Scott County has been in the Sweet Sixteen eight times since 1998, and each time the Cardinals have reached at least the semifinals.
It took a grind-it-out performance for them to get to the final four this time.
Scott County broke out of a 49-49 tie with 4:40 left and beat Johnson Central 64-55 in the quarterfinals of the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen on Friday afternoon in front of 12,196 fans.
The Cards (34-3) will play Trinity (31-5) in Saturday night's semifinals. The last time they met in Rupp Arena, the Shamrocks rocked Scott County 71-53 in the 2012 state championship game.
The Cards beat Trinity 70-65 in the Jock Sutherland Classic at Lafayette in early February.
Trent Gilbert was the Cards' ace on Friday. The 6-foot-1 senior had 29 points, including a Sweet Sixteen record 14 of 14 free throws. (Johnny Cox and Kelly Middleton shared the old record with 13 consecutive free throws.)
Scott County's bench delivered big for the second game in a row. Hines Jones and Austin Kindred had nine points apiece and combined for 15 rebounds.
But the Cards couldn't shake Johnson Central.
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks credited the Golden Eagles for making his team play "probably our worst half of the year offensively."
Nevertheless, Scott County led 31-24 at the break.
Johnson Central star Shane Hall, who had only four points and seven rebounds at halftime, came alive in the second half. The 6-9 senior was quick around the rim and finished the day with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
"He's a heck of a player," Hicks said. "I knew he'd turn it on and he did."
Hall's two free throws tied it 49-49 midway through the fourth quarter, and Johnson Central Coach Tommy McKenzie said he "felt pretty good" about his team's chances of taking the Cards to the wire.
But then Jones nailed a three-pointer for Scott County, and after the Golden Eagles took and missed a bad shot, Gilbert hit a pair of free throws to give the Cards a 54-49 lead.
"With Scott County, you can't give them any kind of daylight or easy looks," McKenzie said. "In a matter of 15 seconds it went from 49-49 to 54-49, and we weren't able to recover from it."
Gilbert knew what was coming once the Cards got the lead in the closing minutes: "It got to where it was a free-throw game."
And there's not many better at that than Gilbert, who's hitting 91 percent at the line.
Scott County made sure he had the ball a lot down the stretch. Gilbert was 7-for-7 on free throws in the fourth quarter.
"Trent's got the experience and toughness to do that," Hicks said.
McKenzie credited Gilbert for his performance, but he thought Hines and Kindred were the "X-factor" in Scott County's victory.
Johnson Central, a three-peat champ in the 15th Region, gave a strong showing.
It forced Scott County into 18 turnovers and 36 percent shooting, including 4-for-19 on threes.
Besides Hall, the Golden Eagles were led by junior guard Braxton Blair, who had 15 points, most coming on hard drives to the basket. Kyle Gullett added eight points, six rebounds and four assists.
"I thought our guys did a good job making plays and giving ourselves a chance," McKenzie said.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.