St. C., East Liverpool meet in 4A

The St. Clairsville Red Devils boast one of the most storied athletic traditions in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference.

All told, the Red Devils have 100 conference titles in their collection, which ranks them third in OVAC history.

However, none of those titles have ever come in boys’ basketball despite being one of the area’s premier programs.

“I think we’ve been playing basketball (at St. Clairsville) since 1908 and don’t have an OVAC title,” said St. C. head coach Kim Clifford. “We’ve been the top seed several times, but haven’t won the game on the court. I’ve always been for this kind of format, so sometimes you get what you wished for. Winning this would mean a lot for the school, but by the same token, if it doesn’t happen this year, I am sure eventually it will. I hope it happens because we’ve had such great success in the other sports in the OVAC, it would mean a lot.”

For the fourth time in five seasons, the Red Devils will attempt to claim their first conference crown as part of the Wheeling Hospital OVAC Basketball Championship.

The Red Devils’ path, however, won’t by easy as they’ll match 17-2 records with East Liverpool, which hasn’t won a conference title since 1999, Saturday at 5:45 p.m. at Ohio University Eastern’s Health and Physical Education Center.

“We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game because East Liverpool is a quality team,” said Clifford. “They’re like a mirror image of us to where if you pay too much attention to one guy, the other guys will get (you).”

While the Red Devils have become almost annual entrants, the Potters have reached the title game for the first time in school history. They’ve been in the championship bracket, but were derailed by Wheeling Park in Class 4A.

“This is exciting,” said East Liverpool head coach Nate Conley. “We finally got by the first round and we know what kind of challenge we have in a very good St. Clairsville team.”

St. Clairsville is 0-3 in the conference championship game, having lost to Wheeling Central, Union Local and Magnolia in its previous appearances.

“Reflecting back, we’ve been beaten by a couple of state champs and the best team Union Local ever had,” Clifford said. “So, the other teams have been a real factor in our demise. We just have to take it as another game and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

The Red Devils reached the title game after grinding out a 64-58 victory against Steubenville on Tuesday.

“I was really pleased with how we grinded out a victory,” Clifford said. “We maintained and made some plays down the stretch. Not every game is going to be smooth, and we were able to win a game that got ugly, so I was pleased with that.”

The Potters, meanwhile, handed Harrison Central a 51-37 setback in the other semifinal to qualify.

“That was our lowest point total of the season,” Conley said. “We’ve tried a few different things. They sat back in a zone the entire game, and we were up, so we just stood outside and held the ball because our number one goal was to get to the championship game.”

While the Red Devils and Potters don’t play during the season, they’re quite familiar with one another. They scrimmaged in the pre-season, but according to Conley, that’s irrelevant as they prepare to square off in the middle of February.

“It’s been a long time ago, so things have definitely changed,” Conley said. “With injuries and moving kids around, it’s hard to look back on that scrimmage. I know both teams like to get up and down the court, so it should be a high-octane game.”

The Red Devils average 72 points per game and boast one of the area’s premier back-court duos in juniors Dan Monteroso and Riley Carlton.

Monteroso is enjoying an all-Ohio campaign as he averages 26 points a game and almost 9 rebounds. He’s also passed out 84 assists this season.

“Coach (Dick) Potts had all those sayings and one of them was, ‘Willie Shoemaker didn’t win the Kentucky Derby riding a mule,'” Clifford smiled. “Dan is a horse. He’s carried us. Going into games, I get comfort by thinking, ‘we’ve got Dan, and they don’t.'”

While most opposing game plans are geared toward Monteroso – and rightfully so – Carlton is a savvy, sweet-shooting guard. He’s poured in 51 three-point buckets and nets almost 15 points a game.

“Carlton is very good and he sneaks up on a lot of people,” Conley said. “One thing we’re going to work on is stopping all five guys. We’re not going to put a huge emphasis on stopping Monteroso.”

Juniors Adam Jeffries (9.6) and Jerrid Marhefka (9.1) have also come up big at times during the season for the Red Devils and are very solid in their roles. Jeffries ranks second behind Carlton with 30 bonus goals.

Rounding out the Red Devils’ starting lineup is blue-collar post player Joel Giffin, who’s scored only 23 points all season. However, he’s a solid rebounder and post defender and sets numerous screens to get the aforementioned shooters open.

Clifford only traditionally goes seven deep with juniors Dylan Campbell (4.4 ppg.) and Jared Burghy (3 ppg.) coming off the pine.

The Potters boast a fine tandem of their own in seniors Marky Thompkins on the perimeter and Mow Mow Thompson on the interior.

“I’ve seen East Liverpool several times, both on tape and in person,” Clifford said. “They’re much like us. They’re not real big, they’re real quick, shoot the ball well and like to run. It’s almost a mirror image of the two teams. I think stopping their penetration and defending is the key.”

Conley thinks the Thompkins-Monteroso matchup could be one of the best day of the entire day Saturday.

“Monteroso is really good, but we’ve got a good guard, too,” Conley said. “Both are left handed and both are high octane, so I really think they could put on a show. We’ve got about four guys averaging between 14 and 17 points a game, so we’re pretty consistent.”

Seniors Seth Talbott, Christian Kyle and Brian Beverly comprise the balance of the Potters’ starting lineup.

Conley expects a solid following of Blue and White to make the a little more than hour trip to Belmont County venue, which will also host both St. C. and Liverpool in the Division II sectional tournament, starting next week.

“I would expect between 300 and 400 people will come down,” Conley said. “Our home games have been packed this season. It’s great that we’ve been able to get the pride back. These seniors deserve it because they’ve had a rough three years.

“Plus, I think a lot of people will come down because they’ve heard just how good St. Clairsville is and throw in our success this year, it should be interesting.”