With each second feeling like an eternity, it would’ve been easy for the Lady Pioneers to ponder if they were ever going to outlast White County at home Monday. Late leads evaporated in both the fourth quarter and overtime, but Warren County – exhausted and filling gaps with super subs – never lost faith.
Behind a herculean effort from senior Brienne Kelsey and late rebounding by Lex Verge, the Lady Pioneers were able to knock off the top-10 ranked Warriorettes 61-59 at Charlie Dalton Gym. It’s the second straight year Warren County has beaten White County in OT, with last year’s win in the Sonic Shootout snapping a 20-game win streak for the Warriorettes in the series.
Kelsey, oftentimes an unsung hero as a senior who has been instant offense off the bench the last two seasons, finished with a game-high 17 points for Warren County, while Kyra Perkins added 16. And while Verge didn’t score, she had two of the biggest rebounds for the Lady Pioneers late, preserving what turned out to a wild win for Warren County to go to 18-7 this season.
The Lady Pioneers thought they had put the game away in OT when Kelsey sank two free throws with 18.8 seconds to make it 61-56, but the Warriorettes had other ideas. Bella Winningham’s 3-pointer with 9.7 seconds was followed with an immediate timeout, allowing White County to set up a press against Warren County – which played the fourth quarter and overtime with PG Sable Winfree after the team’s star guard fouled out in the second half.
Her absence showed up in the final 10 seconds when Warren County couldn’t handle the pressure and turned it over. In the scramble, the Warriorettes got a look at a layup that could’ve tied the game, but the shot rimmed out.
When it hit the rim, Verge was on the other side of halfcourt, but she sprinted back into the pile of players fighting for the rebound on a mission. As the ball hit the floor, Verge swooped in and dove on it, covering the ball for the final seconds until the clock ran out.
“All I was thinking was we weren’t going to be outworked for the board,” said Verge, who also grabbed a key rebound in traffic that set up Kelsey’s two late free throws in OT.
Coach Anthony Lippe was effusive in his praise after the game, especially for the grit the Lady Pioneers showed in overtime after potentially giving the game way in the fourth quarter.
“We made some mistakes late, but we learned from it. This is why we scheduled as tough as we did – we want to be battle tested for the district and further,” said Lippe in a radio interview with the Voice of the Pioneers Jay Walker after the game. “The girls played their heart out. I couldn’t be more proud. It was a special night for us.”
Warren County led most of the way, including taking a 47-44 lead with :59 left in regulation after a Shelby Smartt free throw. Mia Hobbs extended the advantage to 49-45 with 33 seconds left, answering one White County free throw with two of her own.
Nia Powers, a beast in the paint who finished with a game-high 22 points, cut it to one – 50-49 – with 9.1 seconds left, making the Lady Pioneers sweat. That concern seemed to wash away once Warren County broke the press out of a timeout and Perkins was running all alone for a game-icing layup, but she missed the bunny and White County took possession after the ball went out of a bounds with three tick remaining.
Making matters worse, Warren County was called for a foul 75 feet from the Sparta basket with 1.9 seconds left, sending KK McDonald to the line with a chance to win it for the Warriorettes.
McDonald missed the first shot, but redeemed herself on the second one to force overtime.
In OT, Perkins got her redemption. After Warren County spent nearly the first full minute of the four-minute extra time working down the clock, Hobbs attacked the rim and got fouled. She made the first, but missed the second (one of eight missed free throws by Warren County in the fourth
quarter and OT). Perkins made it a moot point, soaring high to get the rebound and feeding Kelsey on the perimeter.
The lefty sank a key triple, one of four she made on the night, to push the Lady Pioneers up 54-50.
Sparta stormed back quick, going on a 6-1 run in 50 seconds to take the lead. Powers gave White County its lone lead in OT with a three-point play with 2:00 left, though it wouldn’t last long.
Smartt answered back on the other end, dribbling out nearly a minute of the clock before cutting through two defender for a tough layup that pushed Warren County up for good.
The Lady Pioneers went to Shelbyville Tuesday hoping to continue its momentum and seal no worse than the No. 2 spot in the District 6-4A standings. Results were unavailable at press time. Warren County will be back at home for a key matchup with Coffee County Friday.
Tip-off for the heavyweight battle that will likely decide the district championship is set for 6 p.m.
Lady Pioneer scoring – Kesley 17, Perkins 16, Hobbs 9, Smartt 9, Sable Winfree 6, Savannah Winfree 4