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Ready for Regionals

The District 6-AAA tournament is over and the Warren County High School boys basketball team is still left standing. Now a game with the Walker Valley Mustangs awaits.
Saturday night in Cleveland, the Pioneers will play their second win-or-go-home game in the span of 10 days in the Region 3-AAA tournament.
Warren County (13-20) won its way into the regional tournament by defeating Coffee County last Thursday 51-50 in the play-in game of the district tournament, one where the loser knew its season would be over.
After the victory assured the Pioneers their third regional berth in four years under coach Malcolm Montgomery, the team had trouble improving its seeding for the regional tournament. Warren County was whipped by the White County Warriors 82-44 in the district semifinals, then fell 63-44 to Cookeville Tuesday in the consolation game.
By finishing fourth in the district tournament, Warren County knew it would have to hit the road to face the District 5-AAA champion. Enter the red-hot Walker Valley Mustangs.
After going 15-11 in the regular season and 5-7 in district play, the Mustangs entered the District 5-AAA tournament as the No. 5 seed. Walker Valley proceeded to beat Rhea County 59-54 before upsetting the top-seeded Ooltewah Owls in the semifinals 62-59.
In the championship game, the Mustangs beat perennial powerhouse Bradley Central 51-41 to claim the district championship and earn a home game to start the regional tournament.
While the Mustangs have hit their peak in the last stretch of the regular season, winning nine of their last 12 games, the Pioneers has stumbled of late.
Without senior leading scorer Tucker Smith, the Pioneers lost five of their last six regular season games. His return was a spark in the district tournament as Warren County survived a waved-off basket at the buzzer to beat the Red Raiders, but two lopsided defeats followed.
Tomorrow night’s meeting will be the second time the Pioneers have played against the Mustangs under coach Montgomery. In the Rhea County Hall of Fame tournament to start the 2011-12 season, Warren County lost to Walker Valley 65-62.
Coach Montgomery believes this should be a competitive game, as his team has improved each time they have visited the regional tournament.
“An advantage we have is we played them last year. It was a winnable game that went back and forth,” said Montgomery. “We want to play hard and with intensity and let the chips fall as they may. I’m excited to see how we’ll play because this is a big game for our program.”
In his first season as coach in 2009-10, Montgomery led the Pioneers to a fourth-place finish in the district tournament and a spot in the regional tournament for the first time in eight years. Warren County was walloped by the Cleveland Blue Devils 98-41. The following year, the Pioneers played McMinn County to a stalemate in the first half before falling 80-61 to the Cherokees.
Walker Valley and Warren County have faced two common opponents this season, with the Mustangs holding the better record against those teams. The Mustangs defeated White County 62-59 in Sparta to start the season, then swept three games against Rhea County. The Pioneers were 0-3 against the Warriors this year, the closest game being at Charlie Dalton Gym on Jan. 29 when Warren County lost 66-58. Warren County beat Rhea County in their only matchup, a 54-50 victory in the Sun Drop Romp Christmas tournament.
The Pioneers will be facing a balanced Mustang team led by Lucas Korn. Korn scored in double figures in each of Walker Valley’s district tournament games, including putting together a 16-point, 13-rebound performance in the finals. Tucker Godfrey, who scored 16 points in the district tournament opener, and Caio Hsyinger also can light up the scoreboard.
Coach Montgomery wanted his team to go into the game with a clean slate, knowing nothing that happened before tomorrow’s game will have any bearing on the action once the ball goes into the air.
“I want for us to put 32 solid minutes together,” said Montgomery. “We can just relax and play basketball. It’s going to be a good game. We’re going into a loud gym with the ‘us versus the world’ mentality and hoping to end their season.”
The game will be played at Walker Valley High School in Cleveland and will start at 6 p.m. Central.

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