In the first of two Hall of Champion games this weekend, Warren County Pioneer boys basketball played a team that looked a lot like a champion, Franklin Road Christian. Don’t feel left out if you have not heard of the school.
The Minutemen from Franklin Road Christian in Murfreesboro were a last-minute replacement for Moore County, which announced Monday it was not able to play and was committed to its football team’s playoff game Friday night.
COACH SULLENS COMMENTS
The Pioneers lost a squeaker, 66-63. WCHS head coach Chris Sullens commented after the game, “It was a learning experience. It was the first practice in eight-to-nine days. We understood that they were a pretty decent basketball team, and that is why we brought them in tonight. We have to get some kids back in shape. We have to execute better. We can’t take what we did last year and do it this year.”
The game was a slugfest from the beginning with the lead changing hands many times. The Pioneers had three football players in their starting five. Warren County high school teams were not allowed to practice the past week in an effort to combat COVID-19 spreading throughout the county. Obviously, the Pioneers had some rust to knock off as a team.
The Pioneers led at the end of the first quarter, 22-16, and it was reasonable to assume the Pioneers were on their way to a victory. The Minutemen changed that perception by outscoring the Pioneers in the second quarter, 18-9. The score at halftime was 34-31, in favor of the Minutemen.
Franklin Road Christian did everything it needed to do. The Minutemen blocked out for rebounds. They created high-percentage shots. They broke through the Warren County press. They missed only two free throws. They created turnovers. They hustled.
The larger school from McMinnville also hustled, but the Pioneers missed a lot of shots, including shots from the free throw line. They did not dominate the defensive rebounds. When they missed a shot, the Minutemen usually got the rebound. The Pioneers seemed to be one or two steps out of synch, but they kept swapping the lead with the Minutemen.
C.J. Taylor was the leading scorer for the Pioneers with 24 points. C.J often created shots by penetrating down the lane and making layups. One layup was a 360-degree spin move that put the Pioneers up 52-51 with 4:57 left. That felt like a turning point, but the Minutemen always answered with a score.
FINAL 90 SECONDS
The final 90 seconds were exciting. C.J. grabbed a defensive rebound and went the length of the court, making a layup to put the Pioneers ahead 60-59 with 1:23 left. Then C.J. fouled out with 1:11 remaining.
After C.J. fouled out, the Minutemen went up 62-60. Sophomore Kaden Rutledge made a 3-point shot to put the Pioneers up 63-62 with only 36.5 seconds left. The Minutemen answered as they had all night with their own 3-point shot to take the lead, 65-63 with only 36.5 seconds left.
The Pioneers had the ball, and missed a shot with 15:8 seconds left that bounced off the wire above the goal. The referees called the ball out of bounds. Possession went to the Minutemen.
Kaden Rutledge then quickly fouled a Minuteman and fouled out in the process. The Minutemen made a free throw, and missed one of their two free throws next. The game ended with the Minutemen winning 66-63.
It was a game Warren County certainly could have won. The most surprising aspect was how a relatively unknown team from Murfreesboro could be such a tough opponent.
The positive is the TSSAA has ruled that Hall of Champions games do not have to count on a team’s official record. Consequently, the game can really be a scrimmage and not count as a regular season loss.
This game clearly demonstrates that coaching and practice matter. It is tough to come out of football and not practice basketball for a week. The Pioneers will keep getting the rust out as they play four games in five days. The game Monday night against DeKalb County at The Dalt will be another good test for the Pioneers.
The game against DeKalb County was almost sold out at press time. Tickets may remain for the game at home against Cannon County on Tuesday night. Tickets are only available at www.gofan.com.
Franklin Road Christian 66
Warren County 63
Warren County Scoring
C.J. Taylor 24, Aiden Cummings 14, Kaden Rutledge 11, Dee Spates 7, Chance Hunter 6, Tyler Dunn 1