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Sullens' memorable wins through the years

Upset specials, beatdowns of border rivals, last-second thrillers, postseason heroics and a pair of championships - wins came in all shapes and sizes under Chris Sullens the last eight years. While there is no way to run down all 129 wins, here are some of the standouts with Sullens on the sidelines:

Nov. 13, 2014 – Sullens gets his first victory as Pioneer coach as Warren County thumps Tullahoma 68-35. Trey Cantrell led the way with 11 points, while Holden Baker scored nine and future Tennessee Vol K’Rojhn Calbert added seven points.

Dec. 1, 2015 – Sullens was adamant at his hiring that the Pioneers had to be better against their border rivals – referencing Coffee County, White County and DeKalb County specifically. His dominated of DeKalb County started in 2015 with a 60-46 win over Smithville at Charlie Dalton Gym.

Following the game, Sullens told the Standard, “We have lost seven straight times to DeKalb dating back three or four years. We haven’t beaten them twice in the same year in 12 years.” Isaiah Grayson, who finished with over 1,000 points playing under Sullens, had 29 points to secure the victory.

Warren County hasn’t lost to DeKalb County since as Sullens leaves the program with 14 straight wins in the series.

Jan. 29, 2016 – After over a decade of losses to Cookeville, the Pioneers finally got over the hump against the Cavaliers with a 54-48 victory at home. In true Sullens fashion, he credited his assistant coach Adam Wood with the victory after the Pioneers flipped into a 1-3-1 zone late to secure the victory.

Feb. 23, 2016 – Avenging two regular-season losses against the Jets, the Pioneers secured their first region bid under coach Sullens by beating Cumberland County 68-61 in the District 6AAA tournament. I Isaiah Grayson, a four-year starter who blossomed under Sullens, led the way with 24 points.

Feb. 17, 2017 – Sullens has fond of reminding people how big of an advantage it was playing at the Dalt in the postseason – that magic all started in 2017. When Warren County was the host of the District 6AAA tournament, the Pioneers beat Rhea County 55-53 at home to punch another ticket to the region tournament. Chance Hobbs hit two key free throws in the final 15 seconds of the victory, one of six posteason victories at the Dalt under Sullens.

Dec. 22, 2017 – While it wasn’t a win worthy of a banner, the Pioneers still got a nice trophy when they toppled White County 75-74 in the Sonic Shootout Finals. Irving Espinoza was the magic man in the final seconds, hitting key free throws as Warren County snapped an 18-game losing streak to their rivals. It was the first of many wild nights in Sparta for the Pioneers under Sullens.

Feb. 6, 2018 – Among the many landmark wins Warren County has had in eight years under Sullens, beating Cookeville 58-56 at home to secure the program’s first 20-win season since 2001-02 was memorable. On the first senior night where Sullens said goodbye to kids who had spent all four years under his leadership, senior Tyree Ladet was a sparkplug to victory with 22 points.

Feb. 24, 2018 – Senior Chance Hobbs didn’t know he had the weight of 37 years of region futility resting on his shoulders when he stepped to the line at Walker Valley. Hobbs just knew he needed to make his free throws. The senior’s two big shots with 29.2 seconds left helped the Pioneers beat the Mustangs 52-48, giving the program its first region win since 1981.

CJ Taylor hit a shot nobody will ever forget in 2020.

Feb. 25, 2020 – It’s a championship game nobody in attendance will ever forget. The Pioneers finally fulfilled Sullens’ promise of a title (made when he was hired in 2014) in epic fashion, with CJ Taylor hitting a buzzer beater to beat White County in Sparta 78-76 in the District 6AAA championship game.

Just weeks before COVID-19 would end the basketball season – and all sports for several months – fans from both teams packed into Roy Sewell Gym for the anticipated matchup. It more than lived up to the billing, with Taylor outdueling Warrior star (and future Ole Miss Rebel) Grant Slatten in the victory. It began a 14-month push where Taylor would make an argument for being the GOAT Warren County athlete, while it cemented Sullens as a championship coach.

Feb. 29, 2020 – Days after claiming the program’s first district championship in 43 years, the Pioneers followed it up by winning its first-ever region home game at Charlie Dalton Gym. Warren County beat Ooltewah 66-54, securing another 20-win season under Sullens.

Nov. 21, 2020 – While he never wanted the spotlight on him, Sullens couldn’t hide when the Pioneers beat Community 58-56 to open the 2020-21 season. The victory was his 100th as the leader of the Pioneers and came on the same night when CJ Taylor secured his 1,000th point. It was also the first victory in another 20-win season – Sullens had three in his eight years with Warren County.

Warren County Sports Authority story:

Jan. 29, 2021 – In case the championship game in Sparta wasn’t exciting enough, the Pioneers made the encore memorable too. The Pioneers took down White County 71-69 in overtime, getting clutch shots late to stun the Warriors again.

Dante Elam was the hero in regulation, hitting a game-tying triple at the buzzer to send the game into OT. In the final seconds of extra time, CJ Taylor intercepted a pass and cruised in for the game-winning layup as the Pioneers just seemed to find ways to frustrate White County during the two-year stretch of titles.

Warren County Sports Authority story:

Feb. 23, 2021 – Cutting down the nets in Sparta was special, but nothing was more fun than doing it at home in 2021. The Pioneers claimed back-to-back titles by whipping White County 73-65 in the District 6AAA finals – the last time the two teams would clash as district rivals. Warren County held a double-digit lead for most of the contest, highlighted by CJ Taylor swishing five first-half 3-pointers on his way to a 28-point night. The night ended with the net coming down with Sullens and Dee Spates – a key part to the title teams – winning District 6AAA Tournament MVP.

Warren County Sports Authority story:

Chris Sullens cuts down the nets at home after a second district title.

March 2, 2021 – If there is a game that summarizes the Sullens era of Warren County basketball, it’s the never-quit attitude the Pioneers displayed in coming back to stun East Hamilton 75-66 in OT to in the region semifinals. The victory, one that seemed basically impossible when the Hurricanes led by 10 with 4:00 left, vaulted the program to its first substate appearance in 45 years.

Sullens had predicted for a year that when CJ Taylor and the 2021 seniors had their backs against the wall, something special would happen. He wasn’t wrong. Taylor erupted for a career-high 37 points, including hitting six 3-pointers in the final four minutes of regulation and hitting the key free throws in OT to send the Hurricanes packing.

After the game, Sullens was nearly at a loss for words – a rarity in his tenure. He did sum up resolve of his Pioneers succinctly though, saying, “They said, ‘It’s not going to end,' over and over. It’s just a team that finds ways to win. When we’re in close basketball games, these guys find ways to win the close ones.”

Warren County Sports Authority story:

Feb. 3, 2022 – Fittingly, coach Sullens picked up his final win as Pioneer coach against DeKalb County in Smithville. Warren County won on the road 58-52 with Sullens saying after the game, “Winning here isn’t easy and it was something we really prioritized when I first took over the job. We wanted to protect the borders and start flipping some of these series against schools in our area.”

Sullens definitely flipped the series against perennial rivals from around the area. In the eight years before Sullens arrived in Warren County, the Pioneers were 17-63 in matchups with Coffee County (14-8), DeKalb County (2-16), White County (1-18) and Cookeville (0-21). In Sullens’ time with the Pioneers, those games changed from near-guaranteed losses to true coin flips (or guaranteed wins if Sullens was on the sidelines against the Tigers). Against those four programs, Sullens finished 35-37 (33-31 before the 2021-22 struggles) and snapped losing streaks of eight, 18 and 26 games to DeKalb County, White County and Cookeville, respectively, early in his Pioneer career.

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