BYESVILLE - Martins Ferry was a mere 16 seconds from seeing its season come to a painful end at Meadowbrook Friday night in a Division III sectional co-final.
The Purple Riders found themselves trailing 50-49 to top-seeded Fort Frye after the Cadets' Shon Smith goaled with 31 ticks left. Senior ace Cody Schau, however, opted to take matters into his own talented hands.
Ferry subsequently came down and misfired on a shot, only to have the ever-present Schau grab the offensive rebound and lay it in, boosting the Purple to a one-point edge.
MARTINS FERRY’S Cody Schau trims down a piece of the net after helping to lead the Purple Riders to a 51-50 victory against Fort Frye in the Division III?sectional tournament. Schau scored 25 points to lead all scorers.
Consequently, the game boiled down to one final possession. As expected Smith, the Eastern District Player of the Year, took possession of the ball while Ferry Coach Jeff Sabatino decided to have Schau match up with the crafty point guard.
The move paid dividends, as Smith was forced to give the ball up and a Fort Frye in-close shot failed to fall as the Cadets' coaches were looking for a foul call that never came.
The heart-stopping triumph propels the Purple Riders, now 12-8, to their first district tournament in three years. Ferry will have a short trip to Tuesday night's semifinal as they will face the winner of the Tusky Valley-Coshocton winner Tuesday night at 8 at OUE. Regardless of the foe, Martins Ferry will be facing a team with a losing record.
"I know Shon Smith was picked district player of the year, but I believe that is an honor Cody should have. He made some huge plays down the stretch for us," Sabatino said. "It feels real good to be heading back to the districts. This team has played through much misfortune this year.
"We are playing our best basketball of the year right now and that is what you are supposed to do," he continued. "We aren't still totally healthy but we are getting solid contributions from a lot of people."
Schau again enjoyed a fine offensive night. He led all scorers with 25 points, eight coming in the climactic final chapter. Bullish classmate Tyler Strama was next with 12 counters while 6-foot-6 junior force Robert Vargo netted nine lightings.
Fort Frye checked out with a 15-8 mark for first-year head coach Eric Henninger, a former Cadets hoop star.
"This has been an overachieving team all year. They have given great effort every night and at every practice. Tonight was no different," Henninger said. "We overcame a lot of adversity tonight and still had a chance at the end. We handled their size advantage real well, but we usually are at a decided height disadvantage every game.
"(Seth) Legraen really stepped up and gave us nice production. He is a tough matchup for opposing teams," he continued. "We just came up a shot short."
Legraen, a fluid 6-3 sophomore, led the Beverly-based quint with 19 points while Smith added 16 counters, 12 coming after intermission.
Fort Frye forged a 9-7 lead after a slow-paced first quarter. Legraen sparked the Cadets with seven points in the frame; Schau countered with five markers.
Martins Ferry used seven points from Schau and six from Strama to go on top 25-22 at halftime. The Purple remained ahead, 36-35, after three periods.
The fourth quarter was nip-and-tuck early on before a mini Purple run was capped by a Vargo layup, giving the Ferrians a 49-44 upperhand with 2:02 to play.
Fort Frye responded with a Smith bucket and two Chandler Lang free throws to pare the gap to one. Martins Ferry got sloppy and was subsequently called for a backcourt violation with 57 seconds left.
Smith proceeded to goal, giving the Cadets a 50-49 lead, setting the stage for Schau's late-game heroics.
"I thought rebounding was the key in the second half and we were able to block a lot of shots," Sabatino said. "Playing in March is always a good thing.
Ferry committed 14 turnovers, double that of Fort Frye.
MARTINS FERRY (51) - Schau 7, 10-13 25; Vargo 4, 1-2 9; Strama 5, 2-2 12; Barritt 1, 1-2 3; Appolloni 0, 0-0 0; Burress 1, 0-0 2. Totals 18, 14-19. FORT FRYE (50) - Smith 6, 1-3 16; Brooker 0, 3-4 3; Anderson 2, 0-0 5; Legraen 8, 1-1 19; Lang 0, 2-2 2; Kiefer 0,0-0 0; Omsapch 2, 0-0 6; Norris 0, 0-0 0. Totals 18, 7-10.
Three-point goals: Martins Ferry (1) - Schau; Fort Frye (7) - Smith (3), Legraen (2), Omspach (2).