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Lady Pioneers win in region

When the state adopted 5-on-5 girls basketball, the Lady Pioneers probably didn’t think it would take 43 years to win a region game. The powerhouse program of the 70s – culminating with a state title in 1979 – never quite carried the same success with the new rules.

Flash forward to the present and the Warren County High School girls team, in the midst of the best season in decades, has finally ended the drought. The Lady Pioneers topped Cleveland 44-41 in the Region 3-4A quarterfinals Friday, the first-ever region victory for the girls program at Charlie Dalton Gym.

Warren County, now 24-7, will play in the region semifinals Monday against Bradley Central. The matchup will take place in Coffee County – the host site for the region semifinals and finals – and tips off at 6 p.m. Coach Anthony Lippe was already getting the Lady Pioneers focused on the next big hurdle after Friday’s win, but he also took time to soak everything in – literally – as well.

Lippe was doused with water by the Lady Pioneers once the team got to the locker room. It was a special moment for the whole program, one that has been on an upward trajectory ever since Lippe took over three years ago.

“I’m excited, more for them than anything. They’ve put so much work into it – to have the payoff is incredible. It’s a good feeling,” said Lippe. “It’s almost feels like an out-of-body experience. It’s been a roller coaster ride and it’s great to be a part of it.”

Kyra Perkins had a team-high 15 points, while Shelby Smartt added 12 points despite having to sit out a small portion of the second half after rolling her ankle. Lauren Hurst finished with 15 points to lead the Lady Raiders as they finished their season 23-9 overall.

Warren County led 11-9 early, getting a big 3-pointer from Shelby Smartt to hold a slim advantage after the first break. The Lady Pioneers built their lead to seven early in the second quarter, aided by a three-point play and breakaway layup from Perkins, but Cleveland was able to close the gap to 22-21 by halftime.

Another quick start – this time a 9-0 run – gave the Lady Pioneers their biggest cushion, 31-21, out of halftime. Perkins capped the streak with a 3-pointers, one of just four triples Warren County hit in the victory.

Brienne Kelsey and Perkins finished the third quarter with back-to-back triples, the last beating the buzzer as the Lady Pioneers 37-29 entering the final eight minutes.

Some missed free throws (Warren County was 16-of-29 overall from the charity stripe) and miscues down the stretch almost opened the door for Cleveland, but the Lady Pioneers never relinquished the lead in the second half.

“They made it tough on me down the stretch with the (missed) free throws and turnovers, but we found a way to win. They kept chipping away at it and it paid off,” said Lippe, getting a laugh while thinking about some of the stress of the close game.

A celebration quickly ensued once the final second ticked off the board. The players were thrilled to get over the top at home in front of a packed crowd, especially senior starter Jaden Smartt.

“This is super exciting. The work we have put in has paid off and we know coach Lippe trust us and we trust other is super special,” said Smartt, who has been part of the turnaround from a two-win campaign just two seasons ago. “Knowing the crowd was here to support us just makes us play even harder.”

All the top seeds won Friday, setting up an epic doubleheader Monday as every team will be fighting to keep their season alive. The Region 3-4A semifinals will feature Warren County taking on the Bradley Central Bears and Coffee County squaring off with McMinn County.

The other region scores Friday were:

Bradley Central 66, Shelbyville 37

Coffee County 65, Ooltewah 52

McMinn County 76, Franklin County 49

Lady Pioneer scoring – Kyra Perkins 15, Shelby Smartt 12, Mia Hobbs 4, Sable Winfree 4, Jaden Smartt 4, Brienne Kelsey 3, Savannah Winfree 2

CLICK HERE for Painted Barn Media photos

Interview with Lippe, Jaden Smartt

WC Sports Authority sideline reporter Ansley Mullican Murphree caught up with coach Anthony Lippe after he was soaked by his team in a postgame celebration.

Murphree also talked to senior Jaden Smartt about the win and what she hopes to see from Pioneer Nation Monday night.


Hot starts, holding on

If you want to single out where Warren County took control of Friday’s game, it would be easy to point to the starts of the second and third quarters. The Lady Pioneers were awesome out of the breaks in the middle periods, starting the second quarter with a 6-0 run and topping that by coming out of the locker rooms with an 9-0 spurt to begin the second half.

Those dazzling spans of impressive play, along with the close of the third quarter (more on that below), were the difference in the Lady Pioneers winning their first region games in 43 years and ending their season. It was especially impressive considering the team’s tendency to suffer from lulls throughout the year, none more evident than slow starts in third quarters in losses to Coffee County during the season.

Coach Lippe knew his team couldn’t withstand a bad quarter Friday against a strong Cleveland squad, which has shown it can erase deficits in a hurry.

