Running up a great record in the first months was great for Warren County, but skeptics wanted to see what would happen in district play. The Pioneers passed their first test Tuesday night.
In a slow-paced, grinding game, the Pioneers beat Stone Memorial 52-46 in their district debut.
"I'm really proud of our guys and how they battled," said coach Chris Sullens. "I don't know if we've ever won in this gym, so to close this out and get a victory was big. It's been a while since we've started district play 1-0."
Warren County (15-3) had to rally after trailing for the entire first half. Panther guard Brett Newcome was a big reason, scoring 16 points in the first half to push the home team ahead 32-30 at halftime.
Newcome's scoring outburst was part of a great shooting first half for Stone Memorial, when the home team sank eight 3-pointers - four by Newcome.
Sloan Seymour kept the Pioneers afloat in the first half, scoring nine of his 13 points in the first half. Seymour drilled a 3-pointer in the first quarter, then used his length and attacking style to get to the rim at will in the second quarter.
At halftime, Sullens had a simple message for his team - lock down Newcome and the Panther shooters and the game will flip.
"We came out defensively in the second half and did the things we wanted them to do," said Sullens.
As a focal point of a swarming Pioneer defense, Newcome scored only two points in the second half. Newcome's only points came on two late free throws as Stone Memorial only mustered 14 second-half points.
Isaiah Grayson almost matched the Panthers on his own.
Stone Memorial worked diligently to slow the pace and keep the Pioneers from their preferred style of running and gunning 3-pointers, so Grayson took over in the paint.
The senior forward helped swing the game to start the second half by fueling a 10-2 Pioneer run. Grayson scored on a pick-and-roll with Irving Espinoza, found room inside and got a great pass from Tyree Ladet and sparked two run-out layups for Seymour and Espinoza after swatting two Stone Memorial shots.
Following a Panther timeout, Grayson scored two more times in the paint to push the Pioneers ahead 44-34 in the third quarter.
Warren County kept the lead from there, though the Panthers made one last push.
Two Stone Memorial free throws with 30 seconds left trimmed the Pioneer lead to 48-46. The Panthers were forced to foul to extend the game, but senior Chance Hobbs calmly sank four free throws in the final seconds to hold off the home team.
Grayson led the Pioneers with 15 points, while Seymour finished with 13 points and Espinoza added 10.
Warren County's game Saturday against Shelbyville was postponed. The Pioneers will play next on Tuesday, Jan. 16 at home against Rhea County.