It was easy to spot Scott County players celebrating Wednesday after the Cardinals’ exciting finish in a 54-53 first-round win over Trinity in the the 101st Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys’ Sweet Sixteen.
Diablo Stewart, Scott County’s starting shooting guard, didn’t immediately take part in the post-game euphoria. After the buzzer sounded, Stewart went over to Trinity senior Jay Scrubb — whose game-winning layup attempt was no good at the horn — and helped pick him up off the ground.
Scott County junior Michael Moreno also shared a post-game moment with Scrubb, whom he called a “good buddy” away from the court. Scrubb led Trinity with 16 points and eight rebounds.
“I really respect him as a player and I wanted him to know that I was proud of the way he played,” Moreno said. “He did a great job. He killed us tonight.”
Moreno referenced the Cardinals’ previous trip to the Sweet Sixteen, which ended with a loss to eventual champion Bowling Green in last year’s quarterfinals.
“I know how it feels to be in that position cause last year Bowling Green, they did the same to us and broke our hearts too. It’s (Jay’s) senior year, too, so it’s obviously gotta hurt, and I just wanted to show my respect.”
In the stands
After the good fortune he reaped at this tournament last year, it was no surprise to see Western Kentucky Coach Rick Stansbury back in the Rupp Arena seats for the opening day of the Sweet Sixteen on Wednesday.
Last season, Stansbury spotted Scott senior guard Jake Ohmer in Rupp, offered him a scholarship basically on the spot and very shortly thereafter landed his commitment. Ohmer is averaging 5.9 points in 16.8 minutes per game this season as a freshman with the Hilltoppers, who defeated Boston College in the opening round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Stansbury, always on the lookout for local talent, is back in Lexington this week to see if he can spot another diamond in the recruiting rough.
One of the players he likely had his eye on Wednesday afternoon was Trinity senior Jay Scrubb, who picked up a scholarship offer from the Hilltoppers earlier in the week. Scrubb — a three-star recruit in the 2018 class — led the Shamrocks with 16 points and added eight rebounds in their loss to Scott County on Wednesday.
The first points of this year’s state tournament belonged to Corbin junior guard Chase Sanders, who nailed a corner three-pointer in the opening minute of the Redhounds’ 50-40 win over Estill County and set the tone early for the 13th Region champs.
Sanders finished the first half with 10 points, and it was almost 13 after his three-point attempt at the buzzer spun all the way around the rim before falling to the floor.
The opportunity to play on the Rupp Arena court clearly had an impact on the Kentucky kid.
“It’s an experience that I’ve always dreamed about,” Sanders said. “It’s a dream come true to play in Rupp Arena. Growing up as a kid — as a Kentucky fan — you watch all of the NBA players that go and play here, and it’s just a dream come true.”
The KHSAA held a moment of silence in honor of sports broadcaster Wes Strader — “The Voice of the Hilltoppers” — before tipoff between Southwestern and Warren Central in the night session. A seat on press row also was left open in his name.
Strader, who died in January, was the play-by-play broadcaster for Western Kentucky University football and men’s basketball games for 36 seasons. He also was the namesake of the “Wes Strader Schoolboy Classic,” an annual high school basketball event hosted by Warren Central. Strader was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks, the state’s all-time wins leader, improved to 12-0 in first-round state tournament games as the Cards’ head man after his team’s 54-53 win over Trinity on Wednesday.
The Cardinals improved to 30-0 versus Kentucky competition this season and matched the program’s best win streak with their 27th straight victory. Scott County’s only loss this year was to Cincinnati Moeller in December.