It took the Pioneer basketball team 45 years to return to the sectionals, formerly known as the substate, and the Pioneers suffered a frustrating end to their season at Siegel High School to the Stars, 72-58, on Monday night.
The Pioneers were hoping to advance to the state tournament with a win at Siegel, but they accomplished many high marks during the season. Most notably, the Pioneers were district champions and region runner-ups.
Trying to pinpoint a reason the Pioneers lost the game, the first place to look is the offensive rebounds. The Pioneers were not allowed many second and third shots on offense, and the Siegel Stars were very quick in the transition game after securing rebounds. Siegel’s speed and quickness were apparent as Siegel moved the ball down court and often ended with high-percentage layups.
The Pioneers were only behind five points at the end of the first quarter, 19-14, and at halftime, 31-26. However, Siegel was beating the Pioneers on the boards, on the baselines, and in the transition game.
In the third quarter, Siegel began to separate and ended the quarter up 51-43. In the fourth quarter, the Stars began to increase their lead. Nothing put a bigger emphasis on Siegel’s dominance in the fourth quarter than Star point guard Zion Swader, No. 0, slamming a dunk to put the Stars up by 14 points, 61-47.
Foul trouble became a nemesis of the Pioneers during recent tournament action. Aiden Cummings, who had his best game of the season scoring 18 points, fouled out with about three minutes left.
The Pioneers physical half-court game did not match up well with the quick Siegel defense. Siegel switched from man-to-man and zone defenses that disrupted the Pioneer offense throughout the game.
There were shining moments for the Pioneers. One bright spot was how the Pioneers started the fourth quarter with a steal by Aiden Cummings who passed it to Dee Spates, and Spates fed C.J. Taylor for a layup to cut the lead to 6 points, 51-45.
Cummings scored the next two points for the Pioneers, but then the Stars began racing away from the Pioneers, 57-47. The Pioneers tried to trade baskets with Siegel, but the Stars are a well-coached and disciplined team which played big in the fourth quarter. The Pioneers simply could not keep pace with the Stars.
Pioneer head coach Chris Sullens commented after the game, “Athletically, we could not keep them off the offensive glass. Siegel is a good basketball team. They had a lot of second chances off the boards. Our kids kept battling. Late in the game we could not get enough stops. We traded baskets with them for quite some time. Credit Siegel and credit Warren County. We have a great group of young men. I have loved coaching them. I am proud of our guys. It is not where we wanted to finish, but it is a place that Warren County has not been in a long time. We expect to get back.”
There were a lot of exceptional performances this season from the Pioneer basketball team. C.J. Taylor, who scored a game-high 22 points Monday, has been the player his teammates have often counted on to turn a game around, and C.J. has delivered many times.
Dee Spates was MVP of the district tournament, and he has been a solid leader on the court. Dante Elam sent a game into overtime against White County with a big 3-point shot that helped secure the Pioneers memorable district run to a championship. Aiden Cummings has been the glue that has helped hold the team together, and he played like an all-star in the district, region, and sectional tournament games.
All four of the Pioneer seniors will be missed. During a season that was often affected by COVID-19 protocols, they continued to show up. They will be remembered for many things, and most notably, they will be remembered as the seniors who led the Warren County Pioneer basketball team further than they have been in 45 years.
Sullens said, “What I like is that you are going to have four seniors graduate, and they are going to become better young men. I have become a better person because I have been around those guys. You cannot ask for four better quality persons in this community. Whatever they choose to do in life, I know they are going to do it well.”
Siegel’s season will continue in the TSSAA State Tournament at MTSU on March 18 as the Stars face Oak Ridge. Siegel had a balanced scoring attack with three players scoring 17 points. Matthew Schneider, a Mr. Basketball finalist, was one of the Stars who scored 17 points, and Schneider, No. 14, was very active around the rim all night. The Stars lived up to their billing as the AP Prep No.3-ranked team in the state. The Stars could win it all next week.
SIEGEL STARS 72
WARREN COUNTY PIONEERS 58
STARS: Matthew Schneider 17, Zion Swader 17, Jaylan Wetzel 17, Martise Jackson 13, Isiah Lightsy 5, Vonterius Reed 3
PIONEERS: C.J. Taylor 22, Aiden Cummings 18, Dee Spates 14, Kaden Rutledge 2, Nate Elrod 2