 31 of his 37 in the first half and the Devils were never challenged. It the was the final game on the 'home' boards for the Red Devils, though they won't leave their zip code until the regional should they make it that far.
"It was an emotional game, but I told the kids that was the end of that and now we're into the OVAC, which is its own little season," Clifford said. "Hopefully, we've got a long tournament run, so we're hoping to have a lot of basketball ahead of us. It was an emotional night, though. This is a great group of kids."
With focus totally shifted to the OVAC title game, St. C. is preparing for a totally different approach from the Purple Riders. Big Red employs the full-court pressure from the outset. However, the Red Devils like to utilize a full-court man themselves, meaning a track meet could be on tap.
"Steubenville has a really good team and their record is indicative of that," Clifford said. "We expect the game to be tooth and nail. They're very aggressive, and we like to think we're pretty aggressive, so I guess it'll be like the immovable object against irresistible force."
In the first meeting between the two clubs, the Red Devils led by just two, 28-26, at halftime before going on for a 69-43 victory.
"Our defensive focus will determine how well we do," Clifford said. "In that game (earlier this season), I thought we came out in the second half really focused in on playing defense. I don't want to say we didn't play good defense in the first half, but maintaining it through the full game was a big key for us."
St. Clairsville led by eight after three, but utilized an 18-3 run to blow the game open. Those devastating spurts are what Haney and Big Red must avoid to have a chance at pulling the upset.
"The thing about St. Clairsville is all of their players can score, so you can't focus totally on Monteroso," Haney said. "If you do, he's kicking it out to either (Riley) Carlton, (Jerrid) Marhefka or (Adam) Jeffries) and they can all bury some 3s, which allows them to put up points quickly. We have to be able to score the ball. We took some ill-advised shots, which didn't drop and St. Clairsville was able to capitalize."
For St. Clairsville, it all starts with Monteroso. The Purdue-bound football recruit averages 25.9 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. He's also the team leader in blocked shots, steals and ranks second in assists.
Senior Riley Carlton has missed basically all of the last three games due to injury. He left in the first quarter against Indian Creek and didn't return. He sat all of the Buckeye Local game last Saturday and checked in just for a curtain call in the semifinals.
However, he's expected to be back in the lineup Saturday. He's averaging 11.2 points a night.
Senior Jerrid Marhefka, who is the team's top defender, also averages just under 10 points a game. Senior Adam Jeffries checks in at 9.4 points a night and is another one of those adept 3-point shooters.
Junior Joel Giffin is the ultimate role player for the Devils. He doesn't score much, but he's a load on the glass and a solid post defender. Senior Dylan Campbell is the Red Devils' top sub, averaging 7.2 points a game off the bench.
Senior Jared Burghy is the Devils' seventh man and supplies solid energy off the bench.
Steubenville, meanwhile, is led by talented senior point guard Periogn West. He's a tremendous ball handler and can score the ball as a perimeter shooter or off the bounce. For the season, he's averaging 13.3 points.
He's joined in the backcourt by senior John Linn and senior Tajaun Lawson. Both are outstanding defenders. Linn is a solid shooter from 3-point land, knocking down 34 percent of his tries from downtown. Lawson ranks third on the team in scoring at 12.2 points a night.
Senior Mylik Young plays on the interior along with junior Chris Smith. Young is Big Red's second-leading scorer, pouring in 12.5 points a game. He's also the team's leading rebounder at 9.2 a game.
Off the bench, Big Red brings Brandon Herring-Hill and junior Chris Sterling are the top two subs. Senior Glenn Perdue rounds out Steubenville's eight-man rotation.
"Our kids are tough kids and they've persevered through a lot," Haney said. "They've focused well on basketball. When they're at practice, all focus is on basketball. During the game, they focus on the task at hand."
The experience factor certainly lies with St. C., which is making its third straight appearance and in the conference title game and fifth overall. Steubenville, meanwhile, is making the trip to OUE for the first time after having been defeated in the semifinals, including last season at St. C.
Actually, even Saturday's game might not be the final meeting.
The Red Devils and Big Red are on the same side of the Division II sectional bracket and could meet for a trip to the Division II district final should St. C. beat Edison and Big Red win two games.
"Yeah, we're hoping for a third meeting," Haney said. "Because, that would mean we've won two tournament games and they've won a game."
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