It’s win-or-go-home time for the Warren County Middle School basketball teams.
The Pioneers and Lady Pioneers are set to kick off play in the Central Tennessee Conference tournament Wednesday at Tullahoma High School. The No. 5 seed Lady Pioneers will take on Coffee County at 5:15 p.m. and the No. 2 seed Pioneers will take on Tullahoma East at 6:30 p.m.
The Lady Pioneers, who finished the season 9-9, will be looking for revenge in their first-round matchup. Coffee County won both of the regular-season meetings, downing Warren County on its home court 34-32 in overtime in November and winning the most recent matchup 43-16.
Coach Tara Koran faced a similar situation last year when her Lady Pioneers met White County in the first round. Warren County avenged its two losses with a win in the tournament, something Koran has reminded her current squad.
“Last year, White County beat us two times leading up to the tournament and we sent them home in the first round. I think people forget about that,” said Koran. “I’m pushing the girls to know we can beat Coffee County, but all my girls have to play to their potential to get the job done. We are more than capable if we go in with the right mindset.”
Koran is hopeful some schematic changes can get her team in a good position against Coffee County.
“We are working offensively to get us moving more. I’m hoping this opens up some opportunities for easy buckets as well as some kickouts for 3-pointers,” said Koran. “On defense, we are working on a way to shut down their big post and protecting the paint. We have to box out and limit their opportunities to score.”
Kevin Burnett and his Pioneers are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Last week’s thrilling comeback win over White County pushed Warren County to the No. 2 seed. The Pioneers will face Tullahoma East, a squad they handled 52-28 and 46-27 in the regular season.
Burnett believes those lopsided results will have little bearing on how Wednesday’s game will go.
“This is a tough conference – anybody can win at any time,” said Burnett. “This being a single-elimination tournament, you have to focus on the task at hand and bring your A game. We have to stay focused, keep everything in perspective and remember the fundamentals.”
It shouldn’t be difficult for the 11-7 Pioneers, who have been impressing Burnett since the summer.
“This has been one of our most enjoyable groups. They were coming in during the summer at 6:30 a.m. and working really hard,” said Burnett. “I’m proud of how hard they work and how they get along so well. It’s rare to have a group that works so well together and practices so hard.
“We’ve had our bumps and bruises along they way, but we’ve kept our focus.”
By virtue of being classified as a AAA team by the TMSAA, the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers have the opportunity to advance to the state tournament. Warren County is eligible for one of two bids for the AAA tournament, battling with White County and Coffee County for the spots.
If either Warren County team finishes better than White County or Coffee County in this week’s tournament, it will advance to next week’s state tournament being held at Stewart’s Creek.