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Burnt by Coffee
Photo courtesy of Painted Barn Media Coach Anthony Lippe gives Brienne Kelsey a hug after the senior's potential game-tying triple missed the mark at the buzzer Tuesday in Manchester.

Matchups with top-five teams have given the Lady Pioneers a measuring stick to just how far they are from state contention. From the looks of it, Warren County is just inches away from being one of the state’s best.

Warren County stood toe-to-toe with Coffee County Tuesday in Manchester, falling 32-29 against the No. 2 team in the state. It came just three days after the Lady Pioneers lost 74-64 in Cookeville to the No. 5 ranked Lady Cavs, with the back-to-back losses to state powerhouses stalling the nine-game winning streak Warren County had amassed dating back to before Christmas.

Brienne Kelsey, Warren County’s top sniper the past two seasons, narrowly missed at the buzzer in Tuesday’s game, allowing Coffee County to complete a major comeback after the Lady Pioneers led 19-13 at halftime. Warren County is now 16-7 overall this year and 2-1 in district games, trailing only the unbeaten Lady Raiders.

Coach Anthony Lippe left the game with another way to gauge how close his program is to the Midstate’s premier team. Warren County continues to close the gap, but has yet to get over the hump as it has now lost 11 in a row to the Lady Raiders.

“We are just trying to find ways to get better. We learned a lot about our team the other night and what it takes to compete against one of the best teams in the state,” said Lippe. “There’s little room for error and you have to do all the small things just to be able to compete. I think the message is that we have to continue to work and that every possession matters when it comes to playing at that level for four quarters.”

It was a physical battle throughout, with both Smartt (knee) and Sable Winfree (head) leaving the arena with icepacks after taking hard falls late. 

“We had several girls banged up after the game but I think we are going to be OK. We just have to heal up and be ready for Friday,” said Lippe.

Warren County will be looking for a sweep of the Lady Rebels Friday night at home. The Lady Pioneers won the first meeting 50-40 two weeks ago. 

Tuesday’s matchup was billed as a heavyweight battle for District 6-4A surpremacy and it didn’t disappoint. Both teams were battling all night, sometimes even spilling over after the whistle as the competitive nature of both squads shined.

Sable Winfree served notice the Lady Pioneers weren’t worried about Coffee County’s towering size advantage in the paint late in the first. The speedy point guard drove right to the paint and finished through Chloe Gannon – the Lady Raiders’ 6-foot-2 center already signed to play D1 next year – while being fouled. It was the kind of all-out effort play that the Lady Pioneers put on display all night.

Smartt finished the first with a similar finish, throwing in a running hook shot over Gannon to make it 11-8 in favor of Warren County after eight minutes. 

Warren County was able to build a 19-13 advantage by the break, holding Coffee County scoreless for the final six minutes of the first half. Kelsey banked in a 3-pointer late, while Warren County caused several turnovers in the second quarter.

Gannon showed why she’s one of the most feared posts in the state in the third, leading the Lady Raider charge to seize the lead. The sturdy senior had six early points in the second half, including a lefty hook with 3:09 to play in the third that pushed Coffee County out front 22-21. 

Warren County stayed slightly out of reach most of the fourth until Savannah Winfree got a crucial putback to make it 30-27 with 2:15 to play. Coach Lippe immediately took a timeout, setting up wild ending.

Smartt gave the team a spark in the final two minutes, first taking a vicious elbow across the face from a Coffee County guard for an offensive foul to get the ball back for Warren County. On the ensuing possession, Smartt sent the same girl spinning with a behind-the-back dribble before coasting for a layup that pulled the Lady Pioneers within one, 30-29.

Second later, Smartt picked off a pass at halfcourt and went steaming toward the basket in hopes of giving her team the lead. She was crashed into at the hoop and injured her knee in the tumble, leaving the Lady Pioneers to have to pull their most clutch shotmaker from the last two seasons. Smartt sat while Warren County missed a potential tying free throw on a 1-on-1, only to reenter seconds later when Sable Winfree was sent to the ground hard after getting tangled up with a Lady Raider defender during a mad scrum for a rebound the Lady Pioneers ultimately controlled.

Warren County got the ball back down one with 52.7 seconds to play and opted to run down the clock, hoping a final shot would fall and the Lady Pioneers would take over the District 6-4A lead. The plan was foiled by a turnover with 18.1 seconds left, giving Coffee County possession.

The Lady Raiders cracked the door open by missing a free throw on their own 1-and-1, but Coffee County was able to grab the offensive rebound and take a timeout. On the reset, Vinson hit two free throws after being fouled to give her team a three-point cushion with 9.2 seconds left.

Kelsey, the Lady Pioneer leader in triples made this year, got a clean look right before the buzzer to tie it, but the 30-footer from the lefty was just off the mark as Warren County fell for just the fourth time since the start of December.

Coffee County is now 25-1 after the victory and in command of the district standings. The two elite teams will meet again Friday, Feb. 3 at Charlie Dalton Gym.