Conventional wisdom said the Warren County High School girls basketball team would struggle to score without Lauren Wilkinson and Bree Smith. Sophomore Bri Melton showed Thursday the Lady Pioneers still have firepower.
Melton nearly outscored the entire South Pittsburg team on her own as she led Warren County to a 55-20 victory in the Think Pink Hall of Fame games held at Charlie Dalton gym.
Melton scored 17 points, including 13 points in the first quarter, as the Lady Pioneers poured on the points in their season debut.
Melton’s point total was more than the visitors combined until the final minute when South Pittsburg sunk a meaningless 3-pointer and finished the game with a layup.
Coach Erick Baird thought all preseason scoring could be down without Wilkinson and Smith, who accounted for 75 percent of the team’s points last season, but Melton’s early outburst and the Lady Pioneers’ superior conditioning led Warren County to a win.
“We came out and really got after them,” said Baird. “Bri was shooting well and we were using this game as a learning experience on what works for us offensively.
“In the second half, our conditioning showed up. We’ve worked hard to get in great shape so we can turn and burn in the second half.”
Melton began the game with a flurry of buckets as Warren County didn’t waste long running its advantage to double digits. The sophomore shooting guard swished the first shot of the game from the baseline, then sandwiched two 3-pointers from the top of the key around a putback by Megan Dishman as the Lady Pioneers led 10-2.
Melton’s third 3-pointer, which came from the left wing, put Warren County ahead 13-2 midway through the first quarter. Melton added a jumper from the free-throw line to make it a 13-point lead, then Saydee Winfree finished off the quarter by sinking a 3-pointer from the corner as Warren County went ahead 19-4 after the first period.
Melton continued her scoring surge with a layup to begin the second quarter off a nifty pass from Rachel Nokes as she finished the first half with 15 points.
Brittany Myers hit a 3-pointer moments later to give the Lady Pioneers their biggest lead in the first half, a 24-6 advantage with 7:17 left in the second quarter.
Warren County would slow down considerably offensively as the team went five minutes without a point, but Nokes sent the Lady Pioneers into the locker room with the momentum as she finished the half with a layup.
Melton finished her scoring with a layup which started a 14-2 run to begin the second half. Myers had four points during the run while Dishman, Nokes, Winfree and Jessie Newby scored two.
By the time the fourth quarter began, coach Baird went exclusively to his bench to protect a 41-13 lead. The Warren County subs were sensational in the final period as the team went on a 16-2 run to enact the mercy rule.
Zaya Holmes had a big hand in the run as the junior guard scored five points, including sinking a 3-pointer from the corner. McKenna Dixon showed no ill effects from offseason ACL surgery as she scored on a putback and freshmen Marlee Smith, Lindsey Cox, Kristen Rowland and Allison Hitchcock each scored their first varsity points during the run.
With a minute remaining, Warren County led 57-15 and it looked like Melton’s 17 points would be more than the visitors, but Kelsea Wilson hit two shots in the final minute to help South Pittsburg surpass the sophomore’s total.
Myers finished with eight points for Warren County while Holmes and Winfree added five points apiece.
The Lady Pioneers played a second game Thursday during the Think Pink Hall of Fame tournament. Warren County defeated Monterey 49-29 behind 15 points from Melton and 10 from Myers. For more information from the Monterey game, along with details from the Warren County High School boys team’s game against Grundy County, check Sunday’s Southern Standard.