The second season begins for the WCHS basketball teams Friday.
The Lady Pioneers will be looking to extend their season in the play-in game of the District 6-AAA tournament Friday, while the Pioneers will be jockeying for region tournament positioning when they take the court Saturday.
The Warren County girls (11-17) will face the Cookeville Lady Cavaliers (13-14) in the first game at Rhea County High School, the host site for all district tournament games. Friday’s tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. Central.
The winner will move on in the tournament, as well as punch its ticket to the region tournament. The loser will see its season end.
With the stakes at their highest, coach Shea Panter has her team focused on one goal.
“Win and advance. That’s the only thing on our mind,” said Panter. “We have been poised to make big moves this season, but have fallen short more times than not. This is the time to put it all together and keep it going.”
The Lady Pioneers split the regular-season series with Cookeville, winning 46-41 on the road before falling 52-47 at Charlie Dalton Gym on senior night.
Warren County will lean heavily on recent All-District 6-AAA selection Tyra Wright in the matchup. Wright is coming in playing her best basketball, scoring a season-best 24 points in the regular season finale against White County last Friday.
Wright nearly had a triple double in the team’s last matchup with the Lady Cavaliers, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.
With their season on the line, the Lady Pioneers aren’t in much need for motivation. Still, sending the school’s biggest rival home would be a sweet victory for Warren County.
“I don’t have to say much to get the girls up for Cookeville. They want this win bad and will play hard,” said Panter. “We aren’t ready to hang it up just yet.”
The Pioneers won’t face the pressure of extending their season, but it’s not stopping coach Chris Sullens from pushing his squad. A win Saturday at 3:30 p.m. would guarantee a home game for the region tournament, something that hasn’t happened in decades at Warren County.
A loss in the regular-season finale at White County cost Warren County a chance to enter the tournament as the top seed. Instead, the Pioneers have a tough test against Stone Memorial in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup.
The Pioneers and Panthers split the season series, with each picking up road wins. Stone Memorial (14-12) got stronger as the year went on, winning five of its last seven games - the last a 55-42 victory at Rhea County Tuesday.
“Stone Memorial presents a unique challenge. They have size in the middle with (Justin) Headrick and strong guard play,” said Sullens. “We have been preparing all week understanding how important this game is in many ways. I like the way we’ve practiced this week.”
Warren County (21-6) could get a boost Saturday with the return of junior Sloan Seymour. After missing the last two games with a concussion suffered in a collision at Rhea County, Seymour is expected to return during tournament play.
The Pioneers have succeeded this year in tournament settings, winning three games in three nights in December to take the Sonic Shootout championship. Having a senior-laden group focused on one goal will be the key.
“We have refocused after the loss. We told our group it’s time to turn the page and our attention to how tournament basketball is played,” said Sullens.
In other tournament action, the Rhea County boys and White County boys will play Friday night in a play-in game. The Cookeville Cavaliers await the winner Saturday.
On the girls side, the Stone Memorial Lady Panthers hold the top seed and will play the winner of Warren County – Cookeville Saturday at 5 p.m. Rhea County and White County will meet Saturday with the winner advancing to the district finals set for Monday.