FINDLAY -- The first time these two boys' basketball teams played this season, Central A&M beat Okaw Valley 51-47.
The stakes were higher Wednesday in the Okaw Valley Class 1A regional semifinals. Central A&M jumped out to an 11-2 lead and never trailed.
The Timberwolves came back time and time again, but Central A&M made 6 of 8 free throws in the final 2:32 after a steal and layup by freshman Jacob Paradee and the Raiders advanced to the regional title game with a 69-60 win.
Central A&M has won six straight and improved to 17-10, while the Timberwolves, who were 1-5 at one time before winning 16 of their last 24 games, finished 17-13.
The Raiders play Patoka at 7 p.m. Friday for the regional title.
"The thing that concerned me coming into this game was turning the ball over in the backcourt and then them going off from 3-point range like they have been lately and they did that," Okaw Valley coach Brooks Inman said. "Teams that live and die by the 3s; when they make 3s they are going to win a lot of games. They made shots when they had to. Our kids gave it everything they had and that is all you can ask for as a team -- that they play hard the entire game. I am extremely proud of their effort."
Central A&M was 10 of 16 (62.5 percent) from beyond the three-point line, including Jameson Smith who was 7 of 12 (58.3 percent) and finished with a game-high 25 points.
The Raiders led 39-28 with 4:32 left in the third when Okaw Valley outscored Central A&M 10-0 to get to within one, 39-38, after a three-point play by Garrett Fritz. It was the closest they would get.
"We got good hard-nosed kids and we were fortunate to answer their runs," Central A&M coach Rob Smith said.
Central A&M started the final eight minutes strong by scoring the first seven points, including a 3-pointer by Smith, two free throws by Paradee and a basket by Keaton Garner after one of 20 Okaw Valley turnovers. This put the Raiders up 10.
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Okaw Valley made one final run pulling to within four, 55-51, after two free throws by Taylor Coleman with 4:32 left. But a 3-pointer by Smith put Central A&M back up by seven.
"We have shot the ball well lately from 3-point range," coach Smith said. "Jameson (Smith) has been shooting the ball really well. I think he leads the Decatur area in 3-point baskets."
Central A&M used a press which caused Okaw Valley problems, especially in the opening quarter.
"Their press gave us problems," Inman said. "That is a struggle we have had from time to time all year. We kept battling, but we just couldn't get over the hump. There were a couple of times we had the defensive board secured and we brought it down instead of being strong with it especially early."
Okaw Valley finished with a 39-24 rebounding edge.
"Central A&M is a good basketball team," Inman said. "I am beyond proud of our kids. They deserve all of the credit. It is a great group of kids. We started with a tough schedule and it made us better all year. Seventeen wins for this group is something special. They have worked hard every day. It is nothing I did special; it is their effort and a credit to them and the work they put forth."
Connor Cloyd finished with a team-high and another double-double to end his high school career with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Coleman was also in double digits with 11 points. The Raiders shot 52 percent from the field, while Okaw Valley was 35 percent.
The Raiders also had three other players finish in double digits with Heaton scoring 16, Paradee 14 and Jackson Bugg 10.
The Raiders led by as much as 11 in the first half, including 26-15 after a putback by Bugg with 3:48 left in the half.
"It was real important," coach Smith said of the start. "We knew it would not be over though. They are very well coached and play super hard and are well schooled. We knew they would not go away, but the start was good."