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Win and in

Returning to regionals was the goal for coach Malcolm Montgomery and his Warren County High School boys basketball team when the season started. The Pioneers are one win away, but their biggest nemesis stands in the way.
Warren County (12-18) will face the Coffee County Red Raiders in the play-in game of the District 6-AAA tournament Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at White County High School, a contest that will serve as a rubber match between the two bitter border rivals.
It seems only fitting the Pioneers and Red Raiders would meet with each team’s season hanging in the balance. In their two meetings in the regular season, Warren County and Coffee County have gone at each other with vigor, urged on by student sections that have conducted a war of words in the gyms and on social media.
Warren County won the first meeting 46-45, beating the Red Raiders on a three-point play by senior Nick Simmons with :02 left. The Red Raiders took advantage of the absence of Pioneer senior starter Tucker Smith in the rematch as Coffee County won on its home court 62-50.
The outcome of the first game, with Simmons playing the role of hero for the Pioneer faithful while Red Raider fans questioned a late no-call by the officials, escalated the rivalry between the two teams. The second game in Manchester was packed as students from both sides stood and chanted for four quarters. In the end, Coffee County gained its first victory over Warren County in the regular season since the current District 6-AAA format was established before the 2009-10 season.
Since the five-team district was formed, the Pioneers and Red Raiders have grown accustom to facing off in the win-or-go-home tournament game.
This year’s meeting will be the third time in four years the Pioneers and Red Raiders have squared off in the play-in game where the winner advances to the semifinals and earns a regional berth while the loser wraps up its season.
In 2010, the Pioneers earned their first regional berth in eight years by defeating Coffee County in the play-in game. Last season, the Red Raiders returned the favor by ending a disappointing season for Warren County in the play-in game.
The Pioneers should go into tomorrow night’s game with a big momentum boost as Smith is scheduled to make his return after missing the team’s last six regular season games.
Smith was averaging 14.1 points per game before an illness caused him to miss three weeks of action. While Smith was sidelined, the Pioneers went 1-5 and all of their losses came against district opponents.
Pairing Smith with seniors Kendall Rutledge and Nick Simmons has been an indicator of success for Warren County this season. The trio has played only 19 of the team’s 30 regular season games together. In those games, Warren County was 10-9. When one of the three seniors missed action, the Pioneers were 2-9.
Incorporating Smith back into the lineup shouldn’t be a challenge for coach Montgomery, but devising a plan to stop District 6-AAA player of the year Lance Crismond could be.
Crismond torched the Pioneers for 17 points the last time the two teams faced each other Jan. 25. Crismond and his brother Lucas have scored 55 points combined against Warren County in the two meetings.
Coffee County enters tomorrow’s game with an 11-15 record, but earned the No. 4 seed by defeating the White County Warriors 51-36 Friday in its season finale.
With a win, Warren County would go on to face the top seeded Warriors Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at White County High School.


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