It took until February, but the Pioneers are finally starting to prove me right.
Way back in November, I predicted the Pioneers would top 20 wins this season. I doubled down on the Warren County boys in early January, saying they would play a home region game this year.
The same day that second prediction ran, Warren County went to Coffee County and got hammered by the Red Raiders. The Pioneers would lose four of their next five games, including getting absolutely embarrassed at Stone Memorial.
When the Panthers pounded the Pioneers 61-36, it dropped Warren County to 10-10 overall and made the thought of the team finishing in the district’s top two – a requirement for a region home game – look completely unrealistic. I was wondering if there was a way to erase the archives or – at the very least – if I should shatter the crystal ball I stole from James Clark to make those predictions.
The Pioneers were lost. The group wasn’t gelling. Until it did, the boat would keep sinking.
Enter Trevor Evans.
Sullens made the decision to start dressing his senior manager, a guy who has put his heart and soul into Pioneer basketball the last seven years. Evans wasn’t going to magically add a 20-point scorer or a defensive eraser, but he was going to add some accountability.
The message was clear – if you didn’t care as much as Evans did, then why be around? If you weren’t going to work as hard as Evans did daily, then minutes were going to disappear. Evans was going to set the bar high and the Pioneers had to reach it.
So far, they have.
Since Evans dressed against Cookeville, the Pioneers are 4-0 (not counting Saturday’s unknown result at press time). The Pioneers have played their most inspired ball in that timeframe and picked up their most impressive wins – blowouts of Cookeville and DeKalb County, along with down-to-the-wire wins over White County and Stone Memorial.
Everything looks different.
The Pioneers are more physical and locked in defensively. They swarm together, almost always in unison to shut down other teams. The most impressive feat was holding Sparta’s scoring phenom Grant Slatten without a point in the fourth quarter of a one-point victory. It was amazing to witness.
On the other end, CJ Taylor is still the bell cow – a walking bucket when he’s in the paint who becomes unstoppable if he’s hitting outside. And yet, the offense belongs to Dee Spates.
The junior guard has shredded defenses for weeks, getting to any spot on the court he wants. Armed with a filthy floater, Spates panics defenses into helping, opening small cracks he can exploit with no-look dimes.
Add Irving Espinoza roaming on the perimeter, ready at all times to drill a dagger 3-pointer and you have the right mixture for the postseason.
I’m not sure if any of this happens without infusing the lineup with Evans. He’s not scored a point, grabbed a rebound or handed out a helper in any of these wins, but his attitude and effort was contagious. It’s spreading throughout the team – and the whole Pioneer community.
I couldn’t be happier. I don’t look so dumb anymore.