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Bradley Central eliminates WCHS
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Knowing the Bradley Central Bearettes were ranked No. 4 in the state coming into Friday’s game was enough to have the Warren County High School girls basketball team weary of its opponent in the regional tournament.
Walking in Jim Smiddy Gym and being greeted by numerous state championship banners and a team featuring a number of players towering over six-feet tall seemed to reinforce the notion the Lady Pioneers were huge underdogs when the game tipped off.
After the whistle blew, Bradley Central proved why it was ranked in the top five all season by demolishing Warren County 77-33.
Warren County (14-19) couldn’t keep up as the Bearettes improved to 30-1 this season.
Despite the Lady Pioneers suffering their worst loss of the season, coach Erick Baird kept an upbeat attitude following the game when he reflected on his team’s accomplishments.
“I think it was a productive season. We lacked depth, but I thought we battled all year,” said Baird. “Bradley Central is head and shoulders above everybody in our region and they showed it by flexing their muscles against us.
“Friday’s game showed us how far we are to getting to where we want to be as a program.”
Warren County advanced to the regionals by finishing fourth in the District 6-AAA tournament. For the second straight year, the Lady Pioneers found out how tough the competition is when the regional tournament begins.
Bradley Central scored the first 12 points of Friday’s game, leaving coach Baird no choice but to burn an early time-out.
Even after Baird stopped the game after 30 seconds, the Bearettes continued to pour in the points.
Senior Lauren Wilkinson finally got the Lady Pioneers on the board with 4:45 left in the first quarter when she sank a jumper from the right elbow to make it 12-2.
Wilkinson’s shot jump-started a 7-0 run by Warren County as the Lady Pioneers threatened to make it a game.
Wilkinson added a baseline jumper on the Lady Pioneers’ next possession off an assist from freshman Bri Melton, then Melton got into the scoring column with a 3-pointer to make it 12-7 with 3:31 remaining the first quarter.
It would be as close as the Lady Pioneers would get. Bradley Central went on a 14-2 run to finish the first quarter as Megan Dishman scored on a putback for Warren County’s lone points. After Caroline Smith sunk back-to-back 3-pointers to finish the first quarter, the Bearettes led 26-9.
Bradley Central continued to push its lead to new heights in the second quarter. Warren County got four points from sophomore Jessie Newby in the second period, but the Lady Pioneers went into halftime trailing 41-15.
Coach Baird was forced to call another time-out in the first 30 seconds of the second half as the Bearettes stifling defense halted any progress by the Lady Pioneer offense.
The short break didn’t seem to help much as Bradley Central scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take a 30-point lead.
Melton knocked down her second 3-pointer to stop the run, and Bree Smith capped off the third quarter with a steal and layup with 2.1 seconds left, but the Warren County deficit was 41 going into the fourth quarter.
Coach Baird gave Smith, Wilkinson and Taylor Johnson plenty of time in the fourth quarter as the seniors knew their time as Lady Pioneers was fading.
Johnson got a rebound and layup with 3:38 left to play as each Lady Pioneer senior scored in their final game. Baird removed his senior class with a minute to play to a standing ovation from the Lady Pioneer faithful who made the two-hour trek to East Tennessee.
Newby scored the final point of the game with 1:04 to play when she sank a free throw to give Warren County 33 points. It was part of a seven-point night for Newby.
Melton led the Lady Pioneers with eight points, while Smith scored all of her six points in the second half. Wilkinson finished with four points in her final game, making her career scoring total 1,562 points.
Dishman finished with four points and freshman Brittany Myers added a late layup.
Coach Baird knows how much he will be losing with the departure of his three senior captains. Smith, Wilkinson and Johnson accounted for 79 percent of the Lady Pioneer scoring this season, something that will be difficult to replace next year.
“Lauren, Bree and Taylor have become a cornerstone of our program the past four years,” said Baird. “They’re great kids and great basketball players and it shows on and off the court.
“Lauren and Bree are going to continue their careers at the next level and Taylor is one of the school’s valedictorians and will move on to the next level as well. We’ll be a young team next year and we’re working hard to develop players to eventually take their place.”
Warren County finished the season with 14 wins, two short of last year’s mark. The Lady Pioneers’ second straight trip to regionals was the first time for the girls program since 1998-99.