High School Basketball

Sweet Sixteen: Scott County beats Trinity 62-56, advances to title game

Scott County seniors Trent Gilbert, center, and Tony Martini celebrated as Gilbert made his way to the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter.
Scott County seniors Trent Gilbert, center, and Tony Martini celebrated as Gilbert made his way to the free-throw line late in the fourth quarter. Herald-Leader

Trent Gilbert said it was "by far" the biggest shot he's made in his life, a cold-blooded, contested, clutch three-pointer that sparked Scott County by Trinity 62-56 in the semifinals of the 97th Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Sweet Sixteen on Saturday night.

Scott County trailed the Shamrocks 53-51 with a minute left when Gilbert, defended by long-armed Michael Stafford, took a pass at the top of the key.

"When I caught it, I squared up and jabbed, and his hands were down, so I knew it was the best look I was going to get," Gilbert said.

But by the time Gilbert let it fly, Stafford's hand was in his face. It didn't matter because Gilbert's 128th three of the season nestled into the net, putting the Cards ahead 54-53 with 58 seconds left. Scott County fans in the crowd of 13,862 in Rupp Arena roared.

With Scott County Coach Billy Hicks sitting beside him in the post-game news conference, the 6-foot-1 senior told the rest of the story: "Coach probably doesn't want to hear this," a grinning Gilbert said, "but my eyes were closed when I shot it."

That wasn't the end of Gilbert's dead-eye shooting.

On Trinity's next possession, Stafford had a chance to tie the game, but he missed two foul shots with :39 left.

Gilbert then began his parade to the free-throw line, where he went 8-for-8 in the last 35 seconds — extending his Sweet Sixteen record of consecutive makes to 28.

Gilbert finished with 36 points, including 6-for-9 on threes and 10-for-10 on free throws. He now has 1,006 points this season.

The victory earned Scott County (35-4) a spot in Sunday's title game against Covington Catholic (32-2).

Gilbert got lots of dirty-work help from his teammates to take down Trinity, which beat the Cards in the 2012 state finals.

Tony Martini, a 6-3 senior, had 13 rebounds, including one off a Gilbert three-point miss that he put back to give Scott County a 51-50 lead.

Hicks said it was up to Raekwon Long and Austin Kindred to "lock down" Trinity's 6-10 Raymond Spalding off the boards. That left it up to Martini to snag rebounds.

"I thought Tony Martini was a bear tonight," Hicks said. "He had (13) rebounds, and we needed every one of them to win."

Martini also had five points. The rest of the Cards — Long, Teddy Ware, Matt Murray, Austin Kindred and Hines Jones — combined to score 21, but defense was everybody's primary concern.

Hicks said Trinity's reputation as the best defensive team in the state goaded his Cards into playing solid 'D."

The Shamrocks' were led by Jax Levitch, who hit six of seven threes on his way to 21 points, but he had only six points in the second half.

Spalding had 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Stafford also had 11 points.

Trinity Coach Mike Szabo pointed to Scott County's 28-22 edge on the boards as one of the keys. Another was that Scott County hit 12 of 13 free throws while his Rocks missed seven of 13.

But Szabo acknowledged Gilbert as the difference.

"Trent Gilbert was great, he was phenomenal tonight," he said.

Szabo thought his guys defended Gilbert pretty well.

"Sometimes players step up and make plays, and he did several times tonight. And when he goes to the free throw line, he's automatic."

Szabo praised his team's season-long development, which earned it win over No. 1 Ballard in the 7th Region finals, and the school's third trip to the state tournament.

Scott County beat Trinity 70-65 in relatively easy fashion last month, but nothing came easy in the rematch. But thanks to Gilbert, the Cards have a shot at a third state championship to go with titles in 1998 and 2007.

Gilbert's three with :58 left ranks up there with the buzzer-beater Rick Jones hit to give Scott County an 85-82 win over Lexington Catholic in the 1998 semifinals.

Martini had no doubt Gilbert was going to launch it at crunch time against Trinity.

"I could see it in his eyes," Martini said.

And then, as the legend will have it, Gilbert closed his eyes and hit the biggest shot of his life.

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