The Warren County High School girls basketball team’s loss Monday night to the Cumberland County Lady Jets was devastating because it happened in double overtime, but the resulting regional tournament matchup was just as demoralizing.
Because the Lady Pioneers finished fourth in the District 6-AAA tournament, the team will have to travel to play the top finisher from District 5-AAA.
Warren County will head to East Tennessee tonight to face the Bradley Central Lady Bears, who won the District 5-AAA tournament in dominant fashion. The Lady Bears beat Cleveland High School 60-33 to improve to 29-1 this season.
Bradley Central is ranked in most state polls as one of the top- five AAA teams in the state, meaning Warren County will be in for a tough opponent tonight.
Coach Erick Baird is very familiar with the Bradley Central program. Baird graduated from Bradley Central and began his coaching career at the school.
Though it is a homecoming for coach Baird, he doesn’t expect to be welcomed with open arms when the ball is tossed in the air.
“They are the No. 4 team in the state. It will be a bitter sweet return for me with lots of family and friends in attendance,” said Baird. “This is the team I want to take back to Bradley Central and compete at the highest level. I like the challenge and I think the girls will rise to the occasion like they have the last three games.
“We are peaking at the right time and I believe that we are going to give them a run for their money.”
It is the second straight trip to regionals for the Lady Pioneer program. Last season, Warren County lost at home to Walker Valley, a game where Lauren Wilkinson scored her 1,000th point.
After returning for her senior season and earning all-District 6-AAA first-team honors, Wilkinson could be putting on a Lady Pioneer uniform for the last time tonight.
Wilkinson, along with fellow seniors Bree Smith and Taylor Johnson, isn’t ready for the run to end.
“It’s sad to think this could be it,” said Wilkinson. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep it going.”
Smith echoed the sentiments of her senior teammate.
“I feel like we’ve had a good year,” said Smith. “We don’t want it to end yet. We have to give Bradley Central our best shot.”
The Lady Pioneers shared two common opponents with Bradley Central this season. Warren County opened the season by defeating District 5-AAA Rhea County in overtime 47-46. Bradley Central faced Rhea County twice this season, winning both by an average of 52.5 points.
Bradley Central also went on the road and defeated Cookeville 59-38. Warren County defeated Cookeville three times this season, including winning last Thursday 40-28.
Tonight’s game will begin at 6 p.m. Central time at Bradley Central High School Gym in Cleveland.