PDT Sports Writer
ATHENS — If there’s any indication that Ironton wants to get over the hurdle between the Fighting Tigers and a trip to Columbus, it might have been most obvious Wednesday night.
Ironton scored 31 points out of the halftime break and had no issue with eliminating Martins Ferry in a Division III Regional Semifinal at Ohio University’s Convocation Center. Thanks to a 37 points on 12-of-23 shooting from Zac Carter, the Fighting Tigers will take on Oak Hill, which defeated Piketon 46-44 in the other semifinal, in Saturday’s Final.
“He’s a special kid and it would be easy to say that he’s just gifted but he’s earned it,” Ironton coach Mark LaFon said. “He stays in that gym and I can’t say that enough and I want people to hear that.”
The Fighting Tigers had steals on the first three Purple Raider possessions, sparking a 7-0 lead before Martins Ferry attempted its first shot of the contest. Ironton forced 11 of the 20 Purple Raider turnovers in the game in the first half which led to 19 points for the Fighting Tigers.
“It was in bunches and we stopped pressing in the second quarter so we probably would’ve had more turnovers in the first half,” LaFon said. “But the way the game was going and the way we were having to play, it seemed like the press wasn’t really lending to our conditioning on the floor.”
Martins Ferry made its best run at challenging for the lead late in the first and early in the second with an 8-3 run to cut it to a 17-16 game. It was the tightest score Ironton would face the entire game when the Fighting Tigers would counter with a 10-0 run of their own and never look back.
LaFon said his team had to match the physicality from the Purple Raiders when the two teams entered the locker rooms with a 36-25 game.
“I don’t think we did that in the first half and we stopped attacking the basket,” LaFon said.
His bunch got the message in the third quarter, shooting 11-of-18 in the third and holding Martins Ferry to 14 points in the third to put the game out of reach. When LaFon said when his team attacked the Purple Raider interior, it started to wear them down.
Ironton will be looking for its third state semifinal berth in school history and first since the 2005 state runner-up finish. While the thought of a trip to Columbus is one win away, LaFon understands the path isn’t clear.
“When you get to the regional finals, everybody’s playing at their best, you’ve got two great teams battling it out,” LaFon said. “We’ll have to make sure our prep work is right as coaches and our kids have to relax and play, have confidence that they can accomplish the different roles that they have to play during a ball game.”
Trey Fletcher added 23 points and six rebounds in the win. Cody Schau led Martins Ferry with 32.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Martins Ferry 10 15 14 15 — 54
Ironton 14 22 31 18 — 85
Martins Ferry — Vargo 5-0-10, Schau 14-3-32, Appolloni 1-0-2, Strama 4-2-10, Totals 24-5-54.
Ironton —Boykin 1-0-2, Bowling 2-0-4, Long 1-0-2, Cox 3-0-7, Carter 12-7-37, Glover 1-0-2, White 3-2-8, Fletcher 8-4-23, Totals 31-13-85.
3-Point Goals — Martins Ferry 1 (Schau); Ironton 10 (Carter 6, Fletcher 3, Cox).
Records — Martins Ferry 14-9; Ironton 22-2.