SONIC SHOOTOUT CHAMPIONS
Give them all the blasts, burgers, tots, coneys and ice cream cones they want. The Lady Pioneers are the Sonic Shootout champs!
Warren County sealed an unforgettable run in Sparta by taking down the host school White County in the finals Wednesday night 72-71 in overtime. Shelby Smartt had the dagger, hitting a banker with less than six seconds left as the Lady Pioneers were able to pull off the biggest win in the Lippe era.
“I’m just so proud of how far we’ve come as a program,” said coach Anthony Lippe, who won just two games in his first season with the Lady Pioneers but now has guided his team to a 11-2 start in Year 3. “It’s just a testament to all the work these girls have done, day-in and day-out. They have completely bought in to the culture that we have built and they trust each other as teammates. I couldn’t ask for anything more as a coach.”
Kyra Perkins earned MVP honors in the Sonic Shootout as she finished with 16 points in the championship game. She also had a number of key blocks and steals as her defense was a big part in helping the Lady Pioneers sweep three games in three days, including an OT win Monday over Lawrence County and beating the talented York Lady Dragons Tuesday.
Shelby Smartt, who finished with 14, was named to the all-tournament team after again showing her clutch gene. Smartt has now had the go-ahead points in two OT wins this season, the first coming back in November when she sank two free throws with 10 seconds left as the Lady Pioneers beat Notre Dame 64-62.
Brienne Kelsey (14 points), Sable Winfree (9 points) and Mia Hobbs (9 points) were also named to the all-tournament team.
It took the whole team to get by White County, the one program that seemingly has been a headache for the Lady Pioneers for a decade. Wednesday’s win was the first time the Lady Pioneers have beaten White County since Dec. 13, 2013 (which was also the last time Warren County won in Sparta). Claiming a tournament championship over the Warriorettes snapped a 20-game losing streak for Warren County in the heated rivalry.
Even when it looked like the Lady Pioneers could celebrate, they still had to hold their breath one last time.
Smartt’s banker, which barely got over outstretched hands of defenders before kissing perfectly off the glass, started a frenzied scramble for the Warriorettes. They got the ball in quick, moving it to halfcourt before coach Michael Dodgen asked for timeout with 2.1 seconds left.
Without one of their hounding defenders – Sable Winfree fouled out midway through the fourth – the Lady Pioneers sat back in their own zone as White County set up at halfcourt. Three Warriorettes hit a dead sprint toward the 3-point line, while one stayed near the line.
Hobbs was quick to spot Alaina Stiles - the target of White County’s play – and made a big break as the ball came inbounds. She knocked it toward the Warren County basket, sliding after the ball while fighting for possession.
White County was able to get control and throw back to Stiles, who immediately launched from halfcourt. Her shot hit front rim, bounced off the backboard and then clanked off the rim one final time before the Lady Pioneers erupted in celebration.
“Just a great team effort and a ton of hustle plays. Players stepped up in big spots and our girls gave it their all until the final whistle,” said Lippe.
Winfree had to watch all of overtime, but the Lady Pioneers would’ve never been in extra time without the sophomore’s shooting. Winfree hit two critical 3-pointers after Warren County fell behind 51-41 in the fourth, drilling one while wide open on the wing before stepping right into the second one off the dribble.
She fouled out with Warren County down 54-47 in the fourth, but Smartt proved more than capable of keeping the engine running late. Smartt started a run with a baseline jumper with 4:30 to play, then drilled a 3-pointer after Warren County forced a steal with the press to make it a four-point game, 56-52.
Kelsey kept the Lady Pioneers clawing back with a long-range bomb of her own. Lippe called a set play for ‘Sticks’ to fly around a double screen and the lefty loaded up and connected from the top of the key to cut the deficit to 58-55.
From left, Sable Winfree, Mia Hobbs, Brienne Kelsey, Shelby Smartt an Kyra Perkins (MVP) were honored for their strong play in the Sonic Shootout.
