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Ready to rumble
Ethan Smith.jpg
Ethan Smith, seen in an earlier game, scored 16 points to help the Pioneers win 52-47 on the road Tuesday at Rhea County. Warren County will need Smith to step up against Cookeville Friday at home. - photo by Jeffery Simmons

The Pioneer motto never changes - every game is the biggest game on the schedule. It may be especially true Friday night at Charlie Dalton Gym.

Cookeville will be making its lone trip to Warren County, with the game always bringing a crowd and the hype of a heavyweight fight. A matchup between the 17-6 Cavaliers and 14-7 Pioneers should live up to its billing.

“We are preaching to our guys how focused they will need to be,” said Sullens. “We need guys locked in. We expect our gym to be packed. We expect for it to be loud. And we expect Cookeville to be ready.

“They’re a well-coached team that is disciplined. Coach (Kevin) Bray does an outstanding job. I like where our team is right now as far as young guys knowing what competition in the district is all about.”

The Pioneers have already dipped their toes into district play, falling at home to Stone Memorial 54-50 before bouncing back Tuesday with a 52-47 win at Rhea County.

It was the second game the Pioneers played without senior Sloan Seymour, who is expected to miss several more games with a leg injury. Warren County has won both games, with a different senior stepping up each time.

Raven Lewandowski scored 20 points in a nailbiter at Grundy County last week, while Ethan Smith was golden against Rhea County, scoring 16 points in the big road victory.

“District road wins are tough. Both teams knew the importance of Tuesday night’s game,” said Sullens. “Rhea County is a very strong team in the paint. Our guys worked really hard and it came down to the final 4-5 possessions.

“Ethan hit four big free throws and we got two big stops when we needed them on the defensive end.”

CJ Taylor also scored 16 points against the Eagles, breaking out of a mini slump where the sophomore had been held under 10 points in three of the last four games. Junior Eli Jones hit three 3-pointers and came up with a clutch steal in the final minute.

It’ll take another group effort to take down the Cavaliers. Cookeville has won its first two district games and already beat the Pioneers 60-44 in the Sonic Shootout. 

Sullens expects his players to be ready for the challenge.

“We have a group of young men who want to be part of the district conversation. We’ve continuously told them they have a big chance Friday night,” said Sullens. “We’ll be ready to play.”

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