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Pioneers headed to district finals

Going into Tuesday’s do-or-die battle, the Pioneers didn’t care where they had to go to play Thursday or next week. The WCHS soccer team just wanted to make sure there would be another game.

Turns out the Pioneers will play again – with at least one more coming at home.

Warren County downed Soddy Daisy 4-2 in the District 6AAA semifinals Tuesday, clinching a bid into next week’s region tournament. While the Pioneers were mounting a comeback at home, top-seeded Cookeville was being upset by Rhea County. As the highest seed left, Warren County – the No. 2 seed – will get the privilege of hosting the District 6AAA finals Thursday night.

For a half, it looked like the Pioneers were going to fall victim to an upset too. Soddy Daisy led 1-0 at half, but once John Jackson netted the equalizer, the offense was unstoppable.

“I knew once we started scoring, it would keep on going,” said coach Matt Jackson. “We were able to open them up in different situations. They came out and gave us space in the second half, which I thought was crazy.”

John Jackson continued his senior scoring barrage, netting a goal off a beautiful pass from Renato Rodriguez to make it 1-1 and adding the exclamation point late with a laser shot. It was part of a four-goal second half for the Pioneers, which included Joan Garcia scoring and Sawyer Thompson getting a header off a corner kick.

Both Jacksons felt like the first goal, which came in the opening minutes of the second half, was key to the victory.

“It was really big. We went into halftime a little down because we knew we could play better. We knew we had to come out strong and that’s what we did. I got a great ball from me to Renato and finished it. We started going from there,” said John Jackson.

Rodriguez continued dishing out dimes moments later, leading Garcia to the goal as Warren County took its first lead. Thompson pushed the Pioneers to a 3-1 advantage by finishing off a perfect corner kick with a header, getting to the ball first right in front of the Soddy Daisy goal.

Ahead 3-1 midway through the second half, coach Jackson had a hunch it wasn’t over.

“I was nervous. I told (assistant coach August) Palombo, ‘I feel good, but I think they have another goal in them.’ I was trying to make subs and get some people rest in case they scored, we could put people back in with some rest,” said Jackson about his strategy down the stretch. “It worked – Marvin (Franco) came off and he went back in and changed the dynamic.”

Warren County was able to steal back the momentum quick, controlling the action with Franco and others playing on fresh legs. When they needed a goal though, the Pioneers went back to Jackson.

The senior was able to carve up the defense on his own, motivated by a missed chance on a PK down the stretch that he wanted to atone for to put Soddy Daisy away.

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“I was definitely mad I didn’t make my PK – it doesn’t happen much, so I’m not happy when I don’t make it. I knew I had to make up for it and make another one,” said John Jackson.

Coach Jackson added, “It was a rocket. He missed the PK that bounced off the post, so I think he wanted to get that back. He hit a rocket and it went right through the keeper’s hands. It was crazy.”

Warren County was able to come out of the game largely unscathed, especially with cards. The Pioneers stayed above the fray when it came to talking to the officials, something Soddy Daisy players and coached did during and after the contest.

Coach Jackson addressed that issue with his team before the game, knowing a red card (or combination of yellows) could put a win in jeopardy or keep players out for upcoming games.

“It starts with me. I told them ‘I’m going to try to keep my head and you keep your heads no matter what they say or do.’ We kept it under control. They lost their heads and they got the cards. It worked well. We did a good job.”

An official game time for Thursday’s championship game wasn’t settled by midnight Tuesday. Check the Warren County Sports Authority Facebook and Twitter feeds for the latest information on the soccer district finals.

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