At the line

STEUBENVILLE – Kim Clifford was spot on when he described Saturday’s Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Class 4A championship game as a “heavyweight fight.”

His St. Clairsville Red Devils scored the knockout thanks to a string of fourth quarter jabs (also known as foul shots) to earn their second straight title in the event, sponsored by Wheeling Hospital.

Held without a field goal during the final stanza, St. Clairsville knocked down 14 of 16 foul shots to claim a thrilling 62-58 victory over Big Red before a full house inside the Health and Physical Education Building at Ohio University’s Eastern Campus.

“It was like a heavyweight fight,” Clifford said. “Guys were arm in arm at the end – let the judges decide. And it was our turn today. Either team could have folded during the last three minutes, but they didn’t. Both teams just kept fighting.”

Thanks to a huge third quarter by Dan Monteroso (he registered 12 of his game-high 28 during the period); the state-ranked Red Devils carried a 48-41 lead into the final eight minutes.

Big Red’s Periogn West scored quickly to make it 48-43. Riley Carlton drained both ends of a one and one before Tajuan Lawson went one of two from the stripe. Lawson’s free toss was Big Red’s first since the opening frame.

West grabbed the rebound off Lawson’s miss and brought Big Red to within four at 50-46. Two more Carlton free throws followed, then Adam Sterling drilled a triple to make it a three-point game (52-49).

Mike Haney’s club knotted the count at 55 when John Linn scored following a Sterling steal (Big Red recorded 15 steals). St. Clairsville grabbed the lead for good thanks to free tosses by Dylan Campbell and Adam Jeffries, making it 58-55.

Points from West and Mylik Young, sandwiched around two additional Carlton connections (he was a perfect six for six during the deciding stanza) put the score at 60-58 with four ticks left. Monteroso sealed the deal with his only points of the quarter.

“Nothing surprises me anymore in the game of basketball,” Clifford said in describing his team’s fourth quarter performance. “Our emphasis at halftime was to get to the basket. The kids executed well, got fouled and knocked the free throws.

“It was a hard fought game. Our kids really focused in the last three minutes. They gutted it out and make a couple of big stops. Give Steubenville credit. They hit some big shots and had some big steals.”

As Haney noted, his Big Red had “no reason to hang our heads.”

“Our guys played hard and we had a nice comeback in the fourth,” he added. “We played good defense and we talked about not fouling. When you are aggressive, sometimes you are going to foul. They shoot the ball so well at the free throw line. That makes it tough.”

During the first quarter, it appeared the 4A affair would be the track meet most people expected. Both teams shot better than 50 percent as St. Clairsville, the tournament’s top seed, took a 22-20 lead. Down 14-11, Big Red reeled off seven straight and led 18-14. A three-ball from Sterling capped the scoring burst. Joel Giffin’s only hoop of the day put the Red Devils back in control.

The defenses went to work in the second as just 19 total points were scored. Monteroso had six of his team’s nine. The second-seeded Big Red went cold early, missing six of its first seven shots. A late Chris Smith hoop pulled Haney’s crew to within one (31-30) at the intermission.

The Devils canned six of 12 from the floor during the third quarter to build their advantage. At one point, Monteroso scored seven in a row. Big Red was whistled for eight fouls, resulting in seven trips to the line for St. Clairsville.

“One of our goals was to avoid them having a big run (St. Clairsville used an 18-3 burst earlier the season to hand Big Red a 69-43 defeat),” Haney pointed. “We were able to achieve that goal. It seemed like we had some opportunities but we didn’t capitalize on them. They are a great team and it was a great game.

“It looked like a track meet early then the fouls we were called for slowed down the game. We like the fast pace.”

Carlton finished with 10 points to support Monteroso’s outstanding effort. Jerrid Marhefka and Campbell both had eight. Monteroso also grabbed eight of his team’s 22 rebounds and blocked four shots. The Devils, now 19-2, hit 18 of 50 field goal tries.

“Experience is what won us the game,” said Clifford, who has eight seniors on his roster. “We’ve played eight games in the last 15 days and this team needs some rest. Our seniors have been in some big games and fatigued or not, they fought threw it, there was no giving in.”

West scored 26 for Big Red and recorded a double-double by collecting 11 rebounds (Big Red has 28 as a team). He also dished out three assists. Young, who was saddled with some early fouls (his first coming on an unusual call off the opening tip), had 10 points, nine rebounds and seven steals.

“Periogn had a strong game for us,” Haney noted. “He plays hard from baseline to baseline, sideline to sideline. He is part of our senior leadership and really gets after it on both ends of the floor.”

Big Red was 24 (six more than St. Clairsville) of 60 from the floor and just three for 16 from behind the arc. The losers, however, shot just 10 free throws compared to 28 for the winners.

“St. Clairsville is a good team that likes to put a lot of points on the board,” Haney added. “We held them to 62 so our defense was there. We had a couple of turnovers at inopportune times. We’ll have to get back at it, keep working and keep playing.

Big Red, which won the Class 4A title in 2007 before the tournament was launched, was making its first appearance in the OVAC championship game.

“It was a great atmosphere and a class act,” Haney pointed out. “I told our guys not many people get to play for a championship. We enjoyed the opportunity and enjoyed the day. Obviously, we would have enjoyed it more had we won.”

Both teams now turn their attention to the Division II sectional, which will be played at OUE. St. Clairsville will meet Edison on Feb. 27. Big Red, 15-6, opens Saturday against East Liverpool.

“It would be nice to see them again,” Haney said of St. Clairsville. “Right now, we’ll worry about East Liverpool next Saturday.

“Our goal is to see them one more time.”