The Lady Pioneers weren’t ready to stop playing softball. And the team was definitely tired of losing to Coffee County.
Warren County punched its ticket to the TMSAA sectionals by completing a journey through the loser’s bracket of the CTC tournament Sunday. The final Lady Pioneer win came against Coffee County, with Ceilee Gudat throwing a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory.
Warren County fell short of a title though, falling to Tullahoma 10-4 in the championship game. A second-place finish, sectional bid and a thrilling win over the Lady Raiders was a nice consolation prize.
The Lady Pioneers entered the tourney as a No. 3 seed but had thoughts of making a big run on their home field. Coffee County changed all that last Wednesday, beating Warren County 5-2 in the winner’s bracket semifinals. The loss put the Lady Pioneers in the loser’s bracket, where a gauntlet of games – and plenty of other obstacles - awaited.
Warren County vanquished White County with ease, but it took two days to finally get by Franklin North and earn a chance to take down Coffee County in the ultimate rubber match. Sunday’s action started with the Lady Pioneers resuming their marathon matchup with the Lady Gators, one which was postponed in the bottom of the fourth Saturday due to severe weather.
Warren County led 9-8 when the game resumed, but holding on to that one-run lead was anything but easy.
Franklin North found life in the fifth with a lead-off walk, then thought it had been given a gift when Warren County tossed the ball into right field following a sac bunt attempt. The Lady Gators tried to tie the game instantly, bringing the runner from first all the way around – Warren County was alert though.
Quick action from right fielder MaKenzie Hullett started a relay, which helped the Lady Pioneers catch the Lady Gators in a rundown between third and home that eventually ended with the first out.
The second out was also an adventure. Franklin North had a runner on second when a high pop fly floated out to centerfield. Ky Damon camped under it and was ready to throw in case of a tag up, but she lost the ball at the last second.
The runner took off, but Damon instantly regrouped and threw a laser to third. The throw was perfect, allowing the Lady Pioneers to get the second out.
Gudat made sure the last one would be easy – recording a strikeout to end the game.
Winning such a wild game gave Warren County some momentum, but taking down Coffee County wasn’t going to be an easy task. The pressure was on too – both teams knew the lone bid from Area 6 to the TMSAA sectionals were on the line (Tullahoma, the winner, wasn’t eligible to advance).
It was a pitcher’s duel from the start, with Gudat and Channah Gannon going toe-to-toe.
Gannon pitched out of early trouble, striking out back-to-back batters in the first with runners on first and second after early hits by Maddox Adams and Callie Roberts. The Lady Pioneers responded with great defense, rolling a 4-6-3 double play to end the first.
Gannon started a string of incredible defensive plays by Coffee County with a diving catch in the second inning. Kyaira Sharpe made contact with the hard-throwing hurler, but the ball barely went into the air before it came crashing down. Gannon raced in from the circle, laying out headfirst to make the play.
The Lady Raiders were just impressive defensively in the third, with the team’s shortstop making a leaping catch in short left field to rob Damon of a hit and the second baseman ending the inning by making a diving catch.
Between Coffee County’s defensive domination, Gudat showed nerves of steel in the circle. The Lady Pioneer flamethrower had run into some trouble in the second after hitting two batters and seeing a fielder’s choice to second fail to record any out.
Coffee County had the bases loaded with one out, which only got more threatening when Gudat fell behind 2-0 to the next batter. She was able to battle back though, throwing gas on three straight pitches to get a pivotal strikeout.
She forced a weak grounder to second to end the threat, keeping the game scoreless and firing up the big Lady Pioneer crowd.
With Gudat and Gannon overpowering batters, the game went into the fifth still knotted 0-0. Coach Joe Damon decided it was time to change it up at the plate, especially with one out and the top of the order circling back up.
Ky Damon laid down a perfect bunt and was able to beat the throw by a step to give Warren County’s offense some life. Adams followed with a slicing double into center, putting two runners in scoring position again with one out.
Damon wasn’t going to wait for a third hit to get the run across – Ky was off and running the first chance she got. It came on the very next pitch, which sailed over the catcher’s head. Ky slid in safely before the tag could be applied, giving the Lady Pioneers the game’s first run.
It proved the be the only one. Coffee County turned a double play to escape the fifth, but Gudat wasn’t going to open the door once she had the lead.
The Lady Pioneer pitcher forced three straight groundouts to end the game, completing her fourth no-hitter this season.
In the championship game, Tullahoma scored three in the first and two more in the second to take control. Gudat had a three-run double in the third and Roberts added a run-scoring double of her own that closed the gap to 5-4 momentarily, but Tullahoma responded with four runs in the bottom of the third and one more in the fourth to put the game away.
Warren County will get to host its TMSAA sectional game on Tuesday, May 11. With a win, the Lady Pioneers would play again May 13 for a chance to make the state tournament in Hendersonville.