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Lady Pioneers punch ticket to sectionals

Playing for a state bid became a reality for the Lady Pioneers Monday night. Warren County topped Rhea County 6-2 in the region semifinals at home, securing a spot in Wednesday’s region championship and Friday’s sectional. One more win Friday and the Lady Pioneers will punch their ticket to their first-ever state tournament.

Madison Hollis earned another impressive win in the circle, going the distance while stifling Rhea County all night. Hollis is now 3-0 in region games, the lone Lady Pioneer in school history to have a win in region in her career.

Freshman Callie Roberts continued to come up clutch in the postseason, ripping a two-out, two-run double in the fourth, while Alyssa Mosley stayed blazing hot with a 2-for-2 night, including an early RBI single. Mosley, hitting .750 in the postseason, also scored three times.

Warren County (18-7) will now face Coffee County for the sixth time in the region final. The Lady Raiders advanced with an 8-2 win at Walker Valley, featuring a two-homer night from freshman Jalyn Moran. While another rematch with their rival will be the focus Tuesday, coach Gooby Martin was more interested Monday with his team’s resolve in an elimination game.

“I thought our team responded well (to the pressure of playing an elimination game),” said Martin, who now has 18 postseason wins at Warren County. “I thought tonight’s game was a byproduct of the district championship game. It felt like our Super Bowl kind of (last week), but our girls responded then and carried it over tonight. We beat a good team 6-2 – we’ll take that.”

Rhea County (21-10) came into regions reeling a bit after a great regular season. The Lady Eagles won District 5-4A in the regular season, but were upset 2-1 by Walker Valley in the tournament finals. To make matters worse, the team’s senior hurler – Michaela Taylor – was hurt early in the championship game and couldn’t play Monday.

Freshmen Chelsea Reel (L, 4 IP, 5 runs) and Allie Shaver (2 IP, one run) did their best for the Lady Eagles, but Warren County did damage at the plate early and often. The Lady Pioneers scored in each of the first four innings, capped by Roberts’ double in the fourth to make it 5-0.

Mosley ripped a two-out single in the first, scoring Jaz Ward to give the Lady Pioneers the first run. Hollis helped her own cause in the second, blasting a two-out double off the right-field fence to bring Ky Damon around. An error, again with two outs, cost the Lady Eagles in the third as Mosley scored off a hard-hit ball by Jessie Young that handcuffed Rhea County’s young shortstop.

Hollis and coach Martin both believed the quick start was huge to sealing up a sectional berth.

“It was big for us (to get ahead). We haven’t done that a lot this year. I think other teams start to press because we have Madison in the circle - it’s tough to score runs on her,” said Martin.

Hollis added, ““It’s great. When we’re up, but not by a lot, I feel a lot of pressure and I want to get them slow plays so we can get outs. It’s so rewarding and so nice to just go out and throw (when we’re up).”

Hollis did more than just throw – she dominated most of the night while solidifying her standing as one of the greatest Lady Pioneers in the process. Hollis scattered nine hits throughout the night, only getting touched up after Warren County had a commanding lead. The senior, who burst onto the scene with back-to-back shutouts as a freshman to lead the Lady Pioneers to a region championship in 2019, looked poised and confident from the first pitch.

“I was feeling good. We warmed up good and I was confident. I’ve played them for three years in the past and we did really well against them; I thought we could continue to do really well. We’ve been playing really well (in the postseason),” said Hollis.

Warren County is now 12-3 against Rhea County since 2017, when the Lady Pioneers started their string of postseason success.

Rhea County did make it interesting in the sixth. After Gabi Messer got the visitors on the board with a pinch-hit single with two outs, the Lady Pioneers had chances to make the final out on the infield, but failed to make either play.

With the bases juiced and the tying run (at the time) coming to the plate, coach Martin came on the field to settle down his team. His pep talk was short and sweet, while his prediction in the huddle was right on point.

“He came out and told us to take a breather. He said ‘We’re going to get the next out and come in and hit.’ That’s what we did,” said Hollis, who said she was hoping for the bouncer back to the circle that ended the threat.

