LADY PIONEERS WIN DISTRICT TITLE
When Warren County cranks up DJ Khalid at home, you know it’s been a good night. There’s also truth in the lyrics – all the Lady Pioneers do is win!
For the fifth consecutive season, the Lady Pioneers have some hardware to show for their success. Warren County claimed the District 6-4A tournament championship Wednesday, rallying late to take down Coffee County 4-3.
Warren County (17-7) trailed 3-0 entering the sixth, but the Roberts sisters helped bring the team from the brink of a big loss to a thrilling victory. Freshman Callie Roberts ignited the rally with a huge two-run double, while Shelby Roberts completed the comeback with a go-ahead single with two outs.
Addison Smith, a freshman who came off the bench to hit in the frame, also was a hero as she came through with a tying single with two outs.
All Madison Hollis needed was the lead and she did the rest. The team’s hurler was able to keep dealing in the seventh, completing a four-hitter to lift the Lady Pioneers to a district tournament and continue a string of area dominance. In 2017, the Lady Pioneers won a district regular season title, then followed it with the program’s first district tournament title (2018) and first region title (2019). After COVID shut down the 2020 season, the Lady Pioneers won a regular season title last year before taking the first-ever District 6-4A tournament title after last year’s state realignment.
Gooby Martin, architect of the team’s stretch of championships, was thrilled to see his group take home another title Wednesday.
“One thing about this team is they always play hard and play for each other. I’m happy for those girls. They deserve it; they work extremely hard and bought into the program,” said Martin on the WCSA podcast. “They don’t care about the numbers or puts up stats. Everybody knows Madison is our rock star and everybody else plays their role.”
Listen the full WCSA podcast with Jeff Simmons and the WCHS softball coaching staff (Martin, Morgan Frye, Cody Crouch and Nick Cantrell) here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/wc-sports-authority-show-episode-56/id1531757796?i=1000560711271
While the night ended with a celebration – and DJ Khalid’s hit “All I Do Is Win,” blaring – the game started with a string of miscues by the Lady Pioneers. Warren County misplayed back-to-back balls in the first that led to infield singles, then committed back-to-back errors to fall behind 2-0.
By the time Kaitlyn Davis hit an RBI single, it was 3-0 and the season champs from Manchester were in complete command.
Coach Martin could have come out of the dugout and delivered a sermon at that point, but Hollis took matters in her own hands. She summoned the team to her in the circle after the slow start and showed her championship DNA with a simple, yet effective way of alleviating stress.
“I’ve always done this thing where if I make a bad pitch, I grab a handful of dirt, think about it and let the dirt go. It’s my way of letting go, so I made everybody do it,” said Hollis about her pep talk. “It may seem childish, but it really does help. They settled down and we got the outs.
“I told them, ‘Chill out. We got this.’ The nerves were high, but I knew we could do it.”
Hollis proceeded to retire 13 straight batters at one point and finished by sitting down 19 of the last 21 batters for the Lady Raiders. It would’ve been 19-of-20, but there was a little drama in the seventh with two outs.
Jolted by their rally in the sixth, the Lady Pioneers were flying around defensively in the seventh. Jessie Young got the first out, getting a shot at third and firing a strike to Kora Forbes at first. Alyssa Mosley followed by snagging a flare at short, leaving Coffee County just one out away from a loss.
Jada Bowen wouldn’t go easily. She had every Lady Pioneer and Warren County fan holding their breath when she hit a rocket down the left-field line on a 0-1 pitch. The ball cleared the fence in left, but it trailed just foul in the last few feet, becoming a loud second strike. Two pitches later, there was more theatrics.
Bowen hit a bouncer to Mosley at short, leaving the junior firing to first. The ball beat Bowen to the bag and the Lady Pioneers immediately went into celebration mode, thinking they had won the championship. Amid their hugs and high fives, the team learned that the umpire had ruled that Forbes lost contact with first and called Bowen safe.
“Me and (assistant) Cody Crouch were hugging, we’re jumping up and down and excited,” said Martin about the late play. “I had no clue. I looked at the umpire and he’s shaking his head no and the first-base coach is signaling safe. I asked, ‘What happened?’ I assumed the runner was out.”
Stunned and angry about the call, coach Martin and his staff had to wrangle their team back into the dugout as the game resumed. Thankfully, it was just a temporary halt to the party as Hollis got Chesnie Cox to pop out to Young at third for the final out.
Warren County will now move on to the Region 3-4A tournament, where it will host Rhea County next Monday, 16 at 6 p.m. The Lady Pioneers and Eagles were district rivals as recently as last year, but now will meet as region foes in a win-or-go-home matchup.
Stay tuned to the WCSA website for more information on tickets and potential broadcasts.
CLICK HERE for Painted Barn Media photos
WCSA editor-in-chief Jeff Simmons joined the Voice of the Pioneers Jay Walker on the WCS-TV broadcast Wednesday night.
Freshmen Callie Roberts and Addison Smith delivered in a big way late, getting RBI hits as the Lady Pioneers rallied to win the district title. (Painted Barn Media photos)
Coming up clutch at the plate
Coach Gooby Martin is known for his play-by-play commentary in the dugout, only it seems like he has a feed from the future. Martin can call things before they happen, just like he did Wednesday in the sixth inning. Something told him his team was due and he started relaying the highlights.
“Callie is going to gap this one.” It happened.
“Addison is going to get on.” The freshman did, tying the game in the process.
“Shelby is due.” She was, ultimately getting the hit that won the game.
