BYESVILLE - Monroe Central rallied twice from 10-point deficits but in the end the Martins Ferry Purple Riders proved to be too much as they scored a 61-59 overtime victory in a Division III sectional opener at Meadowbrook High School Friday night.
Six-foot-seven senior Robert Vargo poured in 23 points and yanked down 17 boards as the Riders overcame a fourth-quarter meltdown to eliminate the Noles from the postseason.
Leading by 10 points with five minutes left on the clock, the Jeff Sabatino- led Purple Riders suddenly couldn't take care of the basketball at all as they coughed up nine turnovers in the final quarter alone.
The Seminoles took full advantage as they used a full-court pressure defense to pull to within two points at 55-53 on a three-ball by Zach Jorris with less than two minutes to play.
Monroe took the lead when Bryan Duffy came up with yet another steal and turned it into an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Noles a 56-55 lead with less than 60 seconds left on the clock.
Martins Ferry made a living of feeding the ball inside to Vargo and Emilio Appolloni the entire game as the two big men combined for 34 points but the Monroe defense came up with five consecutive stops on one scenario under the basket to hold onto the one-point lead.
MARTINS FERRY 61 MONROE CENTRAL 59 (Overtime)
Sectional Tournament Opener at Meadowbrook High School
Martins Ferry 17 9 20 10 5 -61
Monroe Central 10 18 15 13 3 - 59
Martins Ferry (12-9)
Jake Barritt 2-9 1-2 5, Arjay Burress 3-7 2-6 8, James Edwards 5-13 1-2 14, Robert Vargo 9-16 5-7 23, Emilio Appolloni 4-7 3-5 11, Totals: 23-52 (12-22) 61. Three-Point Goals:3 (Edwards 3).
Monroe Central (15-8)
Zach Jorris 6-19 0-0 16, Tanner Burkhart 2-8 2-2 7, Levi Brown 2-8 0-0 5, Bryan Duffy 7-17 4-6 21, Seth Alleman 4-4 0-0 8, Chandler Kuhn 1-3 0-0 2, Totals: 22-59 6-8 59. Three-Point Goals: 9 (Jorris 4, Duffy 3, Brown 1, Burkhart 1).
Martins Ferry: Shooting: 23-52 (44.2 percent), Three-Point Shooting: 3-10 (30 percent), Rebounds: 46 (Vargo 17, Appolloni 14), Assists: 15 (Barritt 5), Steals: 5 (Burress 2), Turnovers: 16, Team Fouls: 11.
Monroe Central: Shooting: 22-59 (37.3 percent), Three-Point Shooting: 9-34 ( 26.5 percent), Rebounds: 25 (Burkhart 8), Assists: 12 (Brown 6), Steals: 12 (Brown 5), Turnovers: 8, Team Fouls: 15.
Next game: Martins Ferry vs. Buckeye Trail, Friday at Meadowbrook High School.
Duffy had a chance to extend the lead but missed the front end of a one-on-one giving Ferry the chance to score the last minute victory.
Junior point guard Jake Barritt drew a foul and after missing the first he connected on the second to tie the game at 56-56 with 17 seconds remaining.
Duffy's off-balance attempt to end the game in regulation was no good sending the game to extended play.
Barritt opened up the overtime period with a bucket on a nice assist from Vargo, but once again Monroe Central had an answer when Jorris drilled his fourth triple of the game to send the Noles back in front by a point.
Martins Ferry struggled at the charity stripe as they made good on just 12-of-22 attempts but Vargo canned a clutch pair of freebies with 1:44 to play to put the Riders back in the lead.
James Edwards followed by making one-of-two free throws to make it 61-59 with one minute left on the clock.
The Seminoles patiently worked the ball around searching for the final shot but Ferry knocked it out of bounds with just seven ticks remaining and on the inbounds play the best shot Monroe could get off was a desperation heave by Levi Brown that was well off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
"We had to win this game about four times," said Sabatino of the thrilling victory. "Everytime I thought we had the game won, they either made a critical steal or a critical three. They (Monroe Central) were just relentless and that's a real tribute to them."
The 6-foot-8 Appolloni matched Vargo's double-double by crashing the glass for 14 rebounds to go along with 11 points while Edwards added 14.
Duffy led the way for Monroe Central with 21 points while Jorris contributed 16.
Martins Ferry improved to 12-9 with the win and will next take on Buckeye Trail next Friday evening back at Meadowbrook High.
Monroe Central head coach Lou "Scooter" Tolzda was disappointed in the result but not in the effort by his undersized squad.
"Our guys gave it all they had," said Tolzda, whose team's season came to a close with a 15-8 record. "We played hard it just wasn't enough."