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Espinoza nets 21 in WCHS victory
Irving Espinoza 2.jpg
Irving Espinoza sinks a 3-pointer just before being fouled by Coffee County defender while Pioneer coach Chris Sullens looks on. Espinoza put on a shooting clinic Tuesday, sinking six triples en route to 21 points as the Pioneers downed the Red Raiders 67-49. - photo by Jeffery Simmons
The Pioneer bench rushed to Irving Espinoza after he drained a dagger 3-pointer while being fouled in the fourth quarter. Pictured on the Pioneer bench are, from left, Malachi Rippy, Chance Hunter, Eli Kuykendall, Kaden Rutledge and Lacedrick 'Red' Cox. - photo by Jeffery Simmons

Wide open in front of a packed and rowdy Warren County student section, there was no way Irving Espinoza was going to miss a corner 3-pointer. Seconds later, he was open in the other corner where the Red Raider students had congregated. 

He gave them, and the Coffee County basketball team, a final parting shot.

Espinoza’s late 3-pointers helped the Pioneers blow out the visiting Red Raiders 67-49 Tuesday night. It was part of a 15-point fourth quarter, and 21-point outing, for the senior sniper, who seems to relish delivering late daggers.

“I feel like I have to do it for my team – that’s what puts the game away,” said Espinoza. “I love hearing the crowd going wild for me and my teammates. It’s good coming out with a ‘W’ on home court.”

Espinoza sank six of his team’s 11 made 3-pointers Tuesday, when the Pioneers ran the Red Raiders out of the gym. Four of his triples came in the fourth quarter, including the late sequence where he knocked home back-to-back 3-pointers from each corner.

The last came over the out-stretched arms of Red Raider CJ Anthony, who crashed into Espinoza just as the ball swished through. Espinoza wasn’t able to complete the four-point play, but it was about the only shot he missed late.

“I’m confident in Irving, confident in our guys – we have a lot of guys who can flat-out flick it. It’s not an accident when Irving comes out and shoots the ball. When he gets his feet set, get ready because it’s going in the hole,” said Sullens. “We have a lot of weapons late in the game. We’ll find open shooters and they’ll do what they do.”

A night after giving up 68 points in a 23-point blowout loss at home, Sullens challenged his team to be better defensively. He got his wish early.

Coffee County (5-2) was scoring 66.2 points per game entering the contest, helping it start the season winning five of its first six games, including an impressive victory over White County. The Pioneers held the Red Raiders to just 19 first-half points, with Dante Elam serving as the defensive catalyst.

Elam was matched up with Jaylon Wooten, a 6-foot-6 transfer from Riverdale. Despite being outsized, Elam held the Red Raider standout to just three points, showing the type of effort Sullens wanted to see from his defense.

“The coaches did a good job on the scout. We put Dante on a longer, more fluid athlete who usually goes up against guys his size. Dante held up,” said Sullens. “We knew in the first 4-6 points we were going to play how we wanted to play.”

Emerging from the first quarter tied 9-9, the Pioneers began to find their footing offensively in the second quarter. 

Eli Jones opened the period with a deep 3-pointer from the left wing, starting a barrage of five deep balls in the quarter. Espinoza and Dee Spates hit back-to-back triples at one point, while Lacedrick ‘Red’ Cox splashed in a corner 3 in the final seconds to give his team a 32-19 halftime lead.

CJ Taylor’s late 5-0 run – starting with a deep 3 and followed by a steal and score – was followed by a 3-pointer from Kaden Rutledge as the Pioneers swelled their advantage to 47-29.

Espinoza took care of the rest.

The win pushed the Pioneers to 5-2 this season going into Friday’s home matchup with Tullahoma. Warren County will be looking for a season sweep of the Wildcats after last week’s 68-62 road win. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.