Perkins added four clutch free throws – all in 1-and-1 situations - to get it to a one-point game, 60-59. Warren County was able to take its first lead since halftime when Savannah Winfree cut free down the lane and got a good feed from Shelby for a tough layup.
Warren County had to dodge three bullets on White County’s ensuing possession, but ultimately was able to take the ball away from White County’s unstoppable post Nia Powers by using a triple team. Perkins came out of the pack with the ball and 1:10 to play, knowing the Lady Pioneers just needed to kill the clock to win.
Shelby wasn’t going to play keep-away though. As she set the offense and saw a double team coming, she threw a laser over the top to Savannah as she stood alone behind the defense. Savannah got an easy layup, putting the Lady Pioneers ahead 63-60.
Stiles responded with an easy layup of her own, taking advantage of Warren County’s focus to stop any long balls to sneak into a free space under the rim. Dodgen called a quick timeout with 44.1 seconds to play, hoping to set his defense and get the ball back.
It nearly worked as Warren County fumbled the ball away twice, but Hobbs was able to get control and was fouled. With ice in her veins, Hobbs hit the first free throw in a 1-and-1, then added the second as well to push the Lady Pioneers back up by three, 65-62.
Powers answered back with two free throws of her own, prompting another Sparta timeout with 23.9 seconds remaining and Warren County leading by one.
After another Dodgen timeout, White County got the break it needed. Shelby was fouled and missed both free throws, her lone blemish on an otherwise brilliant close to Wednesday’s win.
Missing free throws went both ways though. Stiles had a chance to put White County ahead after a foul late, but she only was able to tie the game before missing her second chance from the line. In a mad rush in the final 10 seconds, both teams got off wild shots, but neither got close.
Perkins had a layup fly over the backboard while being sandwiched by two Warriorettes, while Stiles’ halfcourt heave before the buzzer was too strong.
It set up a back-and-forth overtime that nobody for the Lady Pioneers will soon forget.
Hobbs started extra time in style, drilling a huge 3-pointer from the corner that fired up the Lady Pioneer bench. Warren County continued to swarm in extra time after Hobbs’ triple, with Savannah grabbing back-to-back steals at one point and Jaden getting a huge putback that made it 70-65 in favor of the Lady Pioneers.
Powers wouldn’t quit coming for the Warriorettes though. She got free in the paint for the layup and hit two big free throws following a White County steal to make it 70-69.
Things started looking really bleak for the Lady Pioneers when they turned it over again with 40 seconds left in OT, giving White County a chance to take the lead in the waning moments.
Celeste Reed took advantage, taking it to the basket and getting fouled with 27.5 ticks left. Reed hit both freebies, giving White County its first lead in OT, 71-70.
Without a timeout, Shelby brought the ball across the timeline and gathered at halfcourt as coach Lippe called a play for his talented junior. He went with a simple pick-and-roll, knowing Smartt could get a good look or dish it off.
Smartt called her own number, working to a sweet spot on the left block and making Lady Pioneer history.
Warren County had to survive a huge effort from White County’s trio of towering posts. Powers had a game-high 26 points – 22 coming after halftime. Reed added 18, while Stiles had 13. Powers, Reed, Alaina Stiles and freshman Ava Jones were all named all-tournament for Sparta.
The two teams will face off in a rubber match Jan. 30, a game that will also be played in White County. The series is split 1-1 this season – White County beat Warren County at the Dalt 57-47 last month.
Warren County, winners of seven straight games, will get a chance to continue building its momentum in Florida next week. The Lady Pioneers are set to take part in the Tampa Bay Christmas Invitational.
Warren County will face Wesley Chapel, Fl. next Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 6 p.m. The Lady Pioneers will also have games on New Years Eve and New Years Day in Tampa.
Lady Pioneer scoring – Kyra Perkins 16, Shelby Smartt 14, Brienne Kelsey 11, Sable Winfree 9, Mia Hobbs 9, Jaden Smartt 7, Savannah Winfree 6