White Co. Clinches State Berth in Sectional Thriller vs. Austin-East, 54-53

Warriors Overcome 9-Point Deficit In Final 4:30; Pinion Hits Game-Winner With 1.8 Left

By Michael Lindsay


The magic of Roy Sewell Gymnasium lives on.

Facing a 9-point deficit with 4:30 remaining, the White County Warriors’ dream of a state tournament berth was mere minutes from ending Monday evening against Austin-East.

With their season on the line, the Warriors reeled off a 13-3 run over the final 4 minutes of Monday’s Class 3A sectional to defeat the Roadrunners 54-53 in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Roy Sewell Gymnasium.

“This is just great,” said Warrior head coach Eric Mitchell. “I’m super proud of these guys and this crowd. I told our guys before the game that there’s a different roar in ‘the Roy’ when it gets packed like that. You could hear it tonight.”

Monday’s victory clinches White County’s first TSSAA state tournament berth since 2015. The 24-11 Warriors won the Region 4-3A championship last Wednesday and will wrap up their season next week at the Murphy Center.

Christian Henderson led White County with 18 points off the bench.

“He’s just happy-go-lucky,” Mitchell said. “As soon as I tell him to hit me one (three-pointer), he hits back-to-back. He’s a special young man.”

Warrior senior Tomas Paul also hit double figures with 13 points followed by fellow senior Jake Davis with 10.

“Jake and Tomas played the entire game,” Mitchell said. “It’s a collective group effort. This group has been together for so long and they’re a special group of kids.”

Austin-East was led by Mr. Basketball finalist Shane Cherry, who dropped 21 points for the Roadrunners.

After White County opened with a 5-0 advantage, Austin-East battled back to take an 18-17 lead with 6:08 remaining in the second period via a Cherry transition dunk. After trading leads, Austin-East held a 27-25 advantage at halftime.

“That was resiliency; getting hot and playing well at the right time,” Mitchell said. “They never gave up. We didn’t shoot it well early, but that was because of Austin-East.”

The Roadrunners opened the second half with a basket to take a 29-25 lead. Davis answered with a three-pointer to pull Sparta within one, 29-28.

Austin-East took control from there as they reeled off a 10-4 run to end the third period ahead 39-32.

The Roadrunners pushed their lead out to 9 points (45-36) with 6:10 remaining.

White County cut their deficit to 4 points (45-41) with 5:07 remaining before a quick 5-0 run gave the Roadrunners a 50-41 lead with 4:16 left.

Henderson answered with a coast-to-coast layup with 4:08 remaining. Following an AE free-throw, the Roadrunners led 51-43 with 3:00 remaining.

Paul kept his team alive with a three-pointer with 2:55 remaining to pull White County within 5 points, 51-46.

“We made a three and got a stop,” Mitchell said. “The momentum shifted; you heard the roar.”

Following the score and a stop, Henderson sank a three-pointer with 2:06 remaining to bring the Warriors back within a possession, 51-49.

Following a Roadrunner turnover on the ensuing possession, Henderson again drained a shot from deep as a three-pointer with 1:15 left gave White County a 52-51 lead.

Austin-East quickly answered with a basket to retake a 53-52 advantage with 1:01 on the clock.

White County would hold the ball for the next 50 seconds as the Warriors called a timeout with 8.5 seconds remaining.

Inbounding from the left sideline down by one point, the Warriors ran a give-and-go to sophomore point guard Tripp Pinion who sliced into the lane before spinning back to his right hand for a layup with 1.8 seconds left to give White County a 54-53 lead.

“We ran that last year in the district championship to win it and it worked,” Mitchell said. “Their pressure bothered Tripp early. He’s just tenacious.”

Austin-East got the final look at the basket from beyond half-court but was unable to convert, sealing White County’s come-from-behind victory, 54-53.

Sparta’s path to the Glass House wasn’t without adversity as the Warriors were 9-7 overall in early January with 4 straight losses.

White County entered postseason play as the #4 seed in the District 7-3A tournament before upsetting #1 Stone Memorial en route to a district runner-up finish.

Sparta stayed hot in region play as they ran away with a 70-48 victory over Stone Memorial in the Region 4-3A championship before winning Monday’s Class 3A sectional over AE, 54-53.

Next week’s trip to the Murphy Center will be White County’s 14th state tournament appearance with their most recent coming in 2015. Sparta won back-to-back state championships in 1998-’99.

More information on White County’s state tournament schedule will be published when available.

White County (54): Christian Henderson 18, Tomas Paul 13, Jake Davis 10, Tripp Pinion 7, Japheth Richmond 6