Erick Baird has won 42 games as the coach of the Warren County High School girls basketball team, but he didn’t have to think long when asked where the 39-36 win Friday night over the Cannon County Lady Lions ranked.
“It is the biggest win of my career,” said Baird.
With a tenacious defense, balanced offense and clutch plays in the final minute, the Lady Pioneers ended Cannon County’s perfect season with a win at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Warren County (7-4) held the Lady Lions 28 points under their season average, something which seemed improbable since Cannon County had topped 70 points in two of its last three games, including defeating the DeKalb County Lady Tigers 70-38 Tuesday night.
DeKalb County had beaten the Lady Pioneers 49-31 Nov. 20, which added to the notion the Lady Lions, who entered the game 10-0 and ranked No. 10 in the state, would enjoy a similar blowout win in Warren County.
The Lady Pioneers wouldn’t give an inch to Cannon County though, especially star Lady Lion Abbey Sissom. Bri Melton and Camerie Martin hounded Sissom into a horrendous shooting night as the senior guard scored only three points and fouled out with a minute to play.
Even without Sissom, the Lady Lions nearly mounted a comeback in the final two minutes as the Lady Pioneers’ weakness at the free-throw line was exposed.
Warren County missed nine shots at the charity stripe in the final two minutes, including Newby having two roll out with 22.6 seconds to play in a one-point game.
Cannon County guard Erin McReynolds charged down the court hoping to put the Lady Lions in the lead, but Newby was able to turn from goat to hero in the span of five seconds.
McReynolds never slowed down in her attempt to take it to the basket and Newby held her ground at the free-throw line.
McReynolds knocked over Newby just as she released a shot that hit nothing but net, but officials waved off the basket to call a charge.
Cannon County’s coach protested the call to the point he was assessed a technical foul, but even then the Lady Pioneers couldn’t put the game away.
Martin missed both freebies after the technical, but Warren County still had possession of the ball. Melton held onto the inbounds pass until she was fouled with 6.5 seconds to go and the sophomore finally ended the Lady Pioneers’ struggles at the free-throw line with two makes.
Confusion on the final play cost the Lady Lions a chance to send the game into overtime. Not realizing the Warren County lead was three, Jordan Hollis flew into the paint for a wild layup that missed the mark. Even with a make, the Lady Pioneers would have celebrated a victory over their border rivals.
Celebrating a win over Cannon County didn’t seem like a reality early in the game when the Lady Lions led by eight, but Martin gave Warren County a spark just before halftime.
Martin buried back-to-back shots in the final minute of the first half, including a 3-pointer with 8.3 seconds left, to cut the Lady Lion lead to 18-14 at the break.
Warren County took its first lead at 22-20 when sophomore Brittany Myers capped an 8-2 run by the Lady Pioneers with a layup at the 2:22 mark. Myers scored four points during the spurt, as did senior Rachel Nokes.
Cannon County bounced back by closing the third quarter on a 5-0 run to lead 25-22 entering the final period.
Nokes was able to start the quarter with a putback to draw Warren County within one, then Myers heated up to put the Lady Pioneers ahead for good.
Myers sank a jumper inside the 3-point line with 5:47 to play that put the Lady Pioneers up 26-25, then she stepped behind the line to drain a long-range bomb on the next possession that increased the advantage to four.
By the time Newby added a bucket off a perfectly executed inbounds play and two free throws with 2:58 left, Warren County had scored 11 straight points to lead 33-25.
Hollis and Lady Pioneers senior Megan Dishman traded two made free throws in the next minute, making it 35-27 in favor of Warren County as the game hit the two-minute mark.
Abby Jakes gave the Lady Lions life with two 3-pointers and a three-point play down the stretch and missed free throws nearly doomed the Lady Pioneers, but Newby’s defensive play was enough to preserve Warren County’s first win over Cannon County during Baird’s four-year tenure.
No Lady Pioneer scored in double figures as Melton led the team with nine points. Martin and Myers finished with eight apiece, followed by Nokes and Newby with six each.
Nokes, who has played under Baird her entire career, savored the win just as much as her coach.
“Our win has shown me that the hard work we’ve been putting in for the last four years was well worth it,” said Nokes. “This year we have grown into a team that works together to win games.”
Warren County will be back in action this week as the Sun Drop Romp Christmas tournament starts Thursday at Charlie Dalton Gym.
A full schedule of the tournament will be in Wednesday’s Southern Standard.