ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The Division III Eastern District Tournament had everything everyone expected Tuesday evening.
There was a huge crowd, great atmosphere and two teams laying it on the line for 32 minutes.
The most unfortunate thing was that one of the teams had to lose.
Martins Ferry proved the adage that it's tough to beat a team three times to be true inside the Health and Physical Education Center on the campus of Ohio University Eastern.
The upstart Purple Riders, who were the seventh seed in the sectional, used a strong fourth quarter to upset top-seeded Union Local, 52-49, to earn their second straight trip to the district title game.
"This team is playing at a very high level at the right time of the year, which is our goal every year," Martins Ferry head coach Jeff Sabatino said. "We"re usually pretty good this time of year. We're a really young team, but I like how we're playing and when push came to show, we made plays."
While the Riders are headed back to practice today to prepare for another meeting with Garaway, which dispatched Fort Frye, 48-44, in the opener, the Jets complete their season with an impressive 22-2 record.
"I am happy with my guys," said UL head coach Ben Porter, who had his team atop the Associated Press Division III poll for several weeks before finishing third.
"I thought we played hard, and that's all we can ask for. Everyone left it on the court and that's all you can ask from a high school kid."
The Riders took the lead at 39-38 on back-to-back buckets by sophomore James Edwards and Vargo. However, the Jets responded with four consecutive makes at the foul line to take a 42-39 lead.
"Coach Sab can talk about how they're young, but they're tournament tested," Porter said. "We expected nothing less than the fight we were in."
The Riders proceeded to score the next seven points. Vargo knocked in a short jumper and Edwards netted five in a row, including a conventional three-point play to put Ferry up, 46-42 with just over three minutes to play.
The Jets, who have battled back to win plenty of close games during the course of the season, got two free throws from junior Colton McKivitz and a deep triple from senior Eric Dunfee to take a 47-46 lead.
The lead was short lived. Ferry's Arjay Burress muscled up a bucket on the interior, but junior Kaleb McDiffitt put the Jets back on top on the ensuing trip with a jumper.
The Eastern District Player of the Year and all-Ohio candidate powered up for his 20th point of the game.
"Robert really got fouled on that play, and the ball spun away, and somehow, it still went in," Sabatino said. "That was probably the key to the game."
The Jets had a good look from behind the arc, but it was too long and Edwards rebounded. After UL fouled three more times to finally send the Riders to the line, Edwards found the bottom of the net twice for the 52-49 cushion.
Union Local had three really good looks, but failed to get any to drop, setting off a wild celebration for the Purple Riders.
Ferry was extremely balanced in the scoring column. Vargo's production leaves him five points shy of 1,000 in his career.
Appolloni and Edwards went for 13 and 11, respectively.
Union Local was led by talented sophomore Trenton Tipton for the third straight tournament game.
He poured in 15 points. McDiffitt and sophomore David Paulick evenly split 18.
Martins Ferry 54, Union Local 49
MF 11 12 12 17 - 52
UL 10 15 13 11 - 49
MARTINS FERRY: Vargo 8 4-6 20; Appolloni 4 5-6 13; Barritt 1 0-0 2; Burress 2 0-0 4; Edwards 3 5-5 11; Agnew 1 0-0 2; Totals: 19 14-17 52.
UNION LOCAL:McDiffitt 4 0-0 9; McKivitz 0 5-6 5; Porter 2 2-2 8; T. Tipton 6 0-0 15; Dunfee 1 0-0 3; Paulick 4 1-1 9; Totals: 17 8-9 49. 3-pointers: Porter (2), T. Tipton (3), McDiffitt, Dunfee.