Having won their first-round district tournament game, 55-53, over Rhea County and despite a 2-point loss to Cookeville, and 3-point loss to Stone Memorial, Warren County still has a chance at a title, albeit an uphill battle.
The Pioneers have earned a shot at the District 5AAA champs, Cleveland’s Blue Raiders, in the regional tournament this Saturday.
The contest won’t be a cake walk for the Pioneers, as the Blue Raiders were 14-1 in district play.
“Most of this year’s team went to regionals last year so we know what to expect,” said Warren County coach Chris Sullens. “We will have to play our best basketball of the season Saturday night. Back-to-back regional trips have been rare in boys basketball the last two decades. We want our group to set a new standard of expectations. The first step is getting here and the next step is winning a region game.”
Cleveland suffered its only district loss by one point, 72-71, to East Hamilton. Against Bradley Central, the team the Pioneers lost to in the region last year, 83-61, Cleveland won 61-44 on Jan. 20.
Cleveland played Warren County district rival the Cumberland County Jets in non-district play. The Blue Raiders defeated the Jets, 75-52, on Feb. 4. The Pioneers last meeting with Cumberland County ended with a 65-55 loss after Pioneer leading scorer Isaiah Grayson left the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
“Cleveland is a very athletic and highly talented basketball team. We will have to take care of the basketball, make sure we stop their transition limiting any easy baskets from them and will need our offensive guys to take quality shots,” said coach Sullens. “We must make 75 percent of our free throws at a minimum and keep turnovers under 12. It will be a challenge. All teams that make it this far are pretty good basketball teams and have earned the right to play this deep in the season. Nobody backs their way into the region tournament. It’s win or go home the next two rounds so the energy and effort will be as intense as it has been all season. We look forward to the challenge.”
The Pioneers have been playing arguably their best basketball all year in the district tournament despite the fourth-place finish. With two losses decided by 3 points or less, Warren County has shined in the paint where K’Rojhn Calbert scored 22 points in each of the last two games.
The Pioneers have been using Calbert, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound post, more often during the tournament, passing inside rather than driving through the lane, a strategy which has proven successful.
Pioneer Chance Hobbs has been Mr. Consistent for Warren County in the long ball, but scouting by opponents has led to less opportunities for Hobbs. Isaiah Grayson, who has been the inside shooter driving through the lane during most of the season, can hit from outside the arc, as can freshman Irving Espinoza.
Saturday’s game will begin at 6 p.m. CST at Cleveland.