The WCHS boys basketball team mounted a furious rally to claw back from a nine-point deficit with just :36 remaining, but the Pioneers fell one point shy.
Rhea County clung to life with a 72-71 victory over Warren County in the district tournament play-in game Tuesday night at Stone Memorial High School.
The loss ends Warren County’s season with a 15-13 record. Rhea County advances to face top-seeded Stone Memorial.
“We didn’t expect to be done this early,” said WCHS coach Chris Sullens. “If somebody said we’d finish with more wins than losses, I probably would have taken that in November, but I’m not happy with it right now. I wanted to go further.”
The loss snaps a streak of four straight region tournament berths for the high school boys.
Pioneer post C.J. Taylor was a monster in the paint, plowing through Rhea County players on his way to a game-high 26 points. Lacedric Cox scored 15 and Sloan Seymour added 11.
Rhea County led from start to finish, jumping out to an 11-1 lead. Much of that was thanks to their two big post players, Ricky Guthrie and Kaleb Laws, who had their way early.
“They got the ball inside and went to work,” said Sullens. “Their big kids hurt us on the boards, especially early.”
The Pioneers spent the rest of the game fighting back and found offensive rhythm in the second quarter when Taylor began to take over down low. He either scored from the paint with defenders clinging all over him, or went to the foul line where he was 12 of 16 for the game.
After a game-long comeback, the Pioneers cut the lead to two, 57-55, with 4:32 to play.
Rhea County answered with a 10-2 run, scoring six straight under the basket at one point.
The Eagles led 69-58 with 1:01 to play.
But Rhea County allowed the Pioneers to stay in the game with abysmal 3-for-10 shooting from the foul line in the final minute. During one stretch, the Eagles missed four straight free throws.
The Pioneers countered with two Taylor buckets under the rim where he refused to be denied points. When Cox hit a 3-pointer from the wing, his third of the game, the lead was 70-68 with :11 left.
Laws iced the game for Rhea County with two free throws with :05 remaining, 72-68, before Taylor hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to account for the final margin.
Other Warren County scorers were Ethan Smith with eight, Raven Lewandowski with six, Eli Jones with three, and Kason Holder with two.
Laws led Rhea County with 22, followed by Guthrie with 18 and Drake Taylor with 17.