The St. Clairsville Red Devils have been on a mission all season.
The mission continues Thursday evening in Athens in the Division II regional at Ohio University's Convocation Center.
For the second straight outing, a familiar foe stands in the Red Devils' way.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Jerrid Marhefka goes up for a shot during last Thursday’s Division II?Eastern District title game against Carrollton. Marhefka and the Red Devils will make the trip to Athens Thursday to meet New Philadelphia in the regional semifinals.
After dispatching Carrollton for the second straight season, St. C. will attempt to end New Philadelphia's campaign once again at 6:15 p.m. with the winner advancing to Saturday afternoon's regional title game.
"The feeling this year is more of a focus on the game rather than all of the other things that go on surrounding it," said Red Devils' head coach Kim Clifford. "It's definitely exciting to be going back to the regional, but we're really focused in right now."
The meeting with the Quakers, who won the Eastern District title at Zanesville, comes a round earlier this season. The two squared off in the Elite 8 last season with St. C. prevailing by a 63-59 score, sending the Devils to their first-ever appearance in the 'Final Four.'
"We've got a ton of respect for St. Clairsville and everything they've accomplished all season," said New Philadelphia head coach Chad Spergeon. "We're excited to have another chance to play them, but it's not like a revenge kind of thing. We're just excited to be playing in the regional."
St. Clairsville stormed its way through the sectional, ousting Edison (84-50) and Steubenville (76-59). The Red Devils then found themselves in an absolute battle with Carrollton in the district championship last Thursday. Thanks to a splendid effort by senior standout Dan Monteroso, the Red Devils overtook the Warriors by a 67-58 score.
"Our success has been because of our ability to take one game at a time," Clifford said. "Our guys have realized that if you don't take care of the game at hand, there's no next game. The idea of playing with the idea of there being no guarantees has been pretty good for us."
New Philadelphia, meanwhile, comes to Athens with an 18-7 record and it owns tournament victories against Indian Valley (68-53), Cambridge (62-49) and last Wednesday in the district final it took out West Holmes (67-56).
"We're still a fairly young team without a senior on the roster, so our guys have continued to mature and grow up throughout the season," Spergeon said. "We've been playing pretty well in the tournament, especially on the defensive end."
The defensive end will be critical once again on Thursday as the Quakers will attempt to slow down the aforementioned Monteroso, who has once again been on a tear in the tournament. Monteroso, who is most likely headed for another first-team all-Ohio accolade next week, is averaging 37 points a game in the three Devil tourney games.
In his last two games, Monteroso has scored 85 points. For his career, he's scored 2,321 points and is just seven shy of moving past Jimmy Jackson on the all-time list.
"Dan has just been playing on a different level in the tournament," Clifford said.
In last year's meeting with the Quakers, Monteroso went for 29 points.
"Monteroso is just a tremendous athlete and player," Spergeon said. "We've been trying to figure out a way to slow him down for about a week in practice. But, you can't get too caught up worrying about him because they've got other weapons, too."
It was those other weapons such as seniors Riley Carlton, Jerrid Marhefka and Adam Jeffries, who've all hit big shots at junctures, including last week against the Warriors.
"I thought when our other guys started hitting shots, it really opened things up for Dan to be able to do more," Clifford said. "We'll need that kind of effort again."
Monteroso averages 27.4 points a game for the season, while Carlton checks in at 10.9 points. Marhekfa scored nine points a game and Jeffries nets 8.8.
Junior Joel Giffin rounds out the starting lineup. He's not asked to score, but executes his roll as a rebounder and post defender well.
The Red Devils' top reserves are senior Dylan Campbell, who had a huge game in the regional semifinal last year against Chillicothe. Senior Jared Burghy is the team's seventh man.
On the other side, the Quakers return the majority of their cast from last year's regional tournament run as well. Their offense is led by a two-headed monster of junior Marco Colombo and Ethan Boose.
Colombo scores 17.7 points a game, while Boose checks in with 16.3 points a night. Colombo is also the Quakers' leading 3-point shooter.
"New Philadelphia has really been playing well on both ends and they've been hitting the boards hard, too," Clifford said. "They're more of a methodical team that wants to pound the ball inside, so it'll be a matter of which team can make the other team play its style."
Quakers' junior Caleb Beans (6-3) checks in at 6.2 points a game and classmate Jamal Johnson, who was a first-team all-Ohio running back, averages 3.6 points a night. Junior JoVohn Morrow scores 3.2 points a game.
The winner of the Red Devils and Quakers will return to Athens on Saturday afternoon at 3 to face the winner of Thursday's nightcap, which pits The Plains (Athens) vs. Warren Local.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org