KENTON - For a half, upset-minded Ada gave top-seeded arch- rival Upper Scioto Valley all it could handle in their tense boys basketball Div. IV sectional final Friday night at Kenton.
But the Rams ended the first half on a critical 9-2 run to grab a 25-24 lead at intermission. They then ran off a 16-2 flurry to begin the third period that paved the way ultimately for a hard-fought 63-45 victory.
The Rams improved to 22-1 with their 21st win in a row and advance to the district semifinals at Wapakoneta March 4 against Marion Local. Meanwhile, Ada ends a frustrating season at 6-17.
Junior guard Lane Hurley topped all scorers with 29 points and refused to let USV lose. He scored 13 big first half points to keep the Rams in contention, then added 16 more after halftime, many at key junctures when the Bulldogs threatened.
"The end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third was where the game was lost," agreed 12th-year Ada head coach Chris Sautter. "We have been in games all year, but haven't been able to make plays to get over the hump."
USV raced to a 13-7 lead behind three inside baskets from 6-7 post Woody Prater and a pair of triples by Hurley, while Ada scored on a trifecta and a pull-up jumper from sophomore playmaker Brayden Sautter. 
Ada then asserted itself with an 11-2 outburst. Senior Austin Dumbaugh grabbed a defensive carom and drove coast to coast for a lane runner. Athletic sophomore backup Blake Ansley sank a fine tip-in, answered by a spinning post-up bucket from Hurley.
Ada senior Spencer Archer tallied a layup off a fine Sautter dish. Junior Grant McBride tied it 15-all with a pull-up jumper from the right elbow.
McBride then brought the Bulldog crowd to its feet by draining a right corner triple with two seconds left in the quarter that gave Ada the momentum and its first lead, 18-15.
Both teams executed well on offense in the opening stanza, but the pace slowed in the second period. Sautter picked up his second foul at the 6:57 mark and went out, forcing Ada to adjust its offense.
Yet a pair of foul shots by Blake Willeke and pull-up shot in the lane by Dumbaugh put the Bulldogs ahead via their biggest lead at 22-16 with 4:44 left in the half. 
Burly 6-5 Ram Cameron Parker ended the 11-1 Ada flurry by posting up and scoring inside. Hurley spun his way through the lane and canned a short bank shot to creep within two.
McBride converted a pair of foul shots to give Ada a 24-20 edge with 2:38 to go. A free throw by Hurley and two more by senior Dylan Hunsicker cut the lead to one.
Senior Nick Simon then gave USV the lead by canning a 13-foot jumper from the left baseline with 59 seconds remaining in the half. They would never trail again.
The Rams finished the half on a critical 9-2 splurge to grab a narrow 25-24 intermission edge. Had they gone to the break behind by five or more, the pressure would have ratcheted up considerably on the heavy favorites.
"We couldn't carry it through to halftime," said Sautter. "We played a bad second quarter offensively - we only had six points. Brayden got his second foul, so we had some people playing out of position and went stagnant."
The first few minutes of the second half in a close game usually set the tone for the rest of the contest, and this encounter was no exception. 
Sautter picked up his third foul right away and Austin Howard drilled a trey to give the Rams a 28-24 lead 49 seconds into the half.
Willeke sank a pretty left-handed bank off the run 16 seconds later. Hurley responded with a left wing trifecta, then spun into the lane for a layup and a 33-27 lead with 5:33 to go.
Hurley continued his personal barrage by draining a 17-footer from the left side. He then stole the ball and drove the length of the floor for a three-point play with 3:13 left.
When the dust settled from his 10-point outburst, USV held a 38-27 lead and Ada had to call a timeout. 
"Hurley puts his head down and goes to the basket," Sautter noted. 
Parker canned two foul shots and Hunsicker split a pair to cap the crucial 13-1 flurry.
Sautter drove the lane and got a shot to bounce in at the 1:40 mark. Junior Levi Bass then converted a fast break layup off a nice Dumbaugh pass with 1:22 to go in the period.
Willeke next stole the ball and cruised in for a breakaway layup that pulled Ada within 41-33. After going without a basket for over five minutes, the Bulldogs reeled off six quick points to stay within striking distance after three quarters.
A runner by Sautter off glass rolled in with 7:27 left to play as the 8-0 Ada run sliced the deficit to just 41-35.
Braden Rostorfer hit a key short jumper to stop the Bulldog charge temporarily. Yet Sautter penetrated and converted a fine three-point drive to whittle the lead down to 43-38 with 7:02 left.
This time, it was senior guard Hunsicker's turn to quell any thoughts of an Ada upset. He first drove for a basket, then splashed a pair of foul shots.
The savvy senior then spun into the lane and netted a layin with 5:38 left. Two more free throws by Hunsicker completed his personal 8-0 run and gave the Rams much-needed breathing room at 51-38 with 5:28 to go.
"We spent a lot of energy catching up and were gassed," explained Sautter. 
When Hunsicker went out with his fourth foul, Dumbaugh converted two free tosses to stay within 11. However, Hurley stepped up and drove coast to coast for a layup at the 3:44 mark.
Howard then converted a flying tip-in of a missed reverse layin, and Hurley nailed four straight foul shots down the final stretch to make the final outcome deceptively lopsided.
Willeke drove the right baseline and sank a pretty hanging southpaw double-clutch layin. Ada senior reserve left-hander Josh Lehsten came in and banked through a 12-footer just before the buzzer to provide the final margin.
Hunsicker scored a dozen points despite foul trouble. Prater added seven, all in the opening 10 minutes.
Sautter paced Ada with 12 points. Willeke contributed 10 points, McBride eight and Dumbaugh seven.
USV knocked down 22 of 32 at the charity stripe while Ada hit on nine of 14, the same as Hurley himself.
After the first period, USV outscored Ada 48-27. In the decisive stretch bridging the middle periods, the Rams took control with a 25-5 run over an 11-minute span.
"We couldn't score and couldn't keep the ball out of the paint," said Sautter. "It has been a problem all year."
He noted that the USV defense was tough to crack. "We were limited in what we could do...when they switch everything, that makes it tough."
Sautter summed up the difficult season. "Our kids never quit, we played hard but we go through stretches where we can't score or get a stop. A lack of depth hurt us all year. We played young, first-year (varsity) kids and asked them to do a lot. It will make them better for the future.
"We have to get in the weight room and get stronger," he continued. "We had a great group of seniors; I like those kids and they played hard."
Playing their last games for Ada were Dumbaugh, Archer and Lehsten. Senior Hunter Waller was sidelined by shoulder surgery early in the season as well.

Ada 45 (6-17)
Sautter 5 1-2 12, Willeke 4 2-2 10, McBride 2 3-4 8, Dumbaugh 2 3-6 7, Bass 1 0-0 2, Archer 1 0-0 2, Ansley 1 0-0 2, Lehsten 1 0-0 2, Conley 0. 
Totals: 17/9-14/45. 3-pointers: McBride 1, Sautter 1.
USV 63 (22-1)
Hurley 9 9-14 29, Hunsicker 2 8-10 12, W. Prater 3 1-2 7, Rostorfer 1 1-2 3, A. Howard 2 0-0 5, Parker 1 2-2 4, Simon 1 1-2 3.
Totals: 19/22-32/63. 3-pointers: Hurley 2, A. Howard 1.
1 2 3 4 F
Ada 18 6 9 12 45
USV 15 10 16 22 63

USV will next take on MAC champion Marion Local (19-4), which knocked off top seed Fort Recovery (15-7) in the Coldwater sectional final in a 27-23 slowdown game. The USV/ML battle wil tip off March 4 at approximately 8 p.m.