Huskies fall to Devils

CADIZ – St. Clairsville has played in its fair share of big boys’ high school basketball games over the past season-and-a-half.

Harrison Central hasn’t.

With both squads bringing 1-loss records into Friday night’s Buckeye 8 clash inside a standing-room-only John W. Stephenson Activities Center in Cadiz, a hotly contested game was expected as Huskies’ head coach Justin Clifford had never beaten his father, Kim, who is St. Clairsville’s veteran mentor.

The seasoned Red Devils, who advanced to the Division II Final Four last season, used a early spurt to jump out early and a late run to seal a 60-43 verdict.

“We’ve played some pretty good teams so far,” Kim Clifford advised. “And tonight was another one of them. Our kids have a lot of respect for Harrison Central.

“We were ready early and it’s always good to jump out ahead, especially on the road.”

St. Clairsville snapped a 2-all deadlock 95 seconds into the game as it went on a 13-0 run fueled by reigning co-Division II Player of the Year Dan Monteroso. The 6-3 senior netted a dozen of his game-high 33 points in the initial 8-minute period that saw his team hold an 18-7 advantage.

“They’ve played a lot of big games and good teams last year and this year,” Justin Clifford allowed. “This was our ‘big’ game. I wouldn’t say we played lackadaisical in the first quarter, but more like deer in the headlights.”

The Huskies (7-2) turned the ball over six times in the first quarter, and then added eight more in the second panel. However, they settled down and took very good care of the basketball in the second half, turning it over just twice.

Adam Jeffries scored five of his 11 markers in the second eight minutes, while Monteroso added four as both teams put up a dozen counters for a 30-19 St. Clairsville lead.

However, the visitors held a seemingly comfortable 28-9 lead with a little over three minutes left in the first half only to see Harrison Central make a late move.

The Huskies outscored the Red Devils 10-2 down the stretch as Fletcher Watt knocked down seven of his team-best 15 points.

Harrison Central kept the momentum early in the third frame as it ran off 12 of the first 18 counters to cut the margin to five, 36-31, on a pair of free throws from sophomore Austin Kowalski.

St. Clairsville re-gained its composure and went on a 12-0 spree that encompassed the end of the third quarter and the first 57 ticks of the fourth. Monteroso’s conventional three-point play made it 48-31 with 7:03 on the clock.

“I was proud that our kids kind of turned it up defensively there at the end of the third quarter,” Kim Clifford noted. “We made a nice run.

“I told them at halftime that basketball is a game of runs and Harrison Central was going to make run sooner or later.

“They made it early in the third and we weathered it.”

Following back-to-back buckets by the Huskies, St. Clairsville reeled off a dozen unanswered points, led by Monteroso with eight.

“Life is always much more fun when Dan is on your side,” Kim Clifford said with a huge smile. “The other guys do a nice job of feeding off of him, and we’re doing a real good job of understanding our roles.”

Jeffries and Riley Carlton evenly divided 22 counters for the Red Devils. In addition to his point total, Monteroso, who has verballed to Boston College to play football, grabbed a game-best 10 rebounds, charted five steals, dished out three assists and blocked a shot.

St. Clairsville held a slim, 29-26, edge off the glass as Rashaen Mitchell and Nick Pelegreen each landed seven boards for the Huskies. Watt led the scoring with 15 points. Pelegreen added 10.

The Red Devils host Bellaire Tuesday before welcoming Steubenville the next night. They conclude their 3-game week by entertaining Union Local next Friday.

Harrison Central, meanwhile, travels to Rayland Tuesday to meet Buckeye local. The Huskies host Edison next Friday.