Scott County survived.
The Cardinals, the No. 2 team in the state and unbeaten against Kentucky competition, needed every second of the clock to tick away before they could depart with a 46-44 victory over No. 5 Lexington Christian Academy on Monday night at Eastern Kentucky University’s McBrayer Arena.
Cooper Robb made two free throws with 10.1 seconds remaining to put the Cardinals in front. LCA quickly got the ball up the court and into the hands of junior Will Hacker, who hoisted a three-pointer from the corner that bounced off the rim.
Robb finished with 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting for the Cardinals. His go-ahead shots at the line were his first free-throw attempts of the night.
“Coach just said get it and go to the rack and get fouled,” Robb said of Scott County’s final possession.
LCA star Carter Hendricksen, a senior who has signed with North Florida University, left with an ankle injury midway through the third quarter. He returned to the bench in the fourth quarter but never re-entered the contest. He finished with 11 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Scott County Coach Billy Hicks said. “You have to give LCA a ton of credit. Even without Hendricksen, they had a chance to win the ball game.”
Scott County won the region tournament for the second straight season and for the sixth time since joining the 11th Region in the 2005-06 season. The Cardinals now have won 16 region titles overall.
Michael Moreno scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the first half to help the Cardinals build a 23-20 advantage before heading into the locker-room. He also had eight rebounds and seven steals and was named MVP of the tournament.
If Hacker’s three had been good, though, his near-triple double probably would not have amounted to much. Instead, LCA senior Austin Hall secured a rebound, his eighth for the Eagles. His put-back would not have counted because it came off his fingers too late, but Moreno swatted it away for good measure.
“You’re gonna laugh at me, but it was like my life was flashing before my eyes, it was the end of the road for me,” Moreno said with a grin when asked about Hacker’s go-ahead attempt. “I saw it go short and I was like, ‘We better grab this,’ but Hall got a hold of it and I just did whatever I could to get my hand on the ball.”
Kyle Rode, a junior with multiple Division I offers, led LCA with 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Hall, a senior who’s headed to the University of the Cumberlands, had five points, four assists and two blocks.
The Cardinals held LCA to 35.3-percent shooting in the first half and didn’t fare much better themselves at 35.7 percent, but they got off 28 shots to only 17 by the Eagles.
Scott County finished with a 51-34 advantage in shot attempts, connecting on 35.3 percent of its attempts. LCA shot 41.2 percent (14 of 34) for the game.
“We didn’t play very good tonight,” Hicks said. “We played stupid, but we played hard.”
He continued with a laugh: “Stupid and hard will win sometimes.”
Hicks then showered LCA with more praise.
“My goodness, they played their butts off. Losing Hendricksen? I can’t imagine. But those other kids just sucked it up and really played hard. They played an unbelievable game.”
Scott County happens to be the most recent program in state history to finish a season with an unbeaten record against in-state competition. The Cardinals finished 34-2 en route to the 2007 title. Their only losses that season were to Arlington Country Day (Fla.) and Huntington (W.Va.). Scott County defeated Ballard, 56-50, in the Sweet Sixteen finals that year.
Trinity defeated Ballard, 68-53, in the finals of the 7th Region, the area with which the 11th Region was paired in the opening round of the Sweet Sixteen next week.
The Cardinals haven’t played Trinity since 2014, when they swept them in two meetings, including a 62-56 victory in the state semifinals. Trinity defeated Scott County, 71-53, in the 2012 state finals. Scott County is 3-2 against the Shamrocks over the last 10 seasons.
Scott County will need for the rest of its team to rediscover its offensive rhythm to keep its season going next week in Rupp Arena. Robb and Moreno were a combined 14 of 27 from the field and 3-for-9 from the three-point line; the other five Cardinals were 4-for-24 and 0-for-12 from long range.
“Our two top players, Cooper and Michael, played good, but we didn’t have no help,” Hicks said with a laugh. “(The team) played good defense the first half but in the second half the defense wasn’t very good. The pressure (to win) would’ve probably been on Cooper, him being the senior, but we didn’t get a lot of help out of anybody else.”
Scott County vs. Trinity
What: Sweet Sixteen opening-round game
Where: Rupp Arena
When: 1:30 p.m. March 14