Bree Smith killed Cookeville with kindness. No push or shove or amount of smack talk seemed to phase the Lady Pioneer senior as she kept smiling and scored 18 points to help Warren County defeat the Lady Cavaliers 40-28 in the play-in game of the District 6-AAA tournament held at Cumberland County High School.
Smith couldn’t have picked a better time to put up her season-high in points. Needing a win to advance into the semifinals and assure a regional-tournament berth, Smith couldn’t be stopped as Cookeville turned most of its attention to Lauren Wilkinson.
Coach Erick Baird knew his senior shooting guard could have a big game with the Lady Cavaliers doing everything to stop Wilkinson. Smith did everything her coach asked.
“Bree really stepped up and scored some big points for us when Cookeville face-guarded Lauren,” said Baird. “She was also a big part in executing our defensive game plan.”
The Lady Pioneers knew going into Thursday’s game Cookeville would pull out all the stops to defeat Warren County. The Lady Pioneers swept the regular-season series and won the previous four meetings with Cookeville before the teams took the court in the decisive play-in game.
The Lady Pioneers took an 8-7 lead after the first quarter as Smith scored four of the Lady Pioneer points.
Behind the passing of Hannah Goolsby, Cookeville took the lead in the second quarter. The Lady Pioneers wanted to force anybody other than Goolsby to shoot for Cookeville and the star junior from the Lady Cavaliers was able to get her teammates easy layups.
Warren County looked in trouble in the second quarter until a big hustle play by Smith swung the momentum. After a missed shot sent the ball bouncing out of bounds, Smith rushed under the basket and slung the ball back inbounds to Bri Melton.
Melton squared up and drained a 3-pointer from the right wing, giving Warren County the lead back going into halftime.
After the second half started with Warren County leading 15-13, the Lady Cavaliers outscored the Lady Pioneers 6-2 to open the third quarter and take the lead.
Wilkinson finally broke through with a her first basket with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter when she drilled a jumper from the right wing to knot the game at 19.
The game looked to be heading to the fourth quarter at 19-19, but Smith blew up in the final 30 seconds. The Lady Pioneers looked content on taking the last shot of the third quarter when Smith dribbled the clock down near halfcourt.
Instead, she quickly slung a pass to Megan Dishman in the high post. After the pass, Smith slashed her way to the basket and Dishman completed the give-and-go with a perfect pass in the post for a Lady Pioneer layup.
Smith followed it up by stealing a pass at midcourt with six seconds to go and coasting in for a layup right before the buzzer to give Warren County a 23-19 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Smith began the final stanza by dishing to Jessie Newby for an easy layup to put Warren County up six.
Goolsby wouldn’t let the Lady Cavaliers quit though. She scored all of Cookeville’s nine points in the fourth quarter, but clutch shooting at the free-throw line by the Lady Pioneers sealed Cookeville’s fate.
Wilkinson sank four free throws in the final two minutes, while Camerie Martin and Melton each connected on a pair of shots. Rachel Nokes got the final point when she hit a free throw with 2.1 seconds left.
It was fitting Martin and Melton played a big part in closing out the Lady Cavaliers. Along with Smith, coach Baird rotated his three guards on Goolsby all night to frustrate the All-District 6-AAA first team forward. The plan worked as Goolsby was held to 14 points but needed nearly 20 shots to get her final total.
Wilkinson and Martin each had six points as Warren County advanced to the semifinals where the team faced the No. 1 seed White County Warriorettes.
The game was played last night and the result wasn’t available at press time. With a win, Warren County would advance to the finals to be played tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. in Cumberland County. A loss would mean the Lady Pioneers would play at 6 p.m. in the consolation game.
The latest victory, which brought the team’s record to 14-16, ensures Warren County will be in action this Thursday in the regional tournament. The Lady Pioneers’ opponent and the location of the game will be determined Monday night.