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Nikki Simmons said she didn’t want Wednesday night to be her last game.
So Simmons, the only senior on the Shelby County girls’ basketball team, did something about it.
She scored 16 points – 12 in the second half – to lead the Rockets to a 58-34 victory over Collins in the 30th District Tournament semifinals at Mike Casey Gymnasium.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to go out there and play my best game and leave it all on the floor because I don’t want this to be my last game,’” Simmons, a 5-foot-11 forward, said.
Behind Simmons and 17 points from junior forward Mackenzie Raizor, Shelby County beat the crosstown Titans for the third time this season and in the process clinched its first berth in the 8th Region Tournament since the 2009-10 season – a few months before the school split.
The Rockets will host third-ranked Anderson County (23-4) at 6 tonight in the district final. The Bearcats, who have won five district titles in a row, beat Shelby County twice during the regular season – 72-49 Dec. 18 in Lawrenceburg and 65-32 Feb. 6 at Casey Gym.
“We’re going to play as a team because teamwork makes the dream work,” Simmons said.
Simmons was a freshman on the first Rockets team after the split. Shelby County went 3-22 that season, when the region tournament likely seemed like a dream.
“I can remember us four years ago just struggling to make a basket,” Simmons said. “It feels good to make it to region.”
Shelby County (18-8), which had beaten Collins, 49-28, Dec. 13 and, 40-26, Feb. 8, scored the first 11 points of the game and rolled from there.
The Titans didn’t score their first points until Michelle Roberts hit two free throws with 1:41 to play in the first period and didn’t hit their first field goal until Whitney Pullen made a layup 1:06 into the second quarter.
“It was like we were just stuck in mud,” said Collins Coach Phillip Conder, whose team often settled for long 3-point shots during the first half.
The Titans trimmed that deficit to 12-5 early in the second period, before Katie Hudgens and Savannah Raizor, Mackenzie’s twin sister, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to boost the Rockets’ lead to 13. It reached 14 (24-10) when reserve Madison Todd scored on a putback with 4 seconds to play in the first half.
Collins (6-17), which shot 22.2 percent (10-for-45) from the field for the game, including 18.5 percent (5-for-27) from 3-point range, missed all 10 of its 3-point shots in the first half.
The Titans rallied behind the 3-pointer in the third quarter, when they outscored Shelby, 15-12. However they had no answer for Simmons, who tallied 10 points in the period, all around the basket.
Simmons had a pair of key hoops late in the period. First she sandwiched a basket between a pair of 3-pointers (the second of which cut the Rockets’ lead to 32-25) by Collins reserve Janette Hynes. Then, after Mackenzie Raizor failed to finish an old-fashioned 3-point play at the free throw line, Simmons snared the rebound and put it back in to boost Shelby’s lead back to double digits, 36-25.
“Nikki is a Titan killer I guess,” Shelby County Coach Mike Sowers said. “I’m so proud of her, she didn’t want her senior season to end.”
The Rockets then delivered the knockout blow with an 8-1 run to start the fourth quarter. Raizor scored four points in that surge and 10 in the final period.
“The big turning point was when we cut it to seven, and Mackenzie came in and did what one of the best players in the region is supposed to do. She took it to the bucket and took over the game,” Conder said.
Savannah Raizor, also a member of the all-region team, added 10 points for Shelby County, which shot 55 percent (22-for-40) from the field but just 45.8 percent (11-for-24) from the free-throw line.
“I’m real proud of my girls. It was iffy at times, but I think we took care of business,” Sowers said. “They pulled together, and they got it done. They finished shots around the basket.”
The Rockets also outrebounded the Titans, 40-15 – Mackenzie Raizor and Justus Martin had nine each and Simmons added eight – including, 12-6, on the offensive glass.
Roberts scored a game-high 18 points, but no other Titan had more than six points.