There was a celebration Friday night in Manchester.
But expectations kept the party somewhat subdued.
The no. 4 Coffee County Central Lady Raiders fought off a pesky Warren County team 46-43 for a District 6-4A Championship – the program’s 6th straight district title.
“I’m very proud of them tonight,” said CHS head coach Joe Pat Cope. “They kept their composure late and acted like they have been there before.”
Composure late was key.
Warren County cut the Coffee County lead that was 20-4 at halftime down to a 2 point advantage late, 37-35 with 1:31 to play. But the Lady Raiders (29-2) answered with six straight free throws – 2 from Natalie Barnes, 2 from Olivia Vinson and 2 more from Barnes to effectively ice the game. Those free throws saved what was otherwise a miserable night at the stripe, where Coffee County was 22-for-40.
“That was not the kind of night we want at the line but out girls stepped up late and hit them when they mattered most,” added Cope.
Coffee County actually led 20-4 after a stellar defensive first half. But missed free throws left points on the board. The Lady Raiders were 12-of-23 at the line by halftime.
“I told the girls, we should probably be up 30-4 right now,” explained Cope.
That left the door open for the Lady Pioneers to storm back in the third quarter, outscoring Coffee County 20-8 to close the gap.
Offensively, anytime Warren County tried the close the gap Barnes was there to answer. The Freshman knocked down 4 3-pointers and led all scorers with 17 points.
“We have been told to shoot when we are open,” said Barnes. “We have had confidence build around us.”
Barnes was named District 6-4A tournament MVP.
“[Natalie] stepped up and I’m so proud of her,” said CHS senior Chloe Gannon, who dropped in 9 points in the win. Olivia Vinson added 7, Jalie Ruehling 5 and Emaleigh Tarpley 5.
Despite making it close, Warren County never tied the game and never led. Coffee County led wire to wire.
The win was also a measure of revenge for Coffee County, who split the regular season series with the Lady Pioneers. In their lone district loss in the past 5 years back on Feb 3., Coffee County turned the ball over 23 times and only got to the free throw line 7 times. That changed Friday, as the Lady Raiders cut their turnovers down to 13 and shot 40 shots at the line.
“We had a really good two weeks of practice after that loss,” said Gannon. “We needed that honestly.”
Foul trouble was an issue for the Lady Pioneers and their aggressive style of defense. Four starters fouled out by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Coffee County has now won 13 of the last 14 against Warren County.
Kyra Perkins and Shelby Smartt had 10 points apiece for the Lady Pioneers before fouling out.
The win sets the Lady Raiders up to host the no. 4 seed out of District 5-4A in the region quarterfinals next week. That game will likely be Friday, Feb. 24 at Joe Frank Patch Memorial Gymnasium in Manchester. Game time and opponent TBD.
Warren County will host the no. 3 seed in the quarterfinals.
The Region quarterfinals are an elimination game. A loss ends the season. A win sends the Lady Raiders to the region semi-finals, which will be Feb. 27 in the Cleveland area.
For the Lady Raiders, Chloe Gannon was named District 6-4A regular season MVP for the second straight year. Also named all-district were Olivia Vinson, Jalie Ruehling, Channah Gannon and Natalie Barnes.
Tarpley and Vinson were named to the all-tournament team, while Barnes was named tournament MVP.
For Warren County, Kyra Perkins, Mia Hobbs, Sable Winfree and Shelby Smartt were named to the all-district team.
Shelbyville’s Paige Blackburn and Franklin County’s Katie Walker were also named all-district.