“Sometimes this year, we have struggled with playing four quarter. When you get to this level, there are no easy games. You’re playing great teams and have to bring it,” said Lippe.

Kyra Perkins was in the middle of both runs, jumpstarting the one in the second quarter with a three-point play and capping the third quarter surge with a corner 3-pointer. She finished with a team-high 15 points, another impressive display for the junior who is starting to show a flair for the dramatics in the postseason. Perkins has scored in double figures in all three postseason games this season after earning all-tournament as a sophomore last year in District 6AAA.

Shelby Smartt was big in the team’s quick start of the second half. The junior drained a pair of free throws and hit a tough floater prior to Perkins’ triple, helping her reach double figures in eight of the team’s last nine games.

Catching fire at the right time

With the possession arrow pointing the Lady Pioneers’ way and Cleveland in the middle of a big run, it would’ve been easy for Warren County to hold for a final shot of the third quarter. Missing would mean the Lady Raiders, who had already shrunk 31-21 deficit down to just two, would get a chance to tie or take the lead in the fourth, a major blow to Warren County’s chances to win.

Brienne Kelsey, owner of the ultimate green light, didn’t feel like waiting a minute to shoot. When she got free from the top of the key, she was firing. Kelsey’s 3-pointer from way behind the line set off a chain of events that would help Warren County put a stranglehold on the lead.

After the lefty bombed away from outside, Cleveland rushed back the other way hoping to feed it inside to Katie Moore for a layup. Savannah Winfree wasn’t going to let it happen as she was able to get around the Lady Raider post and steal the pass.

As time dwindled down, the Lady Pioneers rushed up court for a chance at a buzzer beater. The ball found Perkins in the right wing, within earshot of coach Lippe and the rest of the Lady Pioneer bench. In unison, they yelled, “SHOOT!” and Perkins launched just before the horn sounded. Her shot hit nothing but net, pushing the Lady Pioneers up 37-29 going into the fourth.

Perkins couldn’t help but laugh with teammates during the break about her miraculous heave at the horn, a shoulder shrug when somebody asked if she knew it was going in. Lucky or not, it was a gigantic shot that held huge importance when Warren County ended the night up three at the final horn.

Sizing up Bradley Central

If it seems like every time the Lady Pioneers make regions, Bradley Central inevitably shows up, that’s because the Bearettes have. In the past 10 years, Warren County has made the region tournament five times.

In the previous four runs, Bradley Central has been the team to end the Lady Pioneers’ season. They’ve not been kind either – the combined margin of victory in the four contests is 176 points (283-107). The biggest win, 87-22 in 2018, came when Bradley Central was led by Rhyne Howard, current Kentucky senior who could be the No. 1 pick of the next WNBA draft.

Coach Lippe and this group of Lady Pioneers already know what Bradley Central is capable of – they won last year’s region quarterfinal meeting 60-16. Because of the respect Warren County has for the Bearettes, Lippe was already talking about the matchup just minutes after the program’s first region win in 43 years Friday night

“We already talked about (the upcoming game) and asked, ‘What can we improve?’ We have to take care of the ball late. We have to knock down shots late. I thought we handled situations OK, but other situations we’ll have to do a better job,” said Lippe. “We have to find a way to improve. We’ll come in Sunday and work on those things.”

Bradley Central, who finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the state AP rankings, will enter action 27-3 overall. The Bearettes are the No. 1 seed from District 5-4A after winning their 12th straight district title this week. The Bearettes mauled Shelbyville 66-37 Friday to earn a spot in the semifinals.

Expect Hannah Jones, a six-footer who can run like a guard, to be a handful on the block. Jones is averaging over 16 point per game this season and was named District 5-4A tourney MVP after hitting the game-winning shot in the finals. Jones had a game-high 14 points in last year’s meeting.

Bradley Central has a nice 1-2 punch as Bearettes senior guard Ashlan Crittenden, a Carson Newman signee, is a standout on the wing.

Home sweet home

The Lady Pioneers had their chance to be the headliner at Charlie Dalton Gym Friday. Fans weren’t just filing in early to get seats for a boys game – they were there for the Lady Pioneers and making big time noise.

Seeing a packed crowd was truly special to the Lady Pioneers and coach Lippe.

“I really appreciate the support. It’s an amazing feeling to have the community show up like they did. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was amazing,” said Lippe. “Our girls appreciated it – and I think they played better. I hope everybody can come out Monday and we appreciate all the support we’ve gotten this year.”

Senior Jaden Smartt offered the same sentiment about Monday’s game, one that will just be a short drive for Pioneer Nation but a 200-mile round trip for Bradley Central.

“With the crowd here to support us, it just makes us play even harder. Come support your Lady Pioneers and help us go for a win,” said Smartt about Monday’s matchup.

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