Call me a homer if you want, but I think Warren County should be adding more MVPs this school year. In fact, I think the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers should sweep the spring, taking MVP awards in soccer, baseball and softball.
Sure, Warren County already has a few most valuable players roaming the halls, but why not be greedy and ask for a few more? I’m sure CJ Taylor (Region 3-6A football MVP and also Tennessee’s Mr. Football), Katie Toney (District 6AAA soccer MVP), Kason Holder (Region 3-6A DB MVP) and Dee Spates (District 6AAA tournament MVP) will welcome a few more to the club.
Quick aside: That group also includes Lauren Slatton and Ike Gillentine. I’m not 100 percent sure they give MVPs in golf or wrestling, but Slatton won the district and region and Gillentine has a state medal hanging in his room.
I’d be quick to nominate John Jackson for District 6AAA boys soccer MVP. He’s the most terrifying offensive weapon in the district, a constant threat during live action and a near certainty to score if there’s a direct kick within 25 yards.
Jackson has scored in every district game this year, including Tuesday’s 2-1 road win at Rhea County that gave the Pioneers the No. 2 seed in the postseason tournament. He had multi-goal games against Cookeville and Soddy Daisy and a hat trick against White County by halftime.
I’ve found through the years that the district MVP almost always goes to a player from the top regular season team (or a co-champ if there’s a tie). In that case, Jackson will have work to do as Cookeville locked in the top spot. If the Cavs were honest though, I’m sure they’d trade anybody on their roster to have Jackson on their side going into the postseason.
Baseball and softball won’t have to worry about having a player on their squads leapfrog a player from another school that is the top seed. The Pioneers and Lady Pioneers both were regular-season champs (WC softball tied with White County) and will be the No. 1 seeds when their tournaments start next week.
One question looms: who to pick from the Pioneers? They really don’t have THAT guy – the stud pitcher, a devastating hitter or a guy who so dominating at either that they basically guarantee at least one win per series.
Look at the district resumes of some of the Pioneers:
Jace Brantley, senior 3B: Brantley was the biggest bat on the team in eight district games, going 10-for-22 (.456) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He led the team in all three categories while stealing three bases and playing some fierce defense on the hot corner. Brantley was the Pioneer who seemed to shine brighter when the moments got bigger – both his homers came in the last two weeks when Warren County took control of the district.
Kason Holder, senior CF: Holder really came into his own during the Chattanooga Classic, winning MVP with an amazing performance over four games in Southeast TN. He kept it going in the last two series sweeps over Stone and White County, finishing with six hits over four games to push his district batting average to .409. Holder also stole seven bases in district games, a team-best, and scored seven times.
Layne Roberts, junior P: Roberts was the lone Pioneer to earn a start in every district series. He was 2-1 in starts and the Pioneers were 3-1 when he took the hill. He threw pivotal shutouts against Cookeville (sparking the Pioneers’ five-game district win streak to take the crown) and Stone Memorial. During one stretch, Roberts didn’t give up a run in 15 straight district innings. His final stat line in district games: 0.67 ERA and 13 Ks in 21 innings.
John Garrett, senior P: The darkhorse of the field – Garrett didn’t play the majority of the team’s district games, but he was dominant in the two games he did start. Garrett threw a complete-game gem to beat Stone Memorial on the road, then followed with a two-hit shutout over White County in the district-clinching win. Garrett has a 1.40 ERA and two victories in district games, owning an 8:1 K:BB ratio.
Braden Bottoms, senior C: Bottoms was probably one of the most consistent Pioneers between district and non-district games. He finished the eight district games hitting .400 – for the season, he’s hitting .402. Bottoms also was behind the plate for every district inning, serving as a deterrent for other teams to try running. Opponents tried to steal on eight times in district games – for reference, Warren County stole eight bases in Monday’s win over White County alone.
Good luck choosing the Pioneer who has been the best this season. Warren County has gotten great performances from a number of players throughout the lineup.
As the outright champions in District 6AAA, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Pioneers claim many big awards. It’s not a slam dunk though – Cookeville’s Jayden Davis can swing it and Panther pitcher Dylan Whittenburg has some big wins on the mound.
If somebody asked me –they’re not going to – I would probably submit Brantley as the team’s best MVP candidate and I don’t think there’s much of a chance Roberts will be beaten in a Pitcher of the Year race with two shutouts and a sub 1.00 ERA.
It wouldn’t be shocking if the Pioneers don’t have the MVP but have nearly their entire starting lineup selected as all-district.
The Lady Pioneers are a little different. It’s not that they don’t have one standout – they have too many. It could be argued that Warren County has three of the best 5-6 players in District 6AAA and maybe five of the top 10.
Madison Hollis, Rhealee Johnson and Shelby Roberts are all nightmares for opponents – and it doesn’t get any easier with how Elia Atterson and Sadie Simmons have played as seniors.
Hollis is the team’s top dual-threat, an ace in the circle and a crusher at the plate. Hollis shut out each district opponent once, including a no-hitter against Stone Memorial. The junior was 6-1 in district starts and allowed just seven earned runs while striking out 39 batters in 38 innings.
At the plate, Hollis struggled early, but started slamming the ball in the final few games. She hit a grand slam in a 10-0 win over Stone Memorial and went deep again in a 19-2 triumph in Cookeville.
Johnson was the team’s offensive hub in district games, getting hits in all eight games. She was 14-for-28 overall in district games, including two home runs. She had 14 RBIs and scored 10 times as the Lady Pioneers won five games by run rule.
There was no time where teams weren’t terrified to pitch to the senior slugger, who will be going to the University of the Cumberlands this fall. Johnson finished the season hitting .403 with team highs in homers (6) and RBIs (26).
Roberts may not terrify opponents with sheer power, but nobody has been able to get the Lady Pioneer lead-off hitter out all season. The only coach who figured out how to keep Roberts off the bases in district games was Gooby Martin when he rested his catcher in one matchup with Stone Memorial (she was dealing with some minor bumps and bruises)
Otherwise, Roberts was headlining the Lady Pioneer attack. She was 11-for-23 in district games, narrowly finishing under her .500 average for the season. Combine that with her efforts behind the plate – and occasionally in the outfield – and you’re talking about one the best players in the district.
If the Lady Pioneers don’t rack up MVP honors (whether it’s the top honor or the offensive, defensive and pitcher of the year awards), it may just be because of voter fatigue. Warren County has consistently had the best players in this district for the last 4-5 years.
By now, people just expect the Lady Pioneers to win. Perhaps a team like White County, with a few very deserving honorees of their own, could sneak in and take some top individual honors.
It would be amazing to have Warren County athletes take home all three MVP awards, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If there’s a consolation, it could be that with this much talent, all three programs have an excellent shot at postseason success.
I’d gladly settle for having three District 6AAA tournament finals MVPs in a couple weeks.