Another comeback wasn’t in the cards.
After frantic rallies pushed the WCMS Pioneers past White County twice in the regular season, the magic ran out Thursday in Tullahoma. The Warriors topped Warren County 52-39 in the semifinals of the Central Tennessee Conference tournament.
Warren County swept the season series in thrilling fashion. Kaden Rutledge gave the Pioneers a 24-22 victory in Sparta on a last-second shot and the rematch saw Warren County rally from a 26-11 halftime deficit to win 45-33.
Rutledge was stellar again Thursday, scoring 20 points in the losing effort. Treyton Terry added eight points, all coming in the second half when Warren County was unable to get over the hump.
At the beginning, it looked like the Pioneers may be on their way to a blowout. Warren County started the game on an 8-2 run, getting two easy baskets on out-of-bounds plays and two run-out layups from Braylon Grayson.
White County weathered the storm though, holding the Pioneers scoreless for the final four minutes of the first quarter and tying the game at 8-8.
The Warriors began to edge ahead in the second quarter, using their outside shooting to build a lead. White County hit five 3-pointers in the contest, including Thomas Brock’s swish with 30 seconds to play in the half.
Rutledge answered with a 3-pointer of his own with 18 seconds left, then just missed a huge basket when his halfcourt toss at the buzzer banged off the back rim. The miss left White County ahead 24-21 at the break.
Collin Panter helped the Pioneers draw within one in the third quarter. The Pioneer post was a monster on the glass, getting his team several second chances on a sluggish shooting night. Panter snared one rebound and kicked to Terry at the top of the key, who promptly buried a 3-pointer that made it 26-25 midway through the third quarter.
White County regrouped with a 9-4 run, capped by Thomas Paul’s late 3-pointer, to lead 35-29 going into the fourth quarter.
A familiar feeling set in on the Sparta sideline with 4:05 left when Terry and Rutledge hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a 20-second span. The big shots got Warren County within two at 37-35, but the comeback stalled from there.
In the bonus nearly the entire fourth quarter, White County sunk 15-of-17 free throws in the final six minutes to shut down the Pioneers.
Grayson finished with five points for the Pioneers, while Logan Earls came off the bench to score four and Alex van Vuuren added two.
By virtue of advancing to the semifinals, Warren County earned a bid into the TMSAA state tournament. The Pioneers are set to play Tuesday, Jan. 29 at 7:15 p.m. in Stewart’s Creek.