Roberts added her second RBI double in the bottom of the sixth, ripping a shot just inside the third-base line that allowed Mosley to score following a walk. Rhea County came back with one run in the seventh on a liner that smashed 3B Jessie Young in her toe and ricocheted into left field, but forced a comebacker to end the game.

Warren County will now take on Coffee County for a sixth time Wednesday. Both teams are already guaranteed a spot in sectionals Friday, but the winner of the region championship will get to host later this week. The game will be at Warren County and is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Follow the WCSA for updates on ticket sales and potential broadcast details for the region finals.

CLICK HERE for Painted Barn Media photos

WC pitching – Madison Hollis (W), 7 IP, 9H, 2R (1 ER), 4K

WC hitting – Callie Roberts 2H, 3 RBI, Alyssa Mosley 2H, RBI, Madison Hollis H, RBI, Marli McBride H, Ky Damon H

Mosley, Callie Roberts catching fire

When coach Gooby Martin decided to tinker with his lineup in the postseason, it resulted in all four seniors moving to the top. Everybody knew what Shelby Roberts – the District 6-4A offensive MVP – would bring to the table at the lead-off spot, while Madison Hollis and Marli McBride have the power to change a game with one pitch.

After Aleya Esparza in the clean-up spot, there were people who had the ability to produce, but nobody could be sure if they would rise to the occasion in elimination games. Many Lady Pioneers, led by Alyssa Mosley and Callie Roberts, have more than answered the call.

Mosley and Callie have been the backbone of the Lady Pioneer lineup in four postseason games. Mosley, a junior, is hitting .750 (6-for-8) while also walking four times, while the younger Roberts is .455 with three key RBI doubles in the last two games. The duo has driven in nine of the team’s 18 postseason runs.

Their contributions have been vital to Warren County earning the right to play in sectionals for just the second time in program history.

“They’ve been huge. We need that – it’s going to take nine hitters to win games for us. This is a different team. I’ve said we don’t have a lot of pop (like the past), so we have to grind it out. Everybody is ready and competing. I like the way they’re playing right now,” said Martin.

There have been some other breakouts too. Without Kora Forbes hitting a two-run triple early against Franklin County, the postseason train could’ve been derailed before getting out of the station. Ky Damon has been peskier back at No. 9, while Addison Smith hit the ball hard again as a pinch-hitter Monday.

It’s not easy to adjust to the pressure of getting clutch hits in the postseason, but Mosley and company are figuring it out. The junior, coming off an all-district season, says its just about doing what her coach asks.

“The key for me is (coach Martin) wants us to get runners on, so I’ve just been trying to do that. I’ve just tried to get on for my team and let them get me in. We just need runs,” said Mosley, who hit .309 in the regular season.

Another way the bottom of the lineup is putting pressure on teams is by running. Warren County is a perfect 8-for-8 on stolen bases in the postseason, with Mosley (3) and Damon (2) leading the way. Mosley took a base late against Rhea County, getting into position to score on a double from Callie Roberts. The green light on the bags has been a pleasant surprise for the junior, who said, “It felt good. I felt fast,” with a laugh after Monday’s win.

Don’t expect the Lady Pioneers to get less aggressive as they get deeper into the postseason. Coach Martin saw late in Monday’s game, after the Lady Pioneers made a few errors to allow Rhea County to bring the tying run up, that there’s never enough runs to make you feel safe.

“I didn’t feel comfortable until the final out. We got up 5-0, they got one and then we got one back – that was big for us. We need to score runs to win; This deep in the postseason, you have to find ways to score,” said Martin.

Hollis ascending to G.O.A.T. status

There have been some great Lady Pioneers put on the uniform over the decades. When Madison Hollis is done, she could have the stats and, more importantly, the wins to say she’s the best to suit up for Warren County softball.

Hollis made another pressure-packed start look easy Monday, scattering nine hits against Rhea County to earn her third region win as a Lady Pioneer. Before Hollis arrived at WCHS in 2019, the number region wins the school had in history was zero.

