ASHLAND — The Ashland High boys basketball team has seen the script to this play many times before.
It wasn't much different on Tuesday night.
After giving Thurston all it could handle for three quarters, Ashland struggled down the stretch and was outscored 22-4 in the final eight minutes of its 68-47 loss to the Colts in Midwestern League action at Mountain Avenue Gymnasium.
"I thought, first, you have to give Thurston credit because they turned it up a notch," Ashland head coach Sam Osofsky said. "Isaac Lange is a special. special defender and when he gets out and pressures us like that, it's challenging. Our guys did a great job of not turning the ball over and executing against their pressure, but I thought that when they took it that one next level it put us on our heels a little bit."
Lange was the protagonist in the Colts' late-game surge.
Of his game-high 26 points on the night, Lange scored nine of those in the final quarter, including a pair of steals and two-handed dunks to cap Thurston's 15-0 run to open the fourth and push its lead into double digits.
Lange and Mason Miller were a 1-2 punch offensively for the Colts (14-4 overall, 6-3 MWL), with the latter scoring 18 points on the night.
Ashland (5-14, 1-8) didn't score a fourth-quarter point KJ Pippa hit a pair of free throws with 2:52 remaining in the game.
With how the fourth quarter went, you might not have thought that the Grizzlies were nipping at the Colts' heels all game long up until that point, trailing just 46-43 after the third.
"The story for us is definitely our defense," Osofsky said. "We're playing at a high level of defense. We've done some really special things against some really special teams. One thing this league will do to you, we've played back-to-back-to-back games against the top six in the state — and we've got another one coming up on Friday (against Springfield). If you're going to beat teams like that, you're going to have to defend them. I'm extremely proud of our defensive effort, and I thought that at the end there we got a little bit tight and a little bit on our heels offensively and it made the defense a lot tougher."
Two big runs — one in each half — allowed the Grizzlies to not just hang around, but lead for a solid amount of time.
The first of the two runs carried over from the opening quarter and into the second period. Backed by their defense, Ashland took a 21-18 lead after Anthony Swanson steal and layup and a Pippa drive to the basket.
Thurston, however, was able to tie it at 26-26 and then take a 33-29 lead into halftime thanks to a 10-3 run to close the second quarter.
Lange's 3-pointer from the left wing gave the Colts their largest lead of the night to that point, 39-28, but the Grizzlies responded with a 12-2 run to claim its final lead of the night after Swanson's pull-up jumper at the free throw line made it 43-40.
Lowell Saulsbury and Adam Jones each finished with a team-high 11 points, while Swanson and Pippa finished with 10 and nine points, respectively.
Saulsbury, who scored eight of his 11 points in the first half, hit three of Ashland's six 3-pointers.
"When we defend at the levels that we can defend, I think we give ourselves a shot to beat anybody," Osofsky said. "You saw that tonight when we were up by three and then almost took the lead into the fourth quarter. We've got to keep working on those little things because defense gets you so far and it gives you a chance but then you have to execute on the other end to make sure."
Ashland opens up the final five-game stretch of the regular season when it travels to Springfield on Friday night.
"Winning is never our goal, it's a product of our goal and I think our guys are really achieving our goals," Osofsky said. "I think the winning will come. We're young, and the winning will come in time. In the immediate future, for our seniors, everything we have as goals is in front of us. We have every opportunity to make the playoffs and we control our own destiny. We will continue to focus on that as a product of our goals and continue to work everyday."
THURSTON (68): Minor 6, Powell 4, Crist 0, Connor 9, Lange 26, Miller 18, Starck 0, Haas 5. Totals: 28 7-14 68.
ASHLAND (47): Pippa 9, Swanson 10, Wallner-Sentle 6, A. Jones 11, Desmond 0, Saulsbury 11, C. Jones 0. Totals: 18 5-12 47.
3-point goals — Thurston 5 (Powell 1, Connor 1, Lange 3), Ashland 6 ( Pippa 1, Swanson 1, A. Jones 1, Saulsbury 3). Technical fouls — Thurston bench.
JV score — Thurston 62, Ashland 54.
Danny Penza is the sports editor for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.