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Pioneers fall despite gritty effort

With the home crowd in a frenzy and the game on the line, the Pioneer basketball team nearly pulled off a Senior Night shocker Friday night at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Warren County took a one-point lead with :54 left, but it was Cookeville that made two key plays down the stretch to win a slugfest, 62-58.
“We just wanted a chance to win at the end and we had it,” said Warren County coach Malcolm Montgomery.
Said Cookeville coach Kevin Bray, “We had four seniors on the floor at the end. I’m glad experience counts for something.”
Pioneer Kendall Rutledge drained six 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 20 points. Lee Carden scored 16, while D’Andre League added 11.
The back-and-forth struggle seemed destined to come down to the wire. It looked like the Pioneers might pull off the victory when League hit two free throws with :54 left to put the Pioneers up 58-57.
But Cookeville had an answer. The Cavaliers drove the ball to the basket then kicked it out to Phillip Roper who hit an open 3-pointer from the corner for a 60-58 Cookeville lead.
Warren County called timeout with :29 left to set up a play, but the Pioneers failed to capitalize and Cookeville gained possession.
Faced with a two-point deficit and time winding down, the Pioneers were forced to foul. But Cookeville wasn’t in the one-and-one so the Cavaliers didn’t have to go to the line after two straight Pioneer fouls. The Cavaliers were then able to play keep away and pass the ball before the Pioneers could foul, making a layup at the buzzer to account for the final 62-58 margin.
“We could have really extended the game for a few more possessions if they were in the one-and-one,” said coach Montgomery. “Any other time we would have already committed plenty of fouls, but not tonight.”
Warren County gave a gritty performance in what was the last home game for the team’s three seniors – Rutledge, Nick Simmons and Tucker Smith, who did not participate due to illness. The Pioneers played with hustle and desire against a team that had beaten them by 36 points earlier in the year.
“I wasn’t at all surprised by their effort,” said coach Bray. “With it being Senior Night, we expected them to be ready to play.”
Coach Montgomery said he was well pleased with the intensity level as the Pioneers built a 20-17 lead behind a scrappy first quarter from Carden.
Carden battled for rebounds and did a good job of moving without the basketball as he scored twice on cuts to the basket and finished the first quarter with eight points.
The Pioneers extended their lead to 25-17 in the second quarter when Rutledge hit his third 3-pointer.
However, Warren County failed to capitalize on a chance to really extend the lead. The Pioneers turned the ball over on three straight possessions, including one trip down court where they threw the ball over the halfcourt line without any pressure.
With the Warren County offense stalling, Cookeville used a late burst to take a 31-29 lead into the break.
It remained close the entire second half with the Cavaliers building a six-point lead late in the third quarter, only to see the Pioneers storm right back behind the play of Carden, League and Rutledge.
Other Pioneer scorers were Simmons and Malik Ladet with four each, and Ryan Jennings with three.
Mat Case was the top scorer for Cookeville with 19. Lucas Ledbetter added 16.
The game signals the end of the regular season for the Pioneers who finish 12-18 overall and 2-6 in district.
Warren County will face Coffee County in the play-in game of the district tournament Thursday night in Sparta.
The winner earns a berth in the regional tournament.

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