Tucker Smith, Nick Simmons and Kendall Rutledge had little choice but to step up and lead a young Warren County High School boys basketball team. On opening night, the seniors didn’t disappoint.
Smith scored a game-high 15 points, Simmons added 10 and Rutledge finished with nine as Warren County defeated the Grundy County Yellow Jackets 50-44 in the Think Pink Hall of Fame game held at Charlie Dalton Gym.
Anytime the Pioneers desperately needed a basket Thursday night, a senior seemed to provide a spark.
Smith, Simmons and Rutledge combined for the team’s first 17 points as coach Malcolm Montgomery kept his seniors in for most of the first half.
Smith handled most of the scoring early as he put in six of the Pioneers’ eight first-quarter points. The senior forward used his athleticism to get to the rim at will. Smith scored on two layups and added a jumper from the baseline as Warren County led 8-6 after eight minutes.
After Grundy County tied the game to start the second quarter, Simmons moved Warren County back ahead with a layup off a feed from junior point guard D’Andre League.
The Yellow Jackets bounced back with two baskets to take their first lead since the opening 20 seconds, but the advantage didn’t last long.
Smith nailed a jumper from the free-throw line to tie the game, then Rutledge drained a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Pioneers ahead by 15-12.
The lead stayed at three after Simmons drained an 18-footer from the baseline with 2:22 to play, then the Pioneers finally found scoring from its underclassmen.
The first non-senior to score for Warren County against the Yellow Jackets was Lee Carden, who banked in a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:22 to play in the first half to send Warren County to the locker rooms with a 20-14 lead.
The Yellow Jackets found their sting when the second half began. Grundy County took the lead with a 12-5 run, getting easy baskets while the Pioneers countered with a 3-pointer from Rutledge and a long two by Smith.
After the Yellow Jackets went ahead 26-25 on a jumper with 3:07 left in the third, the Pioneers dominated the rest of play in the quarter.
League tied the game by swishing the first of two free throws, but an errant second shot ended up being a three-point play for Warren County as Simmons cleaned up the miss on a putback.
Following a Yellow Jacket turnover on the ensuing possession, Rutledge drained his third 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Warren County back on top by five.
Carden finished the third quarter with back-to-back baskets in the lane as Warren County was able to advance its lead to 35-28 before the start of the fourth quarter.
The 10-2 run to end the third quarter advanced to a 15-4 surge when Smith scored five straight Pioneer points to begin the final period.
Smith’s jumper from the free-throw line with seven minutes to go put Warren County ahead 40-30, but it would turn out to be the final points for the senior.
Smith fouled out with 6:37 to play, leaving the Pioneers without its top scorer down the stretch. Grundy County cut the lead down to seven twice with Smith sitting on the bench, but Simmons and League combined to score eight points in the final four minutes to preserve the victory for Warren County.
The Pioneers will return to action Tuesday night with a road game against the DeKalb County Tigers. Action in Smithville is set to begin at 7:30 p.m.