Senior Tyson Sexton put his arm around teammate Kyle Wright and offered him some encouragement in the biggest moment of the junior’s high school basketball career.
Wright was about to go to the free-throw line with 10.3 seconds left with the scored tied in the Class 5A Boys Northeast Regional Tournament championship game.
“I said ‘you block everything out and just go up there, you hit these two free throws and we’re going to go home and celebrate,’” Sexton said. “He hit one — that’s all we needed.”
Wright sank the first free throw to give No. 6-ranked Scottsboro the lead, and No. 7 Guntersville’s game-winning shot softly rimmed out in Scottsboro’s 67-66 win Wednesday morning at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum.
It’s the second regional championship for Scottsboro — its first Northeast Regional championship after winning a Northwest Regional title two years ago — and its second trip to the state tournament in three seasons.
Scottsboro (24-8) plays undefeated No. 8 Valley (31-0) in the Class 5A State Tournament semifinals Wednesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex’s Legacy Arena. The winner plays No. 1 Ramsay or No. 5 Charles Henderson in the Class 5A Boys State Championship Game on Saturday, March 4 at 10:45 a.m.
“It’s pretty sweet,” said Scottsboro head coach Jason Bell. “I’m so proud of our team, our coaches, our seniors.”
After a heart-breaking loss to Cullman in the Class 6A Northwest Regional final last season, Parker Bell said the Wildcats were determined to return to Birmingham this season.
“That feeling last year after (the regional final) was one of the worst feelings I’ve felt,” said Parker Bell, one of Scottsboro’s three seniors along with Sexton and Seth Whitmire. “That got me. That pushed me hard to try to be better and help the team and not feel like that (again). Felt nice to be on the other side of it.”
Sexton finished with a team-high 20 points along with three rebounds and two assists for Scottsboro while Parker Bell had 13 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Both were named to the all-regional tournament team and Sexton was named the regional MVP. Whitmire tallied 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals for the Wildcats while Jake Jones had eight points, three rebounds and two steals, Wright had seven points, two rebounds and one steal and Ethan Roberts had seven points and two rebounds.
Brandon Fussell scored a game-high 32 points for Guntersville (25-8).
The win was Scottsboro’s third in four tries against its Class 5A Area 14 rival. The Wildcats lost the teams’ first meeting 76-74 before winning twice at Guntersville 72-66 in the regular season and 71-66 in the Class 5A Area Tournament finals prior to Wednesday’s one-point regional finals victory.
“Both teams played hard,” Jason Bell said. “We knew it would be a battle.”
Scottsboro led 15-14 after one quarter and 26-25 at halftime, but the Wildcats came storming out of the locker room, opening the quarter on a 16-4 run to build a 14-point lead. Parker Bell’s 3-pointer 6 seconds into the third quarter started the run, which included a layup from Sexton, two free throws from Whitmire, a layup from Parker Bell, a trey from Sexton, a layup from Whitmire, a free throw from Parker Bell and a another layup by Whitmire.
Scottsboro led 51-39 entering the fourth quarter, but Guntersville (25-8) caught fire from the 3-point arc, sinking three straight treys in the first 1:10 of the period before tying the game at 51-all on John Michael McElrath’s old-fashioned 3-point play with 6:24 remaining. From that point on, their were four ties and nine lead changes. Scottsboro took a 65-62 lead on Parker Bell’s 3-point play with 2:17 remaining, but Guntersville tied it with 1:35 left on Fussell’s jumper. After a free throw from Parker Bell put Scottsboro back up by one, Fussell swished two foul shots with 1:14 left to give Guntersville a 66-65 lead. Scottsboro tied it 8 seconds later on another Parker Bell free throw, and Guntersville tried to run the remaining 1:04 off the clock to get the last shot.
But Guntersville turned the ball over with 10.3 seconds left, and Wright was fouled by Fussell after getting the steal — it was the fifth foul for the Guntersville star — and made the first of two to give the Scottsboro the lead. Guntersville rebounded the miss on Wright’s second attempt, eventually get a baseline floater from Brody Perry that danced on the rim before rimming out and settling into the arms of Parker Bell, starting the Scottsboro celebration.
“We’re one, two inches away from that ball rolling in to go to the Final Four.
Tough way to end it,” said Guntersville head coach Brent Self.
“(Guntersville) had a shot at the rim at the buzzer, and thankfully it bounced our way instead of theirs,” Jason Bell said. “We were good enough to get a lead and lucky enough to keep it at the end. We scheduled games for this very reason, that come tournament time, we’d be seasoned. If we hadn’t have done that, we might have panicked when they went on a 12-0 run. They made shots. We usually answer runs and thank goodness we were able to do that.”
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