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Season ends for Lady Pioneers

Aleya Esparza had two hits and three RBIs in Thursday's season-ending loss to Sparta.

And just like that, it is all over.

Dreams about a long run in the postseason came crashing down for the Lady Pioneers Thursday night as the team fell 7-5 to White County in the loser’s bracket finals of the District 6AAA tournament. The loss ended the team’s season, which featured 16 wins and a co-regular season district title.

"I thought we had a good season, but it’s definitely not how we wanted to end it. We wanted to get to the region again,” said coach Gooby Martin. “We had a lot of newcomers and a lot of those young girls played well for us. We just didn’t do enough in the district tournament to get where we needed to be.”

Most expected the Lady Pioneers and Warriorettes to meet in the title game after splitting the regular season championship, but both fell to Rhea County in the early part of the district tournament. It set up a win-or-go-home matchup Thursday, one that was made tougher for the Lady Pioneers when their ace had to exit the game at the midway point.

Madison Hollis, who found out she won the District 6AAA MVP award after the game, was only able to pitch four innings in the deciding game. There had been a concern in the preseason that Hollis wasn’t going to be able to throw much this year, but her shoulder seemed to hold up through the regular season.

The same soreness that led to her to stop throwing throughout the fall and winter crept up this week though. She was a game-time decision to start, but Hollis wanted to give it a go. She worked four innings before coach Martin made the switch to Sadie Simmons to finish the game.

White County was able to scratch three runs across against Hollis, including two in the third to start the scoring. Taylor Roberts ripped a two-run single to center, giving White County a 2-0 advantage. Hannah Sims added an RBI single in the fourth for the Warriorettes.

Warren County had a chance to cut deep into the White County lead in the fourth after three straight singles from Elia Atterson, Rhealee Johnson and Hollis to start the inning, but Addison Abell – the district pitcher of the year – was able to limit the damage. Aleya Esparza did loft an RBI single into right for one run, but it was all the Lady Pioneers were able to manage.

White County responded with a three-run fifth, looking like it had put the game away by going ahead 6-1. The Lady Pioneers weren’t going to quit though.

Senior Taylor Swan ignited the Lady Pioneers with a lead-off single in the fifth, smashing a two-strike changeup to give her team some life. Roberts followed with a single of her own, while Atterson walked to load the bases.

Johnson brought two around with one fly ball, hitting a deep fly to centerfield. Swan tagged and scored with ease, while Roberts took home when the initial throw got by the catcher and bounced around behind the plate.

Esparza added a clutch two-out, two-run single, poking a shot into short center field to score Atterson and Hollis. All the sudden, the Lady Pioneers were only behind one, 6-5.

“I like the way they fought. They’re a quiet team and hard to read, but they competed to the end. I don’t expect anything less – they work hard every day. They’re a quiet team and don’t show a lot of emotion, but they cheer for each other. They competed as well as they could, we just came up just a little bit short,” said Martin.

Caydra Parker, Co-Offensive MVP in the district, gave the Warriorettes some breathing room in the seventh by rocking a lead-off triple and scoring on a squeeze bunt.

Johnson tried to give the Lady Pioneers life in the seventh with a lead-off double, but she was left on base as Adell closed down Warren County with a game-ending strikeout. White County erupted in cheers while the Lady Pioneers watched in stunned silence.

Johnson, who shared Offensive MVP honors with Parker, finished 3-for-3 in her final game for the Lady Pioneers. Esparza had two hits and three RBIs, while Roberts, Atterson, Hollis, Swan and Cadi Todd all had one hit.

White County went on to lose to Rhea County 9-0 in the district finals, also played Thursday night.

Big honors for the Lady Pioneers

Warren County may not have made its postseason push, but no outcomes diminished what the Lady Pioneers did throughout the season. They were dominant in district play, going 7-1 and outscoring opponents 78-10.

Because of their impressive regular season, the Lady Pioneers cleaned up when awards were selected by the district coaches. Junior Madison Hollis was named the District 6AAA MVP, while senior Rhealee Johnson was Co-Offensive MVP and junior Shelby Roberts was chosen as Infielder of the year.

“They were unbelievable. Madison had an outstanding year in the regular season. She dominated every game she pitched,” said coach Martin. “Rhealee has been so consistent swinging the bat. She’s very deserving – she’s been automatic for us in the 3-hole. Shelby was one of our better players. She got the infielder of the year award, but she was right up there with MVP and offensive player of the year award too. Shelby’s been great for us at lead off – she’s been great.”

All three were also selected as first-team, All-District 6AAA. Seniors Elia Atterson and Sadie Simmons were also honored on the first team. Junior Aleya Esparza and senior Taylor Swan were named to the second team, while sophomore shortstop Alyssa Mosley was an honorable mention, all-district selection.

Junior Madison Hollis, District MVP

Hitting (Season): .304 batting average, 5 homers, 19 RBIs, 15 runs

Pitching (Season): 88.2 innings, 11-4 record, 94 strikeouts, 1.66 ERA

Senior Rhealee Johnson, Co-Offensive MVP

Hitting: .420 batting average, team-high 6 homers and 28 RBIs, 23 runs (tie team high)

Junior Shelby Roberts, Infielder of the year

Hitting: team-high .469 average, 1 homer, 17 RBIs, 22 runs, 9 stolen bases (team high)

Senior Elia Atterson, All-District

Hitting: .343 batting average, 2 homers, 25 RBIs, 23 runs (tied team high)

Senior Sadie Simmons, First Team All-District

Hitting: .349 average, 13 RBIs, 11 runs

Pitching: 34 innings, 5-3 record, 38 strikeouts, 4.53 ERA

Junior Aleya Esparza, Second Team

Senior Taylor Swan, Second Team

Sophomore Alyssa Mosley, Honorable Mention

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