Chance Hobbs didn’t know he had the weight of 37 years of region futili-ty resting on his shoulders Saturday. He was solely focused on doing his job.
Hobbs calmly sank two free throws with 29.2 seconds left, giving the Pioneers a final cushion to top Walker Valley 52-48 Saturday in the region quarterfinals. It was the first time Warren County (23-7) won a region game in 37 years.Hobbs led the Pioneers with 14 points, none bigger than the sealing free throws in the waning seconds.“It's just something you live for. I want to be the one with the ball in my hands to help secure a win,” said Hobbs.
“The key is to zone out all the fans, cheerleaders and players and concentrate on a wide-open 15-footer."Warren County had to survive a strong push by the Mustangs in the final quarter. The Pioneers had given back almost all of a 15-point lead by the final minute, but the charity stripe proved to be a big difference.Kolten Gibson, the Mustangs’ lead-ing scorer and all-district honoree, found himself on the free-throw line with a chance to knot the score with 57.3 seconds left. Gibson was off tar-get on both shots, but the Mustangs were able to get the offensive rebound off the second miss.The ball found Jordan Munck, who led the Mustangs with 18 points Saturday, on the baseline.
Two Pioneers converged, but Munck was able to shake both defenders to get an open look from 15 feet. His shot was too strong and Caleb Newby was able to secure the rebound for the Pioneers.
Forced to foul, Walker Valley sent Hobbs to the line moments later. Coach Chris Sullens knew his senior was the man to end the game.“I told our team to put the ball in Chance’s hands. I had no doubt those were falling,” said Sullens.
Hobbs rolled in the first shot, then swished the sec-ond to give the Pioneers a cushion. Walker Valley missed two late 3-pointers and the Pioneers dribbled out the clock and began a celebration 37 years in the making.While Hobbs has served as the team’s closer at the free-throw line all year, Sullens had another reason to believe his senior would make the shots. He was already calling his shots against the Mustangs.“Earlier in the game, Chance caught me in transi-tion and told me to call a play we run for him that frees him for a 3-pointer. He said he would make it,” said Sullens. “He did.”Hobbs’ premonition came in the midst of a 14-0 run at the start of the third quarter, when the Pioneers turned a halftime deficit into a dou-ble-digit lead. Isaiah Grayson ignited the run with a 3-pointer off a great save from Raven Lewandowski. The junior forward, who has been instrumental in postseason play off the bench, tracked down a lead pass sailing out of bounds and was able to save it to Grayson in the corner. The senior splashed the shot, giving the Pioneers their first lead since the first quarter at 30-29.Tyree Ladet followed with a baseline jumper, then hit Grayson for a second 3-pointer with 2:45 left in the third. Hobbs called his own number on the next possession, pushing the Pioneers ahead 38-29.
The run hit a crescendo when Lewandowski stuffed Dustin Bunton’s shot at the rim, sending the Pioneers sprinting the other way. Ladet found Hobbs flaring to the corner in front of the Pioneer bench and his step-back 3-pointer fell in as his teammates went bonkers behind him.By the time Irving Espinoza started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, Warren County had built a 46-31 lead. Espinoza added another 3-pointer with 3:24 left, ending a 9-0 Mustang run to give the Pioneers a 49-40 lead.
Walker Valley responded with an 8-1 run, but the missed free throws coupled with Hobbs’ two shots were just enough to let the Pioneers escape and advance.Espinoza finished with 13 points, while Grayson added 12. Ladet had nine points and Lewandowski chipped in four.Zeke Westfield had 14 points for Walker Valley and Gibson finished with 11.The Pioneers advanced into a matchup with Stone Memorial Tuesday. See 1A for more information on the semifinal matchup with the Panthers. A victory Tuesday would push the Pioneers into the regional final, which will be held Thursday at Rhea County High School.