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Pioneers fall to Cookeville

One loss to an opponent can be dismissed as a fluke. A second defeat to the same team starts to set a precedent while a third begins a trend. But four losses to the same squad in the same season can only be called one thing - a clean sweep.
The Cookeville Cavaliers completed the feat Tuesday night when they downed the Warren County High School basketball team for the fourth time this season. The Pioneers fell to the Cavaliers 63-44 in the consolation game of the District 6-AAA tournament.
Warren County (13-20) first fell to Cookeville 62-26 in the consolation game of the Sun Drop Romp Christmas tournament at Charlie Dalton Gym. The Pioneers followed with two close district losses to the Cavaliers, 65-54 in Cookeville and 62-58 at home on senior night.
The fourth, and perhaps final meeting unless the teams square off in the finals of the regional tournament, went much like the other three games. Warren County got off to a slow start it couldn’t overcome.
With last year’s District 6-AAA player of the year leading the way, Cookeville stormed to an early lead. Mat Case sank a 3-pointer to start the game, part of nine he would tally to help the Cavaliers lead 19-7 after the first quarter.
The Pioneers clawed back into the game in the second quarter with balanced scoring on offense. Six different Warren County players had baskets in the period, led by five points from senior Kendall Rutledge.
Rutledge’s 3-pointer with a minute to go, followed by a floater in the lane by D’Andre League in the waning seconds, cut the Cookeville advantage to 31-25 at halftime.
A slow start to the third quarter, something Warren County coach Malcolm Montgomery thinks has been a bane to his team all year, sealed the victory for the Cavaliers.
By the time John Payne sank a 3-pointer with 2:05 left in the third quarter that forced a time-out from Montgomery, Cookeville had built a 46-31 lead.
Tucker Smith, who scored eight of the Pioneers’ 10 points in the third period, hit a late layup to cut the lead to 13 entering the fourth quarter.
Even with Smith scoring seven points in the final period, giving him a team-high 23 in the game, the Pioneers never were able to trim the Cookeville lead under 10 points.
Case put the final touches on the Pioneers with a short jumper and two late free throws that gave him a game-high 24 points for the Cavaliers.
Coach Montgomery knew the slow starts to each half were a big problem, especially against a quality opponent.
“We got off to a slow start, which is tough against a team like Cookeville,” said Montgomery. “We battled back and won the second quarter, but we were slow again to start the third quarter. That’s been a problem this year and we have to improve going forward.”
Rutledge finished with 10 points as he finished the three-game tournament run with 31 points. Smith, who was named to the all-tournament team, led the Pioneers with an average of 16.3 points per game in the tournament.
The Pioneers will continue their season tomorrow in the Region 3-AAA tournament. Warren County will travel to play the Walker Valley Mustangs in the opening round. Action is set to begin at 6 p.m. Central.


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