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The Shelby County boys' basketball team never lost the lead, but the Rockets could not put South Oldham away until late in the fourth quarter of the 8th Region semifinal game Tuesday. The Rockets hit 9 of 12 free throws in the final 1:25 to seal a 71-62 win and advance to tonight's championship game. Shelby County will face Gallatin County in the finals. The Bearcats beat North Oldham 72-56 in the second semifinal game Tuesday.
The Rockets pushed the lead out to 10 points in the first and second quarters, and 12 points in the third but each time South Oldham had an answer. However, after South pulled within three, 60-57, with 2:23 to play, the Rockets were able to hold on for the win. Tim Sanford and Alex Matthews combined to hit eight of the Rockets' nine made free throws over the final 1:25.
SCHS head coach Mike Clark noted how difficult South's perimeter oriented attack can be for a defense.
"They're a very difficult team to defend because all five players have the green light to shoot the three," he said. "You have to extend your defense beyond where you normally would and that's a challenge. They're an extremely good three-point shooting team, but fortunately for us they missed some shots late and we were able to get rebounds and hit our free throws late."
Coty Minnis led the Rockets with 23 points, doing his damage in the paint.
"South Oldham was fronting me, and I have to tip my hat to them," he said. "They're a small team, but they're very physical."
Alex Matthews, who complemented Minnis inside with 17 points and 10 rebounds, said the Rockets knew South would focus their energy on Minnis.
"We figured they'd come in and try to stop Coty inside," he said. "But we were ready and we came out and hit some shots. That opened things up inside for him and they had to stop doubling him in the post."
The Rockets hit six three pointers in the game; Matthews and Sanford each had two.
South Oldham tried to rally with their usual hot outside shooting. The Dragons nailed nine three-pointers, but Minnis and Matthews were too much in the post for South Oldham to handle.
"They played us extremely tough (Tuesday), and they were very well prepared," Clark said. "But Coty is a tough match-up in the post because of his athleticism, and Alex had an outstanding game. He was able to grab some crucial rebounds late in the game for us, and he hit some big free throws."
Clark applauded the work of his seniors Matthews, Minnis and Sanford, who combined to score 54 of the Rockets' 71 points.
"Our seniors really stepped up and played outstanding for us," he said. "Coty was a force in the middle and Alex and Tim both hit big, big free throws for us down the stretch."
The Rockets will play Gallatin County tonight at 7 at Henry County High School. Clark said he's not worried about who the Rockets play, but instead how the Rockets play.
"Whether it's North Oldham or Gallatin County, we need to come out and focus on what we do best and that's pressure defense and motion offense," he said. "If we move the ball and execute our offense and can slow our opponent down, we'll be right there in the thick of it."
Gallatin County won 66-57 at Shelby County Jan. 22. The Rockets had built a 15-point, 37-22, halftime lead, but Gallatin rallied to outscore Shelby 44-20 in the second half.