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By the skin of their teeth

Warning: Watching the Warren County High School boys basketball team can cause stress, rapid heartbeat and a rise in blood pressure. Any person following the Pioneers should expect buzzer-beating shots, last-second heroics and controversial calls.
In the most important game of the year, Warren County earned its fourth victory this season at the buzzer as a last-second shot by Coffee County was waved off to give the Pioneers a 51-50 win in the play-in game of the District 6-AAA tournament.
Warren County (13-18) advanced to the semifinals in the district tournament, along with earning its third regional bid in four years, when referees waved off Lake Elam’s layup at the horn that would’ve given the Red Raiders the win.
Coffee County coach Scott Givens, along with the rest of the Red Raiders, were in complete disbelief about the call, but the Pioneers took the split-second decision in stride because they have been in these situations plenty of times before.
Warren County defeated Franklin County in December when D’Andre League connected on a floater in the final seconds. Nick Simmons gave the Pioneers a one-point win over Coffee County in January with a three-point play with :02 left and Lee Carden beat the buzzer with a tip-in two weeks ago that lifted Warren County to a 56-54 victory at Cannon County.
While it has become a common theme for most Pioneer games to come down to the wire, Thursday’s fight to the finish was the biggest in terms of what it meant to each team.
The heart-breaking loss ended the Red Raiders’ season, while Warren County will now be guaranteed at least three more games. The first was last night’s semifinal game against White County that wasn’t completed at press time.
The Pioneers looked in danger of blowing a big lead to the Red Raiders, but senior Kendall Rutledge came to the rescue in the final minute.
After leading by as many as 12 in the third quarter, Warren County found itself down one entering the final minute after District 6-AAA MVP Lance Crismond willed the Red Raiders into the lead. With 13 fourth-quarter points, Crismond was able to put Coffee County up 47-46 before Rutledge got an open look with 43 seconds to play.
The senior sniper, who scored a team-high 15 points, hit his fifth 3-pointer from the right wing that propelled the Pioneers to a 49-47 advantage.
Coffee County tried to answer back when Lucas Crismond drove to the rack for a layup, but his shot was off the mark and the scramble for the rebound was claimed by Rutledge.
Rutledge found Tucker Smith ahead of the pack for a run-out layup that put Warren County up 51-47 with 13 seconds to go.
Coach Givens asked for a time-out and put the ball in the hands of his MVP. Lance Crismond went the length of the court against the Pioneer press, ultimately finishing with a layup while being fouled. The three-point play cut the Warren County lead to one with 6.6 seconds remaining.
The Red Raiders were left no choice but to foul the Pioneers to send Warren County to the free-throw line. After 2.2 seconds elapsed and four fouls, Smith found himself at the charity stripe in a one-and-one situation.
Smith’s first shot missed the mark, with Coffee County scrambling to the corner to claim the rebound. Without a time-out, the Red Raiders had to try to get off a game-winning shot. The ball was passed forward to Elam, who raced to the basket.
Elam was able to get a layup off over the outstretched hands of Pioneer center Nick Simmons that kissed off the glass and into the net. While the Red Raider bench erupted and the Pioneers could only watch in horror, the referee trailing the play blew his whistle and immediately waved off the basket.
In an instant, the Pioneers had new life.
Rutledge threw his hands in the air in triumph while sprinting back to his bench to be mobbed by teammates. The game was over as the Pioneers could claim victory over the Red Raiders in the final district meeting between the two squads before Coffee County shifts districts next year.
It was a game the Pioneers looked to have under control for three quarters as each Warren County senior took a turn at leading the offense.
Smith, who returned after missing the last six games with an illness, was an immediate spark as he scored six points in the first quarter to put the Pioneers ahead 13-10.
Rutledge followed by dropping a barrage of 3-pointers on the Red Raiders in the second period. Rutledge hit four 3-pointers, including three in a row at one point from the right corner, that powered the Pioneers to a 28-21 halftime advantage. The biggest was a heat check from way beyond the line on the right wing over three Coffee County defenders that touched nothing but net and forced Givens to burn a time-out as the Red Raiders regrouped.
After the intermission, the Pioneers stormed to a double-digit lead behind the streaky shooting of Simmons.
The senior, who had started the game with his second 3-pointer of the season, couldn’t miss in the third quarter. Simmons connected from straight away, resembled Hakeem Olajuwon doing the “Dream Shake” with an up-and-under move and drilled a turnaround jumper from 20 feet that elicited a scream from the normally quiet Pioneer post.
With Simmons’ last bucket of the quarter, Warren County went into the final period leading 40-32.
That’s when Lance Crismond showed why coaches voted him the district’s top player. With long jumpers, crafty layups and clutch free throws, Crismond was the driving force behind an 11-2 run that gave Coffee County its first lead with 4:54 left in the game.
Ultimately, Crismond and Coffee County’s big push came up a tenth of a second short as the shot being waved off will be celebrated in Warren County for years to come while the Red Raiders will have to sit and wonder, “what if?”
Simmons scored 14 points for the Pioneers while Smith tallied 11 in his return.
With a win last night, the Pioneers would advance to the district tournament finals to be played Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. A loss would drop Warren County into a consolation game Monday at 7:30 p.m. All tournament games will be played at White County High School gym.


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