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Mustangs bring year to close

The Warren County High School boys basketball team set out to prove Saturday it wasn’t just happy to be in the regional tournament. Even with the Pioneers out to show they belonged, the Walker Valley Mustangs proved to be hostile hosts in the Region 3-AAA tournament.
The Pioneers’ season ended in the regional tournament for the third time in four years as Walker Valley defeated Warren County 62-46 Saturday night.
Warren County (13-21) has slowly  progressed in the regional tournament under coach Malcolm Montgomery, but the improvement didn’t result in a victory over the Mustangs.
The Pioneers were destroyed by Cleveland three years ago, losing by 57. Two years ago, Warren County went toe-to-toe with McMinn County for a half before falling by 19.
Coach Montgomery went into Saturday’s game leaving the team’s past performances behind and hoping to get the best 32 minutes of basketball from his Pioneers.
While the Mustangs put the game away with a late run, coach Montgomery believed his team had nothing to be disappointed with when leaving Cleveland.
“We walked out of their gym with our heads held high,” said Montgomery. “Going into the game we thought we were two even teams and whoever performed the best that night would win. We played well, but they made one or two more plays.”
Walker Valley, which won the District 5-AAA tournament after entering as the No. 4 seed, continued its solid play of late by starting the game with a 3-pointer from Jackson Brownfield and three-point play from Lukas Korn.
The Pioneers battled back, getting two buckets from senior Tucker Smith and a 3-pointer by D’Andre League to cut the Mustangs’ lead to 13-9 by the end of the first quarter.
Two free throws each by Nick Simmons and Smith sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Ryan Jennings were the Pioneers’ offense in the second quarter, but the Mustangs countered by getting baskets from five different players. League’s late layup sent Warren County into halftime trailing 25-18.
The Pioneers stormed out of the locker rooms to tie the game. Smith got the ball rolling with a pair of early baskets before senior Kendall Rutledge knotted the game at 25 with a free throw.
At the moment, coach Montgomery believed his team was ready to turn the tides and pick up a victory.
“We came out of the locker rooms and tied the game at 25. At that point, I thought we were going to go on a big run and win,” said Montgomery. “They answered back with a run and took the momentum.”
The Mustangs answered the Pioneer spurt with an 8-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Tucker Godfrey and another three-point play by Korn. Coach Montgomery called a time-out, but the damage was done as Walker Valley wouldn’t relinquish its lead again.
The Mustangs went into the final period leading 40-31 and things got chippy in the final eight minutes. The teams combined to shoot 17 free throws as both teams were in the double bonus most of the quarter.
The physical play resulted in an exchange midway through the quarter that resulted in the ejection of Pioneer forward Lee Carden. Carden was given a technical foul and removed from the game when the referees deemed the junior threw a punch.
The call was met with a chorus of boos from the Pioneer fans who made the two-hour drive, but it resulted in more free throws for the home team.
Caio Hysinger, who scored a game-high 17 points, put the game away by scoring nine points in the fourth quarter for the Mustangs.
Rutledge opened the fourth quarter with a pair of 3-pointers as he ended his career with nine points in the regional quarterfinals. Smith had 11 points for the Pioneers while Simmons was held to six points in his final game.
League had a season-high 13 points as the junior point guard showed a glimpse of what the future may hold for the Pioneers. League and Carden will be returning starters for the Pioneers next season. Jennings also brings starting experience back as he filled in for Smith during a six-game absence.
This year’s 13 wins gives Montgomery 47 in his four years with Warren County.


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