ATHENS - Only four teams in the state of Ohio end their season with a victory.
Unfortunately for St. Clairsville, the Red Devils realized the harsh reality of that a few victories short of their ultimate goal Thursday evening at Ohio University's Convocational Center in the Division II region.
The Red Devils, who were seeking a return trip to the OHSAA State Tournament next week in Columbus, were denied by a talented and gritty New Philadelphia squad, 65-50, in the regional semifinal.
St. Clairsville’s Jerrid Marhefka (1) takes a jumping shot while guarded by a Quaker during Thursday night’s semifinal game.
"What can you say? New Philadelphia was better than us tonight," said St. Clairsville head coach Kim Clifford, fighting back emotion, after he addressed his team, including seven seniors, for the final time. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. We didn't defend as well as we could have and we didn't score the ball as well as he could have. As a result, New Philadelphia was better."
While the Red Devils finish their season with a strong 22-3 record, New Philadelphia will return to the campus of Ohio University on Saturday to meet Vincent Warren, which dispatched the host school, Athens, in the nightcap.
St. Clairsville, which never led in the game, has continually been slow out of the gates this season in first quarters. However, the Quakers are the first team that didn't allow the Devils to make one of their patented runs.
"At this point (in the season), you can't afford a slow start," Clifford said. "We didn't start out well and, really, we didn't play well most of the game. Anytime we made a run, New Philadelphia always had the answer. We made runs like that throughout the years and teams didn't answer, but they answered."
New Philadelphia, which fell to the Red Devils in last season's regional final, knew coming into the game that it had to find a way to contain St. C. senior Dan Monteroso, who came into the regional averaging 37 points a game during the tournament.
The Quakers executed their game plan to a tee as they ran continual double teams at him and switched everything, never allowing the Eastern District's Player of the Year any kind of room to operate.
The Quakers scored the first 11 points of the second and held St. C. without a field goal under senior Jerrid Marhefka knocked home a 3-point goal from the right corner with just five seconds to go in the half.
"We normally knock down shots and tonight we didn't," Clifford said. "We missed shots that we normally make. They were really aggressive, very patient and did an outstanding job. It's not so much anything we did or didn't do, but all of the credit deserves to go to them."
The Quakers led 30-11 at one point in the second quarter, but held a 32-16 lead at the half. Sophomore Dylan Hagan ignited the spurt with seven in the second. Plus, junior pivot Ethan Boose was a continual thorn in St. C.'s side on both ends, scoring 11 of his 17 in the first half.
St. Clairsville came alive in the third quarter, to an extent. Marhekfa scored seven and Monteroso, who was limited to eight in the first half, scored two leaners.
All told, the Red Devils scored 14 points, but gained nothing on the Quakers, who continually had the answer when they needed it.
The Devils never did get any closer than 13 at 48-35 and were forced to foul basically the entire second half of the fourth quarter, but the Quakers relied on junior ace Marco Columbo, who scored nine of his 16 in the fourth.
Monteroso finished his final prep game with 19 points and a team-high seven rebounds. For his career, the Purdue football signee netted 2,340 points, which ranks him 18th in Ohio prep history.
Marhefka finished with 12 points. Senior Adam Jeffries added eight points.
Along with the aforementioned trio of 12th graders, other seniors who suited up in the St. C. hoop uniform for the final time include: Riley Carlton, Dylan Campbell, Jared Burghy, Zach Keylor and Jay Gossett.