Bringing a district title home was one of Warren County’s goals this season, but it was just a stepping stone to bigger things. The Pioneers didn’t get their trophy Tuesday night, falling to Cookeville 5-2 in the District 6AAA title game, but they aren’t going to be hanging their heads.
There is still plenty of baseball left to be played.
“They’re hurt and disappointed and I don’t blame them – I’m hurt and disappointed myself,” said coach Phillip King about Tuesday’s loss. “It stinks to lose and it especially stinks to lose a championship. We’re still playing though.
“There are a lot of teams at the house right now that would love to be in our shoes. You’d love to host a region game, but at least we get to go play one.”
Warren County (22-12-1) never seemed to recover from falling behind 3-0 in the first inning. Cookeville was able to get to starter Layne Roberts early, using a pair of RBI doubles and a sac fly to take an early lead.
A costly Pioneer error in the third gave the Cavaliers another run, while a two-out blooper in the fifth was just out of the reach of three Warren County defenders that pushed Cookeville up 5-0.
“Coming out, we felt pretty confident. We’ve played well lately. Layne is our guy and he goes out and they swung it really well,” said King. “We had some good innings and Layne settled in. They had one run score on an error that shouldn’t happen, but then they tack on another with a flare. That’s what you have to do to win big games.”
The big hits didn’t come for the Pioneers, who stranded 11 runners. Warren County had the bases loaded twice, in the first and fourth innings, but weren’t able to capitalize. The Pioneers wouldn’t quit though – Braden Bottoms ripped a two-run single in the sixth to give the home team some hope, but the Cavaliers were able to close out the victory.
“We had the bases loaded twice and didn’t score. We had opportunities but didn’t come up with the big hits. We have nothing to hang our heads about – that’s a good team with some nice players,” said King. “We were able to scratch two across and had a runner in the seventh. Our guys aren’t going to quit – that’s the DNA.”
Many had hoped Tuesday was going to be a crowning achievement for the Pioneers, who were in search of their first District 6AAA tournament title since 2014. It was also the last District 6AAA game with the current set of teams, which added a few extra bragging rights for the winner.
In the end, coach King took time to remember how far his team has come since being 8-8 and wondering if they could find a way to string a couple of wins together.
“When we played them there, it was kind of our rocket point for us. We took the home-run loss, then played really well here and it vaulted our season,” said King. “Tonight, Cookeville came out with a lot of passion. They jumped on us in the first. When you look at it, the fact we scored only two runs – so that first inning beat us.
“Hats off to Cookeville. They were better than us tonight – they deserved to be district champions tonight.”
It didn’t diminish anything the Pioneers had accomplished this year, including winning the regular season title outright. It doesn’t change the Pioneers’ ultimate goals either, which is playing as deep as they can in the postseason.
“I told them, ‘I’m proud of you and love you. And I’m going to still love you.’ We just didn’t play our best and they played pretty well,” said King. “We’ll go to Bradley and they’re a good team. It’ll take everything we got to go win that one, but I like my kids. They’ve done a lot to energize the community – it’s been a good year.”
Warren County will travel to Bradley Central Monday, May 17 for the region semifinals. The Bears are 21-11 this season and defeated McMinn County 6-5 in the District 5AAA championship. Cookeville will host McMinn County in the other side of the Region 3AAA tournament Monday.
Pioneers rack up all-district awards
A great run through the regular season helped the Pioneers clean up once the coaches got together to decide the best of the best in District 6AAA.
Junior Layne Roberts was a big winner, taking home Pitcher of the Year. Phillip King also won Coach of the Year in his District 6AAA debut (the Pioneers didn’t play a district game last year).
Seniors Westen Wilson, Braden Bottoms, Ryland Holder, Kason Holder, Jace Brantley, Alec Hobbs and John Garrett were recognized as All District 6AAA.
Team-high 48.1 innings pitched. 5-2 record. 1.88 ERA, 32 K
Three shutouts, all in District 6AAA games.
.305 batting average, 15 RBIs, 24 runs scored, 9 stolen bases
16.2 inning pitched, 2-0 record.
.380 batting average (team-best), HR, 19 RBIs, team-high 41 hits
.277 batting average, 2 HRs, 21 RBIs, team-high 28 runs scored
.333 batting average, 27 RBIs, 24 runs scored, team-high 13 stolen bases
.337 batting average, led team in home runs (4) and RBIs (32), 27 runs, 10 stolen bases
10.1 innings pitched, one win, two saves, 4.06 ERA, 16 Ks
.318 batting average, 28 hits, 12 RBIs, 24 runs, 7 stolen bases
44.0 innings pitched, 5-1 record, 0.96 ERA, 27 K
Won 300th game of his career during the season (Gallatin, April 23). Led the Pioneers to an outright regular season district title and second 20-win regular season in last 20 years.