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Pioneers survive late scare
CJ Taylor 5.jpg
CJ Taylor

Warren County earns wild win

The Pioneers picked up a 56-55 victory over White County Friday when officials waved off a last-second made layup by the Warriors.
By: Jeffery Simmons

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Time seemed to stop as three referees gathered near midcourt. Both sidelines waited tensely, wondering what the game-deciding call would be.

When the huddle broke and the referees waved off a final White County basket, Charlie Dalton Gym erupted. The Pioneers had held on.

Warren County took down White County 56-55 Friday night after a late-second basket by Warrior Kade Clark was ruled to have come after time expired.

It was 30 seconds of sweating when officials gathered together following Clark’s layup attempt. White County, which had trailed for all but 25 seconds before the final ticks, was hoping it had pulled off a last-second heist. The Pioneers waited on the other end, hoping they had finally handed the Warriors their first district loss.

The group of officials finally came to the decision the ball was still in Clark’s hand when the clock hit :00, leading to a Pioneer win (a video of the final six seconds can be found on @sstandardsports on Twitter). 

The ruling opens the door for the Pioneers to make their move in the standings, but more so, it’s a huge stepping stone for a team looking to find consistency. 

“We have a group that is starting to believe in each other. They’re learning how to deal with ebbs and flows,” said Sullens. “White County came down and took the lead and we came back and got exactly what we wanted. Our kids are learning to battle and this keeps us in the district race.

“More so, this gives our kids the belief we can beat anybody in our district.”

A 9-0 run out of the gate allowed Warren County to lead most of the way, but the Warriors weren’t going to let their unblemished district record go without a fight. Even after facing a deficit as large as 14, the Warriors found a way to claw back. Kegan Dodson finally got the team over the hump with 1:03 left, slicing for a layup which pushed White County ahead 55-54.

The Pioneers quickly regrouped as Dee Spates, who scored a team-high 15 points, took control. Spates calmly surveyed the defense at the top of the key, then burst through the lane in a blink. Drawing defenders his way, Spates was able to shovel a pass to CJ Taylor for a layup with 38.4 seconds to play.

White County took a pair of timeouts while winding the clock down to 6.2 seconds, making sure it would take the final shot. In a chaotic six seconds, Paul Tanner was able to shovel to a wide-open Clark under the goal, but referees ruled his layup didn’t beat the buzzer.

Warren County (14-10, 3-2) had it rolling early, building a 33-22 lead by halftime. The Pioneers came out ready to prove two previous losses at Sparta, including one blowout, meant nothing on their home court.

“We wanted to make sure we got the home court in it early. It was a great crowd and our kids fed off it,” said Sullens. “It was time to turn it up. We’ve played pretty good basketball for three games, but I think we have another gear. We got after it defensively.”

Taylor came out of the locker room ready to prove he can dominate. The junior post had 10 of his 14 points in the first quarter, showing an array of moves that helped Warren County lead 19-11 early. 

Taylor was also influential in rescuing the Pioneers late in the second half. After building its biggest lead at 27-13, Warren County saw the Warriors mount a 9-0 run to trim the lead to five with 1:56 left in the half. In the final two minutes, Taylor hit a free throw, fed Irving Espinoza for a 3-pointer – his third of the period – and connected with Lacedrick ‘Red’ Cox for a run-out layup that beat the halftime buzzer.

After a lengthy break, Grant Slatten showed why he’s the favorite to claim back-to-back District 6AAA player of the year awards. The junior wing scored 12 of his 14 points in the third quarter, including a monstrous tip-dunk early in the period that forced an immediate timeout from Sullens.

Slatten added another dunk and 3-pointer during his spurt, helping White County chomp the lead down to 43-41 entering the fourth quarter. He didn’t score in the final eight minutes, though his flurry in the third still stood out.

“We didn’t want Grant Slatten to single handily do to us what he’s done to us the last two games, which is control the tempo in the fourth quarter,” said Sullens. “Grant King did a great job of taking him away late, but that being said, Slatten is a heck of a basketball player.

“There’s times where if he catches it, you know it’s going in. We did a good job of limiting his touches, made him make tough 2s and kept him off the free-throw line.”

Slowing Slatten was key, as was a quick spurt to start the fourth.

Spates started the final period with a teardrop floater over two defenders. On the next possession, Aiden Cummings bullied his way to the bucket for a hoop.

After another empty White County possession, Cox made it an eight-point game when he flew in from the weakside and grabbed a board over two Warriors and finished with a layup.

White County wouldn’t quit though.

The Warriors were able to erase the lead in minutes, with help of an untimely technical foul on Sullens.

The Pioneer coach had received a bench warning earlier in the game, then was hit with a ‘T’ with 2:03 left and his team ahead by five. Sullens appeared to be showing his frustration at his team’s execution, but the referees deemed the action worthy of a technical.

White County nailed both ensuing free throws, then got a 3-pointer from Tanner to tie the game.

It set up a thrilling finish, one neither team will soon forget as the district race heats up in the final two weeks.

Warren County will be looking to run its winning streak to five games Tuesday when it plays host to Stone Memorial. The Panthers pounded the Pioneers 66-43 in the first meeting, a fact not lost on Sullens.

“They boat-raced us. It was our worst performance of the year. We’re going to enjoy this win for 24 hours, but if we want to be in the district race, we have to go beat Stone. We hope our kids are ready to play and we have to get after Stone because they definitely got after us,” said Sullens.

Tip-off Tuesday is set for 7:30 p.m.