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Costly errors end the Pioneer season

Senior Layne Roberts took a hard-luck loss in his final game, surrendering eight unearned runs.

The Pioneers can cross Coffee County off their Christmas shopping list. They just gave the Red Raiders a huge gift.

Warren County ended its season the worst way Tuesday, stumbling through an error-filled afternoon to fall in Manchester 13-5 in the District 6-4A tournament. The loss kept the Pioneers from clinching a region bid and continuing their year as the group finished 18-16 overall.

There was no sugar coating it after the game – a collection of self-inflicted wounds cost the Pioneers a chance to play deeper in the postseason. Warren County committed seven errors, leading to 10 unearned Coffee County runs. Seven of those came in the deciding fifth inning, when the Pioneers failed multiple times to record the final out as the game slipped away.

It would have been hard to ask for a better scenario entering the fifth inning for the Pioneers. Despite giving Coffee County two early runs in the first (the Red Raiders plated both without a hit thanks to two Pioneer errors and a walk), Warren County went into the bottom of the fifth leading 4-2. Senior Layne Roberts, the co-Pitcher of the Year in District 6-4A, had settled in and Coffee County, weary from a nine-inning battle in Tuesday’s first tourney game, looked like it was running out of steam.

The Red Raiders didn’t get a delivery of Red Bulls to come back though, just a cascading collapse by the Pioneers that snowballed into a full-fledge meltdown. It all happened with two outs too.

Roberts issued a four-pitch walk to Jacob Sherrill to start the fifth, the Red Raiders immediately got him around to third. Sherrill took off for second, but ended up on third when the throw sailed into centerfield. Roberts did bounce back with a strikeout, but then followed with another walk to put runners on the corners.

Catcher Jax King looked like he would end the threat on his own, making up for his high throw on Sherrill’s steal in a big way. When Coffee County attempted to take second again, King squared to throw, only his laser went to third where Sherrill was straying too far from the bag. King’s pickoff in front of the Pioneer dugout got a big ovation and was much deserved as the catcher looked like sheriff candidate all night. King took out base burglars most of the next, including ending the fourth by catching Coffee County stealing.

The momentum went away quick. Roberts issued his third walk of the frame to put runners on first and second, then had a wild pitch that bumped the tying runs into scoring position. At that point, coach Phillip King made the decision to intentionally walk Brady Nugent, who was up in the count 2-1 and has been a thorn in the Pioneers’ side all season.

It looked like a stroke of genius when the next batter hit a chopper to short, but that bouncing ball was the beginning of the end for the Pioneers. Briley Moore bobbled the ball to allow the runners to circle, then compounded the problem by unleashing a wild throw that ended up out of play behind first base.

The error locked the game up at 4-4, but it was only tied for a second. With the go-ahead runs in scoring position, Jacob Holder jumped on the first pitch from Roberts. He hit a hard grounder to Moore at short, one the senior caught deep in the hole. He tried to get Holder at first, but his throw took Easton Denning off the bag as the big sophomore leapt in the air to try and make a play.

Denning attempted a swipe tag on Holder, but the umpire signaled he was off the base on the play. Coach King came out to protest the ball and ask for an appeal to check if Denning completed the tag, but the call was upheld as the high throw gave Coffee County enough time to score two more runs.

Down 6-4 and still one out from ending the frame, Nolan Jernigan ended Roberts’ night by smacking a single into left field. Coach King called on trusted reliever Kyle Johnson to try and get the third out, but the Red Raiders were ready to roll with renewed energy.

Aiden Robertson drew a seven-pitch walk to load up the bases, then Sherrill – the rally starter – came through with the dagger. He mashed a shot into the right-field gap, sending the Pioneer outfield chasing all the way to the fence. Sherrill was able to make it all the way to third as his bases-clearing triple gave Coffee County a 9-4 advantage.

After another walk (the sixth in the inning) put runners on the corners, Johnson got a strikeout to mercifully end the frame. The damage was done though – the Pioneers were shell-shocked by the series of unfortunate events.

