By Tommie Kendall
In dramatic fashion, the Shelby County Rockets stormed a comeback against Gallatin County last Wednesday night in the 8th Region tournament finals - erasing a five-point deficit in the closing 30 seconds to come away with a slim 49-48 victory at Henry County High School.
The Gallatin Wildcats looked destined to earn their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1959, but instead allowed the Rockets their 16th trip to the Big Dance and second in the previous three seasons.
Gallatin (24-8, 20-4 8th Region) went in front 46-41 after Jared Carlton swished a free throw with just 33 seconds remaining in the contest. Shelby's point guard Norris Beckley Jr. took the inbounds pass and dribbled the length of the court for a quick layup to pull Shelby (23-8, 14-3) within three points. Gallatin's Scott Brown then knocked down 1 of 2 free throws at the other end; Shelby's Coty Minnis converted on a three-point play with 19 seconds left; and Zac Jones swished another Gallatin free throw to put the Wildcats ahead 48-46.
With just 6.1 seconds remaining, Minnis, the 6-foot-4 senior, followed a missed layup by Beckley which resulted in another three-point play. His basket tied the score at 48 and his free throw put Shelby ahead for good, 49-48.
Gallatin, who had the best record in the region this season and defeated Anderson County and North Oldham to get the championship game, knocked off Shelby in the opening round of the 8th Region tournament a year ago and defeated the Rockets during a regular-season matchup Jan. 22. But Shelby, who defeated Owen County and South Oldham to set up the showdown, came away with the win that sealed a spot in the Sweet 16 next week in Rupp Arena.
For Shelby, the leading scorer was Minnis with 15 points - scoring 13 in the final 6:29 of the game. Tim Sanford scored 12 points for the Rockets and Donovan Johnson added nine.
For Gallatin, the leading scorers were Taylor Jones (15 points) and Trent Maddox (13). The game was tied at 8 after the first quarter, Shelby was in front 17-14 at the half and Gallatin went ahead 33-29 after the third quarter. Shelby didn't take the lead in the fourth until Minnis' big three-point play.
Shelby joins University Heights (30-4 record), Lexington Catholic (30-3), Central (15-11), Owensboro (22-9), Jeffersontown (26-5), Paintsville (29-3), Holmes (31-2), Bardstown (23-7), South Laurel (27-7), Hazard (30-4), Lincoln County (27-5), Paducah Tilghman (27-6), Greenwood (24-10), Mason County (30-4) and Elliot County (26-3) in the Sweet 16. The Rockets will play the 12th Region champion Lincoln this Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
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