Size has been Warren County’s kryptonite all season and Friday night presented the biggest challenge to date.
When the Pioneers walked to midcourt in the Sonic Shootout semifinals, King’s Academy’s 7-foot-tall center Aingar William was waiting. But this time, Warren County was up to the challenge.
Led by a rejuvenated CJ Taylor, the Pioneers downed the Lions 60-58 to move into the tournament finals.
Taylor, who had sat out the majority of the last five games, scored 17 points to lead the way. His steal and score midway through the final period broke a 52-52 tie and the Pioneers never trailed from there, though the group had to endure a last-second longball.
Warren County (8-4) was clinging to a two-point lead with 8.0 seconds left after Red Cox and Irving Espinoza had gone a perfect 4-for-4 at the line in the final minute. The Pioneers inbounded the ball, but King’s Academy smothered Eli Jones, forcing a tied ball.
The arrow went to the Lions with :06 left, enough time to get off a final shot. Nemanja Kovacevic tried a step-back 3 over Cox off the inbound, but his shot came up short. Taylor sailed in for the rebound and slung the ball into the air, allowing time to expire and the Pioneers to survive.
Taylor and Aiden Cummings played a big part in holding William to just nine points, a big boost considering the Pioneers’ struggles against quality big men this year.
Kaden Rutledge also showed no fear of the 7-footer late, driving in and finishing over William on a layup that gave the Pioneers a 56-52 lead with 3:13 to play. The freshman finished with seven points.
Warren County moved into the semifinals following a 90-36 victory over Richard Hardy Thursday. Sophomore Chance Hunter scored a career-best 23 points in the blowout, nailing seven 3-pointers.