Brady Nugent came in for Coffee County in the sixth and put a stranglehold on the victory. He got a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth before the Red Raiders nearly ended the game in the bottom of the frame.

Cole Pippenger got Coffee County right back in the groove at the plate in the sixth with a lead-off double, sailing a deep shot into center and outside the reach of Eli Kuykendall. He would score when Nugent hit a hard shot to third and Baler Melton threw a two-hopper to first that eluded Denning.

The Red Raiders would push the lead to nine by scoring on a wild pitch, an RBI double by Holder and a groundout from Jernigan. The rally had Coffee County in range of winning by run rule, but Hayden Collins – who relieved Johnson in the sixth – ended the frame with a strikeout.

A comeback seemed nearly impossible after the Pioneers started the seventh with two quick outs, but a glimmer of life showed up when Kuykendall and Melton both drew walks. Aiden Miller followed by hitting a roller up the middle, one that took a tricky hop off the mound and Coffee County booted.

Kuykendall scored on the play, but – fittingly – the game ended with one last Pioneer blunder. Jackson King, who had just entered to run for Melton, went too far off second on Coffee County’s error and couldn’t scramble back in time.

The ending was a nightmare for the Pioneers, but everything leading up to the game felt like a dream. Warren County had Roberts rested and ready for the big stage, while Coffee County had exhausted most of its rotation in a nine-inning war with Franklin County Tuesday afternoon (Franklin County won 3-2 on a walk-off single in the ninth).

The Pioneers immediately went to work on Coffee County lefty Timothy Henderson in the first, seizing a 1-0 lead on Kuykendall’s two-out RBI single. It came after Henderson hit Denning and Will Vance with two outs, leading to a huge ovation from the Warren County dugout when Kuykendall ripped one into centerfield after fouling off five would-be final strikes.

Will Vance was one of seven seniors to play his final game as a Pioneer Tuesday.

Warren County’s defensive woes showed up early though – it just didn’t collapse the team until the fifth. Booted balls by Moore and 2B True Craven, sandwiched around a walk, allowed Coffee County to tie it 1-1. Jernigan pushed the Red Raiders up 2-1 with a sac fly – completing a rally that never featured a hit (Coffee County didn’t get a hit off Roberts until the third).

The exchanging of gifts swung Warren County’s way in the second. After Miller led off with a single, the Pioneers went into small-ball mode. Jax King laid down a bunt to move Miller – and he got more bags than he bargained for. Coffee County threw the ball into right field trying to get Jax at first, allowing Miller to score and the team’s catcher to circle to third.

Back even at 2-2, the Pioneers went back to the bunt. Curtlan George pushed a shot toward first, leaving Alex van Vuuren (courtesy runner for King) dancing away from third. He got his chance to make a break when Coffee County’s infield missed the ball initially and had to settle for getting George out at first.

Coffee County followed with another error, allowing the Pioneers to put another runner aboard. He came around with two outs when Denning hit a flare over third base that landed just inside the line, making it 4-2.

The Pioneers had reasons to celebrate when they seized an early 4-2 lead in Manchester (Jeff Simmons photos).


The dream of playing for a district championship started to change to a sense of destiny when the Pioneers built momentum in the middle innings. Roberts had two strikeouts in a quick second inning, then Warren County went around the horn in the third to turn an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. By the time Jax nailed Jernigan trying to take third to end the fourth, the Pioneers were in full control. Their grasp of the game was gone an inning later.

The disappointing loss ended the careers of Roberts, Kuykendall, Vance, Craven, Moore, George and Johnson as Pioneers. It won’t be an easy class to replace – Roberts, Kuykendall and Vance were each all-district selections, while Moore was a full-time starter who hit .368 this season, Johnson was the team’s most-trusted reliever and George played a crucial role of the team’s outfield.

Coach King has already announced tryouts for the 2023 team will be held Thursday, May 26 at Patrick Ramsey Field. Prospective players are asked to report with a completed physical form, equipment and appropriate attire. Tryouts begin at 11 a.m.

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