Growing up in Dibrell, senior Lauren Wilkinson lived much closer to DeKalb County High School than Warren County High School.
The proximity to the Lady Tigers gave Wilkinson added incentive to make sure she won one game in their gym before graduating.
In her final game at DeKalb County, Wilkinson scored 29 points, including hitting a game-winning shot with 8.4 seconds left, to help the Lady Pioneers win 42-41.
Wilkinson couldn’t imagine having her best game against anybody else than her rival right across the Warren County border.
“I didn’t want to graduate without beating DeKalb County in their gym,” said Wilkinson. “When the last shot fell through, I was so excited. I hadn’t hit a game-winning shot since my freshman year against Lebanon.”
Wilkinson gave Warren County its first lead of the fourth quarter when she went coast-to-coast for a layup with 40.1 seconds to play.
DeKalb County answered back by hitting a jumper on its ensuing possession, leaving Lady Pioneer coach Erick Baird to decide between calling a time-out to set up a final play or letting the game continue.
Coach Baird called a time-out and drew up a play to find Wilkinson in the post.
Wilkinson received a pass on the right block, but her first shot was off the mark. Wilkinson was able to track down her own rebound in the lane, then weave through three Lady Tiger defenders before getting off an off-balanced, one-handed shot while falling to the floor.
Wilkinson’s shot banked in, sending the Lady Pioneers into celebration mode as DeKalb County rushed to call a final time-out.
In a last-ditch effort to get off a buzzer beater, a Lady Tiger dribbled just past half court and tried to launch a deep shot. Wilkinson came out of nowhere to get a piece of the ball and the shot fell near the free-throw line as her teammates swarmed Wilkinson near midcourt.
Coach Baird, who had seen his team drop its last four games, thought the win on the road showed the growing maturity of his players.
“DeKalb County is a hard place to pick up a win,” said Baird. “You have to fight through adversity on the road. When you can do that consistently, it shows we’re building toward being a championship-caliber team.”
The Lady Pioneers had to rally from a nine-point hole at the start of the fourth quarter to pick up their 11th win of the season.
After the Lady Tigers hit a 3-pointer to begin the fourth quarter, Warren County fell behind 39-30, its largest deficit of the game.
Wilkinson and the stifling Lady Pioneer defense led the comeback. Wilkinson hit a 3-pointer to start a 10-0 run which spanned six minutes of the final period.
DeKalb County couldn’t find any openings against Warren County, leaving the Lady Tigers powerless to stop the comeback.
After Jessie Newby hit a free throw to cut the lead to five, Wilkinson nailed her fifth 3-pointer of the game to make it a two-point game with 5:07 to play.
Megan Dishman made it a one-point game with another free throw near the three-minute mark, but both teams went scoreless for the next two minutes.
Wilkinson finally got the Lady Pioneers back on top when she pulled down a rebound with 45 seconds to play and raced down the court with no intention of giving up the ball. Wilkinson went straight to the hoop as two Lady Tigers gave chase and two others tried to challenge the shot.
Wilkinson was able to score over four defenders to give Warren County a 40-39 lead, but the Lady Tigers answered back with a bucket.
It wasn’t until Wilkinson hit an improbable shot with eight seconds left that Warren County led for good.
The game was tied after the first quarter as freshman Bri Melton hit a 3-pointer in the final minute to make it 13-13. Warren County led 23-21 going into halftime as Wilkinson went on an 8-0 run on her own midway through the quarter.
Trailing 19-15 at the time, Wilkinson hit a jumper from the baseline, then drilled back-to-back 3-pointers from the right side to give the Lady Pioneers a lead going into the locker rooms.
The second half saw DeKalb County take a big lead in the third quarter, but the Lady Pioneers got the last laugh as Wilkinson led the team to victory and evened the team’s record at 11-11.
Warren County will return to District 6-AAA play tonight when the team travels to Crossville to take on the Cumberland County Lady Jets.
The Lady Jets are currently second in the district with a 2-1 record, while the Lady Pioneers are currently 0-2 in district play.
Tonight’s tip-off is set for 6 p.m.