Playing on the road leaves little margin for error. The smallest things can come back to haunt you when playing away from home.
The Warren County High School girls basketball team found that out first hand on Friday night. A number of miscues in the final two minutes, along with 20 missed free throws, doomed the Lady Pioneers as the team lost 61-58 to Cumberland County.
Warren County (11-12) had plenty of chances to pick up its first win in District 6-AAA play against the Lady Jets, but two missed layups near the end of the game and several empty trips at the free-throw line cost the Lady Pioneers.
Coach Erick Baird lamented about the missed opportunities in a game where his team gave its all.
“Missed free throws and missed layups really hurt us,” said Baird. “Winning on the road is never easy to do and you’ve got to capitalize when you get easy looks.
“Overall, I was extremely pleased with the way the girls played. They gave 100 percent the whole way. It was an awesome game.”
Even with all the miscues down the stretch, Warren County still had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds.
Coach Baird called a late time-out with the Lady Pioneers controlling the ball in the final seconds. Warren County came out to inbound the ball, but the Lady Jets countered by calling a time-out of their own to set up their defense.
All the strategy flew out the window when the Lady Pioneers got the ball in and scrambled to take a final shot. The ball ended up in the hands of freshman Bri Melton and she took the potential game-tying shot right before the buzzer.
Melton’s 3-pointer hit the back rim, missing by inches.
Coach Baird liked the aggressiveness his freshman showed to set up and take a big shot.
“That’s a tough shot for a freshman to take, but Bri nearly made it,” said Baird. “During our time-out, I drew up a play against a man defense. When they took their time-out, I switched the play to a zone because that’s the look I thought they’d give us.
“They came back with man, but we had one last try to tie.”
Melton was the driving force behind the Lady Pioneers’ second-half comeback. Trailing 32-21 starting the second half, Melton scored seven points in the third quarter as Warren County stormed back to take the lead.
Melton and Bree Smith each connected on 3-pointers in the third period and the Lady Pioneers also benefited from an unexpected scoring spark.
Junior Rachel Nokes, known mostly for her rebounding and defense, knocked in a pair of baskets in the third quarter. With the Lady Pioneers getting offense from a number of players, the team took a 44-41 lead into the final period.
Free-throw shooting became a big factor in the fourth. Warren County missed 16 free throws in the first three quarters, then normally reliable senior Lauren Wilkinson missed four straight at one point in the fourth quarter.
While the Lady Pioneers struggled at the charity stripe, Cumberland County thrived on the line. The Lady Jets hit 13-of-15 from the free-throw line, including Taylor Vaden connecting on all seven of her attempts on her way to 22 points.
Warren County had two chances to take the lead after forcing turnovers, but two botched layups in the final two minutes kept the Lady Jets on top.
In the end, Melton’s missed 3-pointer ended the hopes of a Lady Pioneer victory.
Wilkinson finished with a team-high 16 points. Melton and Smith scored 12 points apiece for Warren County as the team lost of for the fourth time in five games.
The Lady Pioneers get two chances at home this week to pick up their first district win. Warren County plays host to Cookeville and Coffee County at Charlie Dalton Gym.
The game against the Lady Cavaliers is Tuesday night, while the Lady Raiders will come to McMinnville on Friday. Both games begin at 6 p.m.