Taking coach Martin’s words as gospel was something that really came in handy during Shelby’s at-bat. The senior was 0-for-3 when she stepped up in a big position late, leaving coach Martin to walk her all the way to the batter’s box giving advice.
He offered a few tips, but mostly had a request that paid dividends in a big way.
“I asked her for two pitches to get Ky to second base,” said Martin about the late-game strategy. “Shelby wasn’t looking comfortable at the plate, but I knew if we got Ky into scoring position, Shelby was due one. She’s the offensive player of the year in the district for a reason. I asked her to give me a few pitches to get Ky to second and it worked out for us.”
It wasn’t the only time in the sixth that Martin’s moves paid off to perfection. His faith in freshman Callie Roberts all season as a designated hitter showed up in a big way when the youngster smashed a two-run double to start the scoring.
After that, Martin made the move to allow Addison to hit with two outs and the team desperately needing a run to tie the game. Some may have thought the moment was too much for a freshman, but Martin stuck with the plan.
Addison was able to come through, hitting a high chopper up the middle that skipped over Coffee County pitcher Kaitlyn Davis and bounced off second base, giving Maggy Whiles (running for Callie) time to score the tying run.
Smith may have been more nervous to do the postgame interview than she was hitting in a pressure-packed situation, but she explained her approach in the moment.
“I was just going up there to compete and try to get a hit. (When I saw it bouncing) I was excited and running fast. I got a chance last week and didn’t get a hit, but I was ready to try it again,” said Smith.
Warren County finished the game with eight hits, doubling up the Lady Raider total in the championship game. Callie Roberts had two hits and two RBIs, while Hollis also had two hits (including a double to the fence in the first). Shelby, Addison, Marli McBride and Jessie Young had one hit each.
Hollis leading the way
It felt like a shock when the district awards were announced Wednesday and Madison Hollis’ name wasn’t called. She easily had a case for pitcher of the year (8 ER in nine district games this season) or MVP (the award she won last year in District 6AAA).
She’ll gladly settle for champion though.
Hollis did everything she could to keep the Lady Pioneers in the game early after Coffee County went ahead on errors. With the Lady Raiders leading 3-0 after one inning, Hollis went to work and had four straight 1-2-3 innings before the Lady Pioneers could break through on the board.
Included in that stretch of domination was Hollis going all out and diving to catch a ball hit down the first-base line. It was a blooper that easily could’ve been a single, but Hollis laid out for a web gem.
Her work in the circle didn’t surprise any of the Lady Pioneers, including the coach. Gooby Martin has seen Hollis step up all year under great scrutiny and deliver over and over.
“In years past, we were guaranteed 6-7 runs a game. This year, we weren’t. Madison took the ball every game and the pressure was on her to go out there and pitch her butt off. She never blinked – she never wavered. She took the challenge on herself. I can’t say enough about Madison – she means so much to our team,” said Martin.
Hollis had a huge smile on her face after the victory, but Martin believes her calm demeanor was the difference late. It would’ve been easy for things to fall apart after a big call went against the Lady Pioneers in the seventh, but their senior hurler made sure it was a moot point.
“It’ll go unnoticed, but Madison kept her composure (after the call). I’m not sure what I would’ve done in the situation – I don’t know if I would’ve blown it or been mad or upset and grooved one because I was mad at the call. Madison kept her composure and did what she’s done all year for us. She’s been a star in the circle,” said Martin.
Motivated by last year, no-hitter
Warren County winning a district championship would’ve been a hard prediction to make after the first night of the season. At that point, the Lady Pioneers were just hoping they’d get a hit at some point. Warren County lost 1-0 on opening night to White County, when Addison Abell threw a no-hitter (while striking out 19).
Coach Martin saw all the headlines and heard the noise from outside the locker room about his team. He knew there were going to be doubters, but he believed a young group of Lady Pioneers would get better quickly.
“At the beginning of the season, nobody gave us a chance. We started with the no-hitter and everybody goes into panic mode. I knew we had young players and faced a good team and good pitcher. Those things happen,” said Martin. “We talked all year about getting to May playing our best. It took some time, but we’ve improved each game and now we’ve put together our best stretch now.”
Winning the district championship was a nice nod to the doubters, but it was also redemption for Martin. The Lady Pioneers were the favorites to win a title last year and make a deep postseason run, only to fall in back-to-back games in Rhea County and get sent home before the region tournament began.
Those losses have stuck with Martin for a year.
“One thing that hurt me last year was I don’t like to underachieve and I thought we underachieved. I didn’t like that and I promised myself we’d get better. I think we did,” said Martin.
Having a core of seniors, led by Hollis and offensive MVP Shelby Roberts, was a good starting spot, but the Lady Pioneers were going to need more. Over the year, the pieces started fitting together. Alyssa Mosley, honorable mention all-district as a sophomore, became a two-way star at shortstop. Jessie Young and Kora Forbes held down the corners and started chipping in some timely hits. The freshmen grew up quick, with Ky Damon, Addison Smith, Callie Roberts and Maggy Whiles all playing huge parts in the sixth-inning comeback Wednesday.
Martin knew this team had the chance to do great things because of how they played and interacted with each other.
“I don’t know if this team is as talented as some of the ones I’ve had in the past, but they play for each other. I’ve told everybody this team was going to be special because they play for each other,” said Martin. “They don’t care about who gets the limelight – every night it’s somebody different. Kora had a big hit against Franklin County, Alyssa had a big hit in the first game against Coffee and then Callie and Shelby had the big hits (in the championship).
“They play for each other. I love the way they care about each other. This championship meant a lot this year to me. These girls are so good for each other that I’m glad they got to experience a championship.”