QUEST FOR Columbus.
That is the goal of basketball teams all over the state of Ohio once they launch pre-season work way back in November.
Now, after more than four months of practice and 20-plus games, we have three local boys' prep hoop teams knocking on the Final Four door. That is a remarkable feat, reinforcing the talent and coaching expertise located in Eastern Ohio.
St. Clairsville, Martins Ferry and River each cut down district championship nets in three successive days in three different state classifications. Now the Red Devils (D-II), Purple Riders (D-III) and the Pilots (D-IV) find themselves in rarified air: The Sweet 16.
The regional tournament is just one step away from the athletic holy ground: The state tournament. Just two wins, albeit against formidable foes, is the final hurdle to clear to make that lofty achievement come to fruition.
St. Clairsville is no stranger to the experience, reaching the regional a year ago en route to a state tournament berth. The Red Devils bring back the entire cast which attained such tremendous success, avoiding complacency to return for another run at Columbus.
Martins Ferry, meanwhile, is back for the first time since 1998. The Purple Riders boast great size, two talented and focused seniors and a wave of momentum.
River is rolling into the regionals for the first time since 1989. The Pilots punched their ticket by proving giant-slayers, taking out two-time defending state champion Hiland in the district finale.
River treks to Canton Tuesday to face Youngstown Christian while Martins Ferry and St. Clairsville both travel to Athens. The Purple Riders oppose Ironton Wednesday while a night later, St. C. opposes New Philadelphia. All three are acid tests, but ones we believe our local trilogy can pass.
We wish the Red Devils, Purple Riders and Pilots nothing but the best of luck.
We also encourage all local sports fans to make the junket to support three special hoop teams.