By ANDREW WILLIAMS
ARLINGTON — Arlington senior guard Andrew Hunter was a man on a mission late Thursday night.
Unfortunately, so was his counterpart Dylan Hunsicker from Upper Scioto Valley.
Hunter scored all 11 of his points in the final 3:45 of the game to bring the Red Devils back from a 47-35 deficit and make it a 55-53 gap with 14.5 seconds to plays. Hunsicker answered, though, going 4 of 4 from the free-throw line in the closing seconds to finish with 17 points and the Rams edged the Red Devils 59-55 in a nonleague battle of champions from the Northwest Central Conference and Blanchard Valley Conference, respectively.
“We knew they were going to make runs,” Hunsicker said after USV improved to 20-1 on the season. “They’re a great team. Coach always preaches that when tempo goes up you calm down and play your game and we ended up hitting the free throws when we needed to.”
Hunter started the rally with a pair of free throws and nailed two more with 2:03 remaining to cut the margin to 52-44. Two more free throws and a 3-pointer from Hunter, sandwiched around a pair of misses at the line from Hunsicker, made it 54-51 with 50.4 seconds left.
Braden Rostorfer hit 1 of 2 at the line, followed by a Hunter basket to get it to 55-53 with less than 20 seconds to play.
Hunsicker was intentionally fouled with 14.5 seconds left and even after missing his two previous attempts, the senior guard was nothing but confident when he stepped to the line with the game hanging in the balance.
“Before we end practice every day, coach makes me hit two before we run so I felt confident in getting up there and knocking them down,” Hunsicker said. “I missed the two before I shot those four, but mentally I thought that I was making them so then I just went out there and I made them.”
“The one thing we started the year talking about was mental toughness,” USV coach Jeff Kloepfer said. “I told Dylan just now, to make the free throws you did after you missed two, I said that shows me mental toughness. And I think we’ve come a long way mentally from last year to this year and I think it’s showing.”
Despite the strong showing late, the Rams didn’t get off to the best start to the night and trailed 13-8 after the first quarter.
Rostorfer’s seven points over the final two minutes of the first half keyed a 9-2 run that put the Rams ahead 28-24 at the break.
Arlington (16-4) would never lead again.
“It all started back in the second quarter when they took it to us and were able to penetrate in the lane and get some pretty good scores,” Arlington coach Jason Vermillion said. “We lost our edge that we had in the first quarter and they did a good job of showing some toughness in coming back in the second quarter. From then on, we had to fight, scratch and kick as much as we could to get back into it and we did. Hunter made some plays down the stretch, but it’d be nice for him to give us that for 32 minutes.”
The middle two quarters were key for the Rams as they outscored the Red Devils 29-18 to seize control of the contest.
USV got significant contributions from Rostorfer, who finished with 16 points and Austin Howard, who dropped in 14, while keeping Hunter off the scoreboard for 28 minutes. Michael Blunk scored a game-high 21 points for the Red Devils.
“I knew this game would prepare us for the tournament because I knew the atmosphere would be such that you’re going to have in tournament play,” Kloepfer said. “I knew there would be a lot of people here. Arlington, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for coming back and I knew they would be a tough opponent for 32 minutes. I didn’t expect them not to come back, but I was pleased with how we held on and made the free throws when we had to.”
Each team begins tournament play next week, where Arlington is the second seed at the Kenton sectional and will play Hardin Northern in a first-round game Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. USV drew the top seed in the Kenton sectional and will face the winner of Ada and Waynesfield-Goshen for the sectional title Saturday at 6:15 p.m.
If things work out, the Rams and Red Devils could meet again to decide the district championship on March 7.
“There’s no question they had some shooters step up and make some shots tonight,” Vermillion said. “Austin Howard and Rostorfer made some plays in the first half that really hurt us a little bit. We thought we had matchups where we wanted them, but they took advantage of some things and they did a good job of hitting shots when they were open.
“We’re trying to move forward to next week and it all starts over for everybody. We’re going to learn our lesson here from this one and hopefully be pretty good next week.”
UPPER SCIOTO VALLEY (20-1)
Simon 0-1–1, A. Howard 5-0–14, Rostorfer 5-5–16, Hurley 3-1–8, Hunsicker 4-9–17, Evans 1-0–2, Prater 0-0–0, Parker 0-1–1, H. Howard 0-0–0. TOTALS: 18-40 17-28 — 59.
Hunter 2-6–11, Blunk 7-7–21, Freed 1-2–4, Courtney 1-3–5, Green 0-0–0, McDowell 1-0–3, Starr 1-0–3, Babb 0-0–0, Glick 3-2–8. TOTALS: 16-42 20-22 — 55.
Upper Scioto Valley 8 20 9 22 — 59
Arlington 12 11 7 24 — 55
3-Point GOALS: Upper Scioto Valley 6-19 (A. Howard 4, Rostorfer & Hurley); Arlington 3-16 (McDowell, Hunter & Starr).
rebounds: Upper Scioto Valley 20 (Hunsicker 5); Arlington 28 (Glick, Blunk & Courtney 7).
turnovers: Upper Scioto Valley 8; Arlington 14.
junior varsity: Arlington, 44-24.
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