Hoops history: Warren downs Vikings to claim first district title

ATHENS – History was made at the Convocation Center in Athens Thursday, as the Warren High boys’ basketball team won its first-ever district title with a 61-46 triumph over Vinton County.

The Warriors have developed a reputation over the years for having a strong boys’ basketball program, but surprisingly, had never gotten past the district tournament. That no longer holds true.

“It feels great,” said junior Evan French. “We came together as a team. We knew we were gonna have to work hard. We had a good week of practice. Good defense wins games and we just executed.”

“This is just huge,” said senior Dylan Leffingwell. “It’s been a long time coming. Since my freshman year we’ve been trying to get here and trying to get that win. We finally got it and it’s just an exciting moment for all of us.”

The “Sweet 16” bound Warriors (24-1) shot 52 percent (23-for-44) from the floor in the contest while holding Vinton County (19-5) to 19-for-55 (35 percent). The Vikings were limited to just four points in a game-changing third quarter.

“My assistant coaches were talking about a zone,” said Warren head coach Blane Maddox. “And I’m not real fond of zone. I thought ‘Man, they (Vinton County) can shoot the 3.’ But we went with the zone in the third quarter and our length was able to stay in the paint but also challenge jump shots and cut off the drive. It really took them out of the flow of their offense.”

Warren is now scheduled to play Athens, a 64-54 Thursday winner over Miami Trace, in a regional semi at the Convo at 8 p.m. next Thursday. During regular season play, the Warriors beat the Bulldogs in The Plains.

With the game tied at 26-26 at halftime, Warren used a 17-4 third period to pull away from the Vikings and put the game out of reach. After Bryce Owings opened things up with a basket for VC, Warren went on a 12-0 run, led by six points from sophomore Michael Hall and three apiece from juniors Reece Patton and French, to take 38-28 lead. After a layup by Owings, Leffingwell put in a basket followed by a 3-pointer from Hall to make it a 13-point game going into the final stanza.

Warren then scored 11 of the first 12 points in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.

Hall poured in a game-high 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

“I’m just happy to be out here with my teammates and help the seniors and coaches get their first district title,” Hall said. “It just feels good to be out here and get the win.”

French contributed a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The Matt Combs-coached Vikings were led by Jordan Kidd’s 16 points. No other Vinton County player was in double figures.

Leffingwell opened things up with a 3-pointer in the first period, but a layup-and-one from Jordan Kidd tied things up at 3-3. After Hall traded layups with Kidd, the Warriors went on an 8-0 run to take a 13-5 lead. French led the charge with four points, along with two points apiece Patton and senior Danny Pannell. After the Vikings got a layup from Chase Wood, French hit back-to-back NBA-range 3s to stretch the Warrior lead to 19-7. A basket by Wood cut it to 19-9 to close out the opening period.

Patton opened the second quarter with a jumper followed by a free throw from Hall. VC’s Jordan Albright then converted a layup, but Hall quickly countered with a layup of his own to make the score 24-11.

The Vikings then surged for 15 straight points, which included six from Kidd and four from Owings, to take its first lead of the game at 26-24. Senior Adam Lang scored on a layup to tie the game going into the break.

Thirteen first-half turnovers for Warren allowed the Vikings to get back into the game, but the Warriors turned the tide in second half, forcing eight VC turnovers.

“It’s huge for the community,” Maddox said.

“When you look up in the crowd, there’s a lot of people that have been waiting for this that are basketball fans. They’ve been supporting the program forever and I’m glad they got rewarded by a special team.”