Warren County is going to the ‘ship!
The Lady Pioneers punched their ticket into the Sonic Shootout finals Tuesday, slamming York Institute 46-31 in the semifinals. Kyra Perkins was a two-way force, finishing with 15 points and a handful of steals and blocks, while Sable Winfree finished with 10 points as the Lady Pioneers won their sixth straight.
Coach Anthony Lippe thought Monday’s OT win over Lawrence County may have been his team’s best win of the season, but that distinction may have switched within 24 hours. Facing a Lady Dragon squad led by freshman superstar Reese Beaty and big-time post Ellie Leffew, Warren County never flinched.
The Lady Pioneers swarmed on defense and were efficient offensively, doing exactly what was needed to get a victory over a team that came into Tuesday’s matchup with a 9-2 record.
“It’s just a big win for our program,” said Lippe, who has guided Warren County to a 10-2 start. “The girls played our scout to a T and did everything our staff asked them to do. It was a complete team win and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Much of Warren County’s focus was on Beaty, a youngster who is already getting SEC looks, and Leffew. The Lady Pioneers knew they could throw waves of their tenacious guards in front of the freshman phenom, but it was going to take a team effort to deal with York’s big post.
Jaden Smartt and Savannah Winfree drew the bulk of the assignment of banging with Leffew, who still managed to score 18 points amid double and triple teams. The Lady Pioneers were relentless in getting to the ball though, especially when it went to the block.
“They played really well together and were good about helping in the post when we needed it,” said Lippe.
As it has been throughout the six-game winning streak, Warren County was able to create offense with its defense to pull out another huge victory. It was evident even early, highlighted by a diving play by Mia Hobbs midway through the first quarter.
Warren County was clinging to a 5-4 lead during a slow start to the game, but the group got a jolt of energy when Hobbs was able to wrestle around Leffew on a post-entry pass and knock it free. She quickly dove onto the court and gained control, hitting Jaden Smartt to ignite the break. The senior post pushed up court with speed, only hitting the brakes when she spotted Brienne Kelsey running free on the left wing.
Kelsey canned a deep triple, helping Warren County double up the Lady Dragons in the early stages of a slow-paced matchup.
Winfree showed her ability to be a one-woman fast break in the second quarter, scoring on one grab-and-go layup after snaring a long rebound and then going coast-to-coast again after poking away a steal that made it 18-12 late in the first half.
Warren County continued to pour it on after the break. Knowing York’s offense was buoyed by two players – only Leffew and Beaty scored in the first three quarters and they combined for all eight Lady Dragon field goals – the Lady Pioneers sent waves of players at the two stars and forced others to beat them.
York couldn’t and the Lady Pioneers began to pull away.
Perkins had a pair of runout layups in the span of 30 seconds that put Warren County up 26-16 with 4:43 left in the third quarter, prompting York to call a timeout. The Lady Dragons did come back with a 5-0 run, but Kelsey stopped it by getting three the old-fashioned way.
The junior guard was able to grab her own miss on a long rebound and hit a floater while drawing contact that bounced twice before falling in. Kelsey showed some emotion after getting the big basket, one she capped by swishing the ensuing free throw.
Winfree closed the third out in style for Warren County, hitting a pull-up jumper from the wing and somehow finding a way to get a floater to fall while facing a double team that helped the Lady Pioneers lead 34-23 going into the fourth.
Perkins stole the show in the final period. She started her personal highlight reel with a coast-to-coast jaunt after a steal, ending it by splitting two York defenders before stretching out at the rim to get a layup to roll in.
In the late stages, Perkins made York throw the white flag when she showed extra effort on a back tip that resulted in a steal at midcourt. Perkins was able to hit Hobbs on the run toward the basket, where the junior laid it in for an easy bucket.
Perkins added the exclamation point with a two-handed swat with a minute to go, knocking the ball away where she could gain control. After Perkins pushed across halfcourt, coach Lippe called timeout and sent in the bench to finish the victory.
Warren County will get a chance for its second revenge game Wednesday in the finals. The Lady Pioneers will be facing White County, which beat Clarkrange Tuesday (79-54) and Cascade Monday (72-30) to make the championship.
White County beat the Lady Pioneers 57-47 earlier in the season, one of only two losses for Warren County this season. The Lady Pioneers already avenged their other loss, taking down Tullahoma when the teams had a rematch last week.
Wednesday’s rematch – and championship game – is set to start at 7 p.m. at White County High School.
Lady Pioneer scoring – Kyra Perkins 15, Sable Winfree 10, Mia Hobbs 7, Brienne Kelsey 6, Jaden Smartt 2, Shelby Smartt 2, Lex Verge 2, Savannah Winfree 2
Lady Dragon scoring – Ellie Leffew 18, Reese Beaty 9, Sage Smith 2, Laci Patton 2