RICHMOND — Lexington Catholic and Scott County have waged some memorable basketball battles over the years, including a couple classics in the Sweet Sixteen.
But they outdid themselves in the boys' 11th Region finals Tuesday night as 12th-ranked Lexington Catholic knocked off the No. 1 Cardinals 68-67 in front of a large, raucous crowd in McBrayer Arena.
Taylor Martin, an unflappable sophomore, hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds left to lift the Knights to a second consecutive region title for the first time in school history.
Was Martin nervous?
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"No, I was confident," he said, shaking with excitement. "I was ready to go. I was money."
After Martin's foul shots, Scott County still had time to win, but Chad Jackson lost the ball as he tried to hurry up the court.
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks wasn't pleased with the way his team's 24-game winning streak ended.
"I wish they'd let the kids decide a game like this instead of deciding it at the foul line," he said. "I gotta see the tape, but I thought Ge-Lawn (Guyn) blocked (Martin's shot.)"
Lexington Catholic moves on to Rupp Arena where it will play 4th Region champion Bowling Green in the Sweet Sixteen on March 19.
Senior star Vee Sanford led Lexington Catholic with 26 points. Senior Taylor Botkin and freshman Jaylen Beckham had 10 apiece.
Tanner Peurach, a 6-foot-7 junior, was a factor inside with eight blocked shots.
Scott County, playing without 6-foot-8 senior star Richie Phares, who injured his knee in the semifinals, gave a valiant effort.
Junior guard Ge-Lawn Guyn was virtually unstoppable as he poured in 31 points.
Jackson had 16 points and nine rebounds, and Dakotah Euton added 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Scott County had all the momentum when it surged to a 54-47 lead late in the third quarter on back-to-back threes by Euton and Guyn.
Lexington Catholic Coach Brandon Salsman called a timeout and had a simple message for his players.
"I told them we had the best player on the floor in Vee, and that it was time for him to do his thing," Salsman said. "The other guys would fill in and do their thing, which is what happened."
With Botkin and Scott Schuette hitting clutch threes, the Knights came storming back. It was tense and tight the rest of the way.
Scott County led 67-64 with less than three minutes left, but Lexington Catholic pulled to within one on Botkin's layup after a turnover.
Up 67-66, Scott County missed two shots — a contested baseliner by Guyn and a put-back attempt by Tamron Manning.
Lexington Catholic got the rebound, and eventually called a timeout with 9.8 seconds left.
As Salsman sent his team back on the court, he made the sign of the cross.
Sanford got the ball, as expected, but when he was bottled up he spotted Martin a few feet from the basket on the left baseline.
"I knew if I threw it to him, he'd either hit the shot or get fouled and hit the free throws," Sanford said.
He hit nothing but net on both foul shots.
Apparently, Salsman's prayer was answered.
"Amen," he said with a smile.
Nobody expected Lexington Catholic to successfully defend its 11th Region title, something no school had done since Paul Dunbar in 1993 and 1994.
The Knights graduated nine seniors. Sanford and Botkin were their only experienced players.
"To to be able to go back to Rupp Arena, there's nothing ... " Salsman said before his voice broke up with emotion.
Lexington Catholic 68, Scott County 67
SCOTT COUNTY (28-4) — Guyn 12-22 4-6 31, Ivey 1-5 0-0 3, Euton 4-13 4-6 13, Manning 1-3 2-2 4, Jackson 6-8 2-3 16, Ford 0-2 0-1 0. Totals 24-53 12-18 67.
LEXINGTON CATHOLIC (25-7) — Sanford 11-29 3-4 26, Peurach 3-5 0-0 6, Martin 3-4 2-2 8, Schuette 3-6 0-0 8, Botkin 4-7 0-0 10, Beckham 4-8 2-6 10. Totals 28-59 7-12 68.
Scott County 13 19 25 10—67
Lexington Catholic 12 21 24 11—68
All-tournament team — Vee Sanford (MVP), Taylor Botkin, Tanner Peurach and Taylor Martin of Lexington Catholic; Chad Jackson, Ge-Lawn Guyn and Dakotah Euton of Scott County; Tyler Mays and Keshawn Simpson of Madison Central; Mike Walker and Tanner Napier of Lafayette; J.T. Riddle of Western Hills; Vance Hall of Franklin County; T.J. Barnes of Henry Clay; Carrington Roberts of Madison Southern.