FRANKFORT — Scott County star Trent Gilbert, like every basketball kid in Kentucky, has always kept one wish close to his heart.
"I always wanted my last high school game to be in Rupp Arena, and that's where it's going to be," a beaming Gilbert said after leading the Cardinals past Henry Clay 70-64 in a teeth-grinding 11th Region finals Tuesday night.
No. 4 Scott County (32-3) will play 16th Region champion Fleming County (24-9) in the first round of the Sweet Sixteen next Wednesday.
Cards Coach Billy Hicks' team will be one of the favorites and looking to add to the school's championship haul. Scott County captured the Class 6A football title last fall.
The Cards, who won the Sweet Sixteen under Hicks in 1998 and 2007, had to fight to the finish to get past Henry Clay, which beat them 68-65 in the 42nd District finals last week. "We've won 32 games this year, and this was probably the hardest one we've gotten," Hicks said.
Gilbert said losing to the Blue Devils twelve days ago was a blessing in disguise.
"I wouldn't have had it any other way," he said. "That gave us the motivation and fire to come in here and win."
Gilbert, a 6-foot-1 senior and Mr. Basketball finalist, had a rough shooting night. Henry Clay ran two defenders at him and he was only 5-for-17 from the field, including 0-for-7 on three-pointers.
But he put the ball on the floor and drew fouls. He missed his first free throw, then made his last 14. He finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Gilbert declined credit for being his team's key player, though. He gave that tag to junior Hines Jones, who had 16 points while stepping in for Matt Murray, who was sitting out his second game after being ejected in the region opener.
"That's the best I've ever seen that kid (Jones) play," Gilbert said. "He hit big shots, hit his free throws, handled the ball and played defense.
"All the credit goes to that kid for this game."
Jones admitted to being "all nerves," but he realized "I had to step up and I did."
Tony Martini, a 6-3 senior and Scott County's glue guy, had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Teddy Ware and Austin Kindred combined for 16 points and 15 rebounds.
But with all those guys contributing, the Cards still had to deal with the Devils.
Henry Clay's Jeremiah Tisdale, looking like one of the best juniors in the state, had 27 points, seven steals, four rebounds and three steals.
Devils' senior star Jordan Green had 22 points, seven rebounds and three seals. His two free throws gave Henry Clay its last lead at 55-54 with 4:27 left.
But after Gilbert's driving layup regain the lead for Scott County, Green was whistled for his fifth foul while chasing a loose ball with 3:47 left.
"Probably one of the worst experiences of my life," Green said of his early exit. "We put so much fight into it, then that happens."
When Green got his fifth foul, Scott County's fans let out the loudest cheer of the night in the Frankfort Convention Center, knowing the Devils were in dire straits.
They were right.
Campbell Setzer hit a pair of threes to keep Henry Clay's hopes alive, but Scott County wouldn't buckle. Gilbert hit four free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Henry Clay Coach Daniel Brown said losing Green was too much to overcome.
"I thought we were the better team tonight, but when Green got taken out, it took all our momentum.
"But I'm proud of my team. They played hard, and we'll have six of our top eight back next year. Hopefully we'll make another run."
Hicks saluted Henry Clay, too.
"I saw them play at Christmastime, and they weren't a very good team," he said. "To bring them from there to where they are today — as good as anybody in the state — is something."
scott co. 70, henry clay 64
SCOTT COUNTY (32-3) — Gilbert 24, Jones 16, Martini 10, Long 4, Ware 8, Kindred 8.
HENRY CLAY (19-13) — Green 22, J.Tisdale 27, Barnes 0, Setzer 6, Wilson 3, I.Tisdale 6.
Scott County 15 18 15 22—70
Henry Clay 15 20 12 17—64
All-tournament: Trent Gilbert (MVP), Teddy Ware, Tony Martini, Hines Jones of Scott Co.; Jordan Green, Jeremiah Tisdale, Campbell Setzer of Henry Clay; Eli Voggess, Samuel Souers of Woodford Co.; Cameron Thomas, Sam Jones of Madison Central; Jackson Davis of Lafayette; Trevor Huff of Madison Southern; Rylan Rowe of Franklin Co.; Tanner Johnson of Lexington Catholic
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.