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WCHS teams ready for Sonic Shootout

Three wins in three days. That is what the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers will need if they want to hoist the championship trophy in this week’s Sonic Shootout held in Sparta.

Both Warren County basketball teams will be kicking off their runs in the local holiday tournament Monday, where the Lady Pioneers will face Lawrence County at 1 p.m. and the Pioneers follow against McMinn Central at 2:30 p.m. Both squads will be battling to advance to the finals, which are set to be played Wednesday night starting at 7 p.m. at White County High School.

Since 2015, the Pioneers have made the Sonic Shootout their tournament of choice on Christmas break. Coach Chris Sullens has always seen his teams have success in Sparta, including winning the Shootout during the 2017-18 season.

The Warren County boys aren’t entering the tournament with momentum – the Pioneers have lost four of their last six games, including falling 65-43 Friday against LaVergne. They’ll look to regain their mojo this week, starting with McMinn Central.

The Chargers are 2-6 this season and are coming off a big win against county rival McMinn County Friday night. Gabe Masingale has played a big part in McMinn Central winning two of its last three games after an 0-5 start, including scoring 18 points in a 65-51 win over Tellico Plains recently.

Senior Carter Henderson and sophomore Will Cooper are capable shooters who the Pioneers will have to locate defensively to slow down the McMinn Central attack.

Warren County (6-4) comes into the game relying heavily on Kaden Rutledge offensively. The junior guard has taken over the point guard position in the last three games, where he is averaging 11 points and two assists per game. Rutledge is averaging 10.6 point per game for the season, where he has appeared in eight of the team’s 10 games.

Junior sharpshooter Sawyer Seymour is the only other active Pioneer averaging double figures. Seymour is scoring 10 points per game and has led the team in scoring four games this season. Seymour has hit a team-best 18 triples this year and leads the team in accuracy, connecting on 35.3 percent from deep.

Nate Elrod leads the Pioneers at 5.7 rebounds per game while also grabbing 1.6 steals per game. Rutledge currently leads the team in swipes (1.8 per game) as the Pioneers turn opponents over 15.9 times per game.

Warren County will have to control the pace in Sparta if it has any hope of running the table. The Pioneers aren’t built to win high-scoring affairs – they’re 4-1 when their opponents score 52 points or less and 2-3 in all other games. The Pioneers have scored over 50 points only once in their last six games and that was a 77-74 victory at Upperman in a contest that went into two overtimes.

If the Pioneers win Monday, they will advance to play in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Tuesday against the winner of Monday’s meeting between York and Friendship Christian. The boys finals are set at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The opposite side of the boys bracket includes White County, Coffee County, Cascade and the TN Heat.

Sable Winfree's scoring has helped the Lady Pioneers get off to an 8-2 start.

Coach Anthony Lippe and the Lady Pioneers don’t have to worry about building momentum in Sparta. The Lady Pioneers come into the tournament rolling.

Warren County (8-2) has won its last four games, with all victories coming by double figures. The Lady Pioneers are coming off their biggest blowout to date, a 62-13 thumping of LaVergne Friday at Charlie Dalton Gym.

Shelby Smartt has been a big catalyst in the winning streak, scoring 11.8 points per game in the last two weeks, including 15 points in light work against LaVergne. Smartt currently leads the Lady Pioneers in scoring this season at 9.9 points per game.

The Lady Pioneers haven’t had a player crack 100 points through their first 10 games, but three could Monday. Smartt (99 points), Sable Winfree (97 points, 9.7 ppg) and Kyra Perkins (94 points, 9.4 ppg) have all been effective scorers in spurts this year. Winfree has evolved her game as a sophomore, sinking 42.4 percent of her triples, while Perkins is still explosive around the rim.

Warren County has had five girls lead the team in scoring in a game this year. Smartt, Winfree and Perkins are on the list, as are juniors Mia Hobbs and Brienne Kelsey. The team’s depth has only been bolstered recently by the return of senior Jaden Smartt at center.

The Lady Pioneers are 4-0 in games Jaden has played this year, which includes their last three contests.

Monday’s foe, Lawrence County, will present a major challenge. The Lady Wildcats are just 5-4 this season, but two of those losses are to reigning state champion Loretto and another was a season-opening defeat against White County, 62-60. The Warriorettes, who are also in the Sonic Shootout bracket, beat Warren County 57-47 at Charlie Dalton Gym in November.

If the Lady Pioneers win Monday, they will advance to the semifinals at 4 p.m. Tuesday and will face the winner of York and Van Buren County. The finals of the girls bracket are set for 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The opposite side of the Sonic Shootout girls bracket includes White County, Cascade, Clarkrange and Wayne (W. Virginia).

The Lady Pioneers are also set to play a Christmas tournament in Florida next week.

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