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Men's Basketball - Belt's clutch birthday 3s help Mustangs to First Region title
3/8/2018 11:40 AM

Tuesday was Wes Belt’s 19th birthday.

His three 3-pointers at the CFSB Center helped propel McCracken County past Graves County, 42-37, giving the Mustangs a First Region championship and a date with Oldham County, which beat South Oldham 71-56 in the Eighth Region championship game at 6:30 next Thursday in the Sweet 16 at Rupp Arena.

Late in the third quarter, the Eagles went on 16-2 run, going from down five to up nine, and put McCracken County’s back against the wall.

But a 10-0 run that bridged the gap between the third and fourth quarter for the Mustangs wiped out the Graves County lead. With 4:25 left, McCracken was up 35-34.

Belt’s third 3 gave the Mustangs a 38-35 lead with 2:35 left – one they would not relinquish. He finished with nine points, all from beyond the arc.

“To be honest with you, I had thought about it two minutes before,” Belt said. “I was like, ‘I feel like I’m gonna get a 3 right here. Somebody’s going to leave me open. I’m just going to be ready to knock it down.’

“I was glad I was able to. It was unbelievable. I’m not a too emotional guy. I don’t show my emotions too well. But when I hit that, I pointed up to the student section and I was clapping all the way down the floor.

“That was probably my best shot of my career. My favorite one for sure.”

Belt, a senior, has earned the praise of his coach and teammates.

“You’ve got to love Wes Belt,” McCracken County coach Burlin Brower said. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around in my life. He’s the kind of kid you look up to. For him to make that shot, I just can’t see anything more fitting for a person to get that shot than him.”

The teams traded 3s in the final 2:00 of the quarter. After one, it was tied at 8.

Belt and Ryan Mathis each made their second 3s of the game, but it was the Mustangs (28-6) who took a 17-16 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Cam Cartwright hit a 3 from each corner to start the third, forcing Graves County to take a 30-second timeout with 6:47 left, down 23-18.

He had a team-high 11 points for the Mustangs, and was named the Joey Fosko First Region Most Valuable Player.

“This group of guys, we don’t give up,” Cartwright said. “We’ve got shooters on our team. We start hitting shots and we’re right back in this game.”

Brower is taking his second Mustangs squad to the Sweet 16, four years after the school’s inaugural squad lost to Bowling Green in the Elite 8.

“I kept thinking about that,” Brower said. “It’s kind of like having two kids. You love both of them. I was really proud of some of the guys that went the first time, they came in the locker room. It’s a family at McCracken with those guys. Those guys went in and talked to these guys a little bit about how awesome it was to win it.

“These guys really weren’t picked to be that high. We’re just not overly athletic. But they really play well together and I’m proud of them.”

Defensively, Jackson Sivills pulled down 11 rebounds to go with seven points for the Mustangs.

Mathis scored 12 to lead the Eagles (26-9).

“I thought we had a successful year,” Graves County coach Josh Frick said. “We had to battle through a lot of things (and) a lot of injuries to key guys. We played a very tough schedule. To be able to win 26 games and win the district, and put ourselves in this game tonight with an opportunity to win it again, I can’t ask more of my guys. The effort was unbelievable.”

All-Region team

Graves County: Brenden Young, Ryan Mathis, Jordyn Naranjo; Marshall County: Aaron Reed, Tyler Stokes; Mayfield: Connor Guthrie, Carson Guthrie; McCracken County: Jackson Sivills, Nate Stonecipher, Cam Cartwright (MVP); Paducah Tilghman: Trey Workman, JJ Reed.

——

Graves Co. 8 8 18 3 — 37

McCracken Co. 8 9 11 14 — 42

GRAVES — Mathis 12, Naranjo 9, Grant 7, Young 4, Shannon 3, Grant 2

Field goals: 13/49. 3-pointers: 5/17 (Mathis 2, Naranjo 2, Shannon). Free throws: 6/10. Rebounds: 29. Fouls: 17. Record: 26-9.

MCCRACKEN — Cartwright 11, Belt 9, Stonecipher 9, Sivills 7, Winsett 3, Davis 3

Field goals: 12/33. 3-pointers: 9/18 (Belt 3, Cartwright 3, Winsett, Davis, Stonecipher). Free throws: 9/16. Rebounds: 23. Fouls: 10. Record: 28-6.

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