Rhea County was the first team to score against Hollis in the region tourney – she threw shutouts against Walker Valley (4-0) and Ooltewah (3-0) in 2019. Even though the Lady Eagles did find a way to scratch a couple by on Hollis, it came after the Lady Pioneers were well in control. And, when Warren County needed a key out late, Hollis came through in the clutch.

Just when others were getting nervous as errors loaded the bases in the sixth, Hollis was entering chill mode. Coach Gooby Martin made a visit to the circle to get the team to check in mentally, but Hollis already knew what she was going to do.

She forced jam shot right back to the circle, easily corralling it and tossing to first for the final out. Crisis averted, G.O.A.T. status activated.

Hollis is now 4-0 this year and 9-4 in her career in the postseason. She has a 1.82 ERA in 80.2 career postseason innings, with the majority of those runs coming in 2021 (1-2 record, 11 ER in 18 innings) while she dealt with a shoulder injury. She’s thrown nine complete games and taken two losses while giving up two runs (2-1 in 2019 against Cookeville) and one run (1-0 last year to Rhea County), respectively.

Her 2022 postseason (4-0 record, 0.50 ERA) is starting to look eerily similar to her freshman year, when she helped get the Lady Pioneers within a win of a state bid (4-2 record, 1.62 ERA in 2019). She’s added excellent defense to her splendid pitching too – even making a diving play last week in the district championship game.

Hollis also happens to be on the team’s best hitters – she’s batting .308 in the postseason (third on the team).

Perhaps the most impressive stat of Hollis’ postseason dominance is her ability to avoid free passes. In 80+ innings, Hollis has issues just 10 walks, including none in four games this year (she has hit two batters). She’s not a flamethrower, but Hollis does major damage by dialing in the strike zone (47 Ks), getting weak contact and making opponents earn their way on base.

It will take a full team effort for the Lady Pioneers to get over the top Friday and earn their way to the state tournament for the first time in school history, but make no mistake – If the Lady Pioneers are in Murfreesboro vying for a state title, it will start with the work Hollis does in the circle.

Lady Pioneers vs. Lady Raiders, Part 6

Meet the new boss – same as the old boss. When the Lady Pioneers wanted to climb to the top of the district, they had to do it by going through Coffee County. If they want to collect another region championship trophy, they’ll have to do it by beating the Lady Raiders again.

Coffee County, a long-time nemesis, will be in the visitor’s dugout Wednesday for the fourth time this season. The Lady Raiders currently have the edge in the season series 3-2 by virtue of winning all the regular-season matchups (including two in Warren County), while the Lady Pioneers have the district championship trophy.

While bragging rights will be back on the line when the teams clash, the stakes are lowered for this matchup. Both teams know the most important game to win the rest of the week will come in sectionals, but winning Wednesday would mean homefield advantage for Friday’s elimination game.

Coach Gooby Martin doesn’t foresee many major curveballs coming in the battle with Coffee County. By now, it’s about playing clean ball and battling until the final out. “We’re going to put the uniforms on and play,” said Martin. “They know us well - we know them well. I’m sure (Kaitlyn) Davis will be in the circle and Madison will be in the circle. It’ll be another good game.”

Davis allowed just six hits in Monday’s 8-2 win at Walker Valley while also going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Freshmen Jalyn Moran and Channah Gannon combined for three HRs and five RBIs, showing big bats to counter Coffee County’s blinding speed at the top of the lineup. Moran and Gannon weren’t in the starting lineup when Warren County beat Coffee County 3-1 in the district tournament winner’s bracket finals, though they did suit up and start last week in the championship game.

Facing so many top-flight hitters, including the above trio and Kiya Ferrell, Chesnie Cox, Olivia Evans and Haidyn Campbell, is one reason why Madison Hollis loves suiting up against Coffee County. “It’s fun. I enjoy pitching against good hitting teams. They really challenge me and I can’t wait for it,” said the senior about another matchup with the Lady Raiders.

Game time is set for 6 p.m. Follow the WCSA for updates on ticket sales and potential broadcast details for the region finals.

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