Owen loses heart-breaker in conference final

Warhorses fall to Avery Vikings in WHC championship game, begin state playoffs at home on Feb. 21

Fred McCormick

The Owen High Warhorses closed out the Western Highlands Conference Tournament on opposite sides of a pair of games decided in the final seconds Feb. 14 and 17.

A half-court shot from senior Kobe Bartlett lifted Owen past Mountain Heritage in the semi-final round, setting up a championship game, which the Warhorses lost 70-69 to Avery.

Owen senior Brian Bartlett puts up the final shot against Avery in the Western Highlands Conference championship game, which the Warhorses lost 70-69.

Owen hosted the tournament, which decided the conference’s champions for the girls and boys teams. The Warhorses and Warlassies both advanced to the semi-final round with victories to open the tournament.

The Warlassies fell 49-39 to Mountain Heritage in the second round, but the Warhorses found themselves in a battle with the Cougars later that night.

After erupting for 98 points in their opening-round win over the Patriots, the Warhorses were engaged in a defensive struggle with the Cougars in the first half of the semi-final game. Despite taking a 25-22 lead into the half, Owen found itself down in the final seconds of the game.

Kobe Bartlett, who scored 12 against the Cougars, pulled down a rebound off a missed Mountain Heritage free throw with just over six seconds remaining in the game. Bartlett advanced the ball with the Warhorses down 55-53 and pulled up from just inside half court, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer.

Senior Kobe Bartlett puts up 3 of his 12 points against Mountain Heritage in the Western Highlands Conference Tournament semi-final round. Bartlett would go on to hit the game-winner from just inside half-court.

The dramatic win led to a conference final match-up between Owen and Avery, which entered the game on a 54-game WHC winning streak. The Vikings had last played the Warhorses on Jan. 16, escaping with a 76-74 win. The championship game proved to be even tighter.

Six points separated Owen and Avery going into the half, but the Warhorses owned the third quarter, outscoring Avery by 8 and carrying a 2-point lead into the fourth.

The Warhorses increased that lead to 6 midway through the quarter, but the Vikings took a 64-63 lead late. A Brian Bartlett free throw put Owen ahead with under a minute to play, but the ensuing Vikings' possession gave Avery the 70-69 advantage with under a second remaining.

Brian Bartlett's potentially game-winning shot sailed over the rim as time ticked off the clock, giving Avery its 55th straight WHC victory.

The 21-5 Warhorses earned a number 6 seed in the state playoffs, which gave them home-court advantage against the Parkwood High School Rebels to open the tournament on Feb. 21 (results not available as of deadline).

The 17-5 Warlassies were ranked number 20 heading into the tournament, and traveled on Feb. 21 to Trinity, just outside of Winston-Salem to take on the 10th-seeded Bulldogs.