Simmons Superlative - Best Moment

As we officially close down the 2020-21 school year this week, WCSA editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons wanted to go back and hand out his final awards for the year. Simmons has been picking the defining athletes, teams and moments in high school sports for years, but this will be the first on our new website.

Welcome to the Simmons Superlatives!

Today, we start with the Best Moment for the boys!

CJ Taylor went to another level against East Hamilton in the region semifinals

1. Taylor goes supernova in region semifinals

Sometimes it takes days, weeks or even years before you realize you were part of something magical. As Andy Bernard famously said, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good Ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.”

Well, back on March 2, I didn’t need the heads up. I knew right then and there in Charlie Dalton Gym that I was witnessing something I would never, ever see again.

I’ve come to expect that CJ Taylor can do some things that will shock and awe, but what he did in the region semifinals against East Hamilton was another level. I’d say I was speechless, but I was talking to everybody about it in the moment, after the game and it still comes up in conversation every 2-3 weeks.

Warren County was down 10 points with 4:00 to play to the Hurricanes and the season was hanging in the balance. East Hamilton had pretty much dominated action up to that point, but one Hurricane made the critical error of talking trash to CJ down the stretch.

In what has become his official catchphrase since, Taylor stared the guy down who said he wasn’t Mr. Basketball and didn’t even have as many points as him and said, “Aight. Bet.”

In the next four minutes, Taylor proceeded to sink SIX straight 3-pointers. Each one came in increasingly difficult fashion, culminating with an off-balance, 28-footer in between a triple team to tie the game with less than 10 seconds to go.

“After CJ hit the tying shot, he looked me square in the eye and said, ‘You would not want to coach against me because I’d beat you every time.’ I can’t disagree with him. I don’t think East Hamilton could’ve done anything else,” said coach Chris Sullens after the game.

Taylor ended up with a career-high 37 points in the matchup, including going 6-for-6 in OT at the line to ice the game. In the final moments, Taylor got in one last dig. While standing at the line and knowing his Pioneers were going to win, the super senior stared down the guy who had trash talked him in the fourth quarter.

They never made eye contact – and it’s probably a good thing. As hot as CJ was in those final minutes, I’d imagine the guy’s face would melt off like he was in an Indiana Jones movie.

One day, I may write an entire oral history about that fourth quarter and overtime. I may even be able to turn it into a book. It’s the single most impressive thing I’ve seen since I started covering Warren County sports in 2010.

I’ve never been one that people would call are true reporter – or at least an unbiased one. I grew up in Warren County, I wore the Pioneer uniform and I write about the Pioneers. It’s no shock I root for them too. But that night was a different level – just check the link below and look behind the Pioneer bench during CJ’s barrage of 3-pointers.

You’ll see a large guy in a black and white hoodie jumping up and down after every shot swished through the hoop. That’s me. I was sitting by WCHS girls coach Anthony Lippe during the whole thing and he asked me, “what else CJ could do to surprise people in these last seconds?”

I looked right at him and said, “The only thing that would shock me now is if he misses. This kid isn’t going to miss.” I still get goosebumps thinking about that conversation and the shot CJ hit from right in front of the Pioneer bench just seconds later.

It was an absolutely incredible night.

In many talks since then, coach Sullens has made the same point – “If CJ misses one of those shots, just one of them, we lose. It’s that simple. We had to hit every single one of them.”

CJ did. Because of course he did. That’s what makes CJ Taylor a true Pioneer legend.

WCS-TV did an incredible job clipping together the big moments


Honorable mention

2. Pioneers’ dog pile at Sparta

One thing I don’t think I stressed enough this spring was how impressive it was for our teams to continue to play at a high level despite the 2020 shutdown. It’s not easy for one person to come back after not playing a competitive game for an entire year, so imagine how difficult it is to get back your timing for an entire squad. And when it’s a sport like baseball, pretty much dominated by impeccable timing, it could be a nightmare.

Coach Phillip King and his Pioneers showed that they were more than up for the challenge of competing at high level post-COVID. When they hit their peak, it was a thing of beauty.

Nothing captured their high point better than the dog pile in Sparta after the team clinched the District 6AAA regular season title with its 11th win in 12 games. The Pioneers did it in dominating fashion too, beating the Warriors 13-0 in five innings.

Could the season have ended better for the Pioneers? Sure. Do they want some of those early season losses back? Absolutely. But years from now, I think this group – and especially those 14 seniors – will remember the day when they all piled up together on one of their fiercest rivals’ field to celebrate a championship.

Brent Carden did an excellent job capturing the dog pile after the game


3. Ike Gillentine winning 2 elimination matches to earn medal

Imagine walking into an arena knowing it’s likely you are never going to compete in that sport again. In those seconds, the pressure and the moment could be overwhelming. Add to it the weight of expectations – it’s the podium or nothing – and it would crush a normal man.

Ike Gillentine is anything but normal though. The 195-pound Pioneer has the enormous shoulders needed to carry the weight of that moment and come through.

Not only did Gillentine make it to the podium for the first time in three tries (he also went to state in the 2019-20 seasons), he did it by winning two do-or-die matches in a row.

Gillentine fell into the consolation bracket early in the tournament, which was condensed down to one day for the first time due to COVID. Another loss would send him home, but the senior wouldn’t quit.

He won the first match with ease, but then found himself trailing 5-2 in points in the deciding third round of his medal match. In the final seconds, Gillentine ran through his opponent’s legs, took him down and then gained dominant position to go ahead in the match.

It took every ounce of energy to keep his man on the ground, but Gillentine was able to do it until the buzzer sounded.

There were some great times this year in Warren County sports, but I don’t know if any athlete got more instant satisfaction than Gillentine did in those fateful last seconds of the state tournament.

4. Ryland's run

Does this even need an explanation? I don’t think so.

Cookeville should’ve saved some money back in the fall and sent the buses home. Ryland Holder could’ve carried all the Cavaliers back home.

5. CJ Taylor winning Mr. Football

I have a hunch we’re going to dive more into Taylor and his accolades later this week, but it’s hard not to mention this now. I don’t know if there’s ever been more Pioneer fans watching a live stream than there were on Dec. 8.

Not only was CJ Taylor the Region 3-6A MVP, the leader of the Pioneers and a Vanderbilt signee, he also was named the best football player in Tennessee too.

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