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After a full regular season, the district tournament and two rounds of the 8th Region Tournament, Shelby County's basketball season came down to fewer than five ticks on the clock Tuesday night.
After a missed free throw — something that had proven to be a trend for the Rockets all evening — Anderson County controlled the rebound and got the ball to its best player, C.J. Penny.
And Penny didn't let the Bearcats down, hitting a 35-foot shot from near his team's bench as time expired to give Anderson a 52-49 victory at the Henry County Gym.
His heroics finished a feverish game that that saw several lead changes and runs and ultimately punched the Bearcats' (24-5) ticket for the Sweet 16 in Rupp Arena next week.
“Luck was on our side a year ago, but it this time it simply was not,” SCHS Coach Mike Clark said.
The Rockets (16-15) advanced to the 8th Region championship based on good defense, timely scoring and hot free throw shooting. However, Tuesday the line let them down.
After hitting 14 of 18 on the same court in the semifinals, the Rockets shot just 38.8 percent (8 of 17) in the championship game. Several times they could have taken or extended a lead with a made free throw, only to come up short.
“I can’t explain that,” Clark said. “Our guys fought hard, we simply weren’t lucky.”
Anderson County led by seven points a few times throughout the second and third quarters, only to see the Rockets fight back.
Boomer Beckley hit one of two free throws with 5:20 to play to give Shelby its first lead since early in the second quarter, 40-39. Then he came up with a steal and found Donovan Johnson for a lay-in, pushing the Rockets’ lead to 42-39. Anderson would tie the score, but Cache Tomlinson's 3-pointer gave Shelby it’s largest lead -- and what would prove its final points -- at 49-45 with just 1:54 to go.
Anderson scored the game’s final seven points, with the last three coming on Penny’s bomb at the buzzer.
“We expected it to be a close game, we expected a hard-fought game, but we did not expect to miss so many free throws,” Clark said. “Tonight Anderson County was the lucky team. Penny’s 40-footer was a great shot at the end.”
The loss put an end to a topsy-turvy season for the Rockets. With a lineup dominated by juniors, they wrapped up the year by winning eight of its final 10 games, but both losses came to Anderson County. That solid stretch at the end followed a 1-8 record in January.
“We’re certainly proud of the way our ball club bounced back to win eight of 10 after a terrible January stretch,” Clark said. “I’m certainly looking forward to next year when we’ll be a senior-laden team.”