Owen High Warlassies fall in conference championship

Fred McCormick

Freshman Chesney Gardner scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds at home in the opening round of the Western Highlands Conference tournament last week. And that may not have even been the most impressive performance by a player on the Warlassies roster.

That honor may belong to Dee Graves, who finished the game with 11 points, 12 rebounds and five steals in Owen’s 72-66 victory over Mitchell. Two nights later, as the Warlassies beat Madison to clinch a spot in the conference championship game, it was Kendal Marlowe’s time to shine with a season-high 22 points.

The Warlassies finished the regular season third in the conference, relying on a deep roster of athletic perimeter players and Gardner’s play in the post. Head coach Tim Raines believes that the cast of players is one of the most athletic he has seen in over two decades at the helm.

The team won four games to close out the regular season and six of seven leading into the state playoffs.

Both Owen teams kicked off the conference tournament at home with impressive wins. The Warlassies faced a Mountain Heritage team in the championship game that was 21-1 (12-0 in conference) and on a 17-game winning streak.

The Cougars were also the last team to defeat the Warlassies, beating Owen by 18 at the end of January. But the Warlassies, who lost to Mountain Heritage by eight in the championship game, knew they were capable of keeping it close against the conference champions.

Owen and Mountain Heritage were tied 20-20 at halftime in the championship. The Warlassies held an eight-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But the Couagrs found a way to score 19 in the final period, while holding the Warlassies to 10.

The Warhorses crushed Madison, 84-59, in the opening round of the conference tournament, but were bested by Polk in the next round when the tournament shifted to Avery County. The loss to Polk was the fourth time that the two teams met this season. Owen won the previous three meetings.

Although Warhorse head coach Chuck Robinson does not attribute his team’s loss to the Wolverines to the familiarity between the two teams, he said it does not help.

“It’s not easy to beat a team four times in a season,” he said. “I think our boys came out a little bit nervous and may have tried a little too hard. We just couldn’t hit shots.”

Robinson points out that the Warhorses only turned the ball over eight times in the loss and out-rebounded Polk.

“The boys played a great game,” he said. “I told them they have nothing to be ashamed of. The shots just weren’t going in.”

Both Owen teams are set to host games in the state playoffs, with the Warhorses earning a No. 8 seed and hosting Thomasville and the Warlassies, a No. 14, hosting Forest Hills. Both games are set for Tuesday, Feb. 23 (results not available as of press deadline).