An almost unbelievable stat started floating around late Friday after the Pioneers rallied to beat Stone Memorial 62-55 in the district semifinals. With the win, Warren County had clinched a region home game – the first one that will ever be played at Charlie Dalton Gym. The first boys region game that is.
In fact, based on the quick research I did in the Standard archives Friday night when I got back from Sparta, there’s a good chance this will be the first time the Warren County Pioneers have ever been the host school for a region game. For the longest time, region tournament games were played at the Murphy Center.
I was there in 2001 when Doug Keil led the Pioneers to the region tournament at the Murphy Center. When Warren County won in 1987, it was in Murfreesboro too.
At some point, region games started being played at schools instead of neutral sites. In my 10 years at the sports desk, the Pioneers have always been on the road for region games.
I’ve made those long journeys to Cleveland, Walker Valley, Bradley Central and McMinn County, to name a few. I’ve also made the long, silent trips back after a bunch of losses. The only time I’ve seen a win was in 2018 – just the second region win by the Pioneers in my lifetime (the other came in 1987).
When the horn blew Friday night, I thought the biggest news from the game would be clinching the region home game. I found out instantly I was wrong.
Tuesday night – the district final game against White County – is all the Pioneers wanted to talk about. Warren County is solely focused on the Warriors, who have beaten the Pioneers twice on their home court this season.
Chris Sullens and his bunch are confident a third time in Sparta will be the charm.
“It’s pretty simple – we didn’t come down here to get to the finals. We came here for a district title,” Sullens said. “When we came in six years ago, we wanted to build tradition. Walking into White County gym, you see the district banners, the region banners and the state banners. The best way to build tradition is hang some banners.”
His team had the same message. Senior manager turned team captain Trevor Evans knows the focus is winning the next game. His arrival on the bench has coincided with the Pioneers winning eight of their last nine games and he’s had a front-row seat for the team’s growth.
The next step is winning a championship.
“It’s huge and we’re glad we’re going to go back home, but our goal is to focus on Tuesday. We stayed together and played as a team. We’ve matured over the last 8-9 games,” said Evans. “We understand how good we are and we want to prove we’re the best team in the district.”
Sullens summed it up best with his closing line Friday, “Our kids are going to fight. We’re going to be ready.”
Rejoice about the region game if you want - It’s a big deal. Just don’t tell the Pioneers. They’re only worried about White County.