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Double dipping
Photos courtesy of Painted Barn Media Braden Bottoms tags out a runner during the first game of Wednesday's doubleheader. The Pioneers won both games, improving to 9-3 in district play.

The Pioneers’ strategy of winning all their district games seems to be a solid plan.

Warren County ran its winning streak in District 6AAA games to eight on Wednesday, sweeping a doubleheader against the Rhea County Eagles at Patrick Ramsey Field. Tyler Hollingsworth threw a complete game shutout in the first game to win 3-0, then the Pioneers followed with a 5-1 victory in game two.

“I thought our kids did a good job of staying focused mentally,” said coach Trice Powers. “The rain changed things up and we had to schedule the doubleheader on short notice. There were a lot of changes and I thought they handled it well.”

The Pioneers have been hit or miss in out-of-district games since March 22 – the last time the team lost in district play. Warren County is just 4-5 in games out of district in the last month, but has swept series in district against Cookeville, White County, Stone Memorial and now the Eagles.
Rain forced the teams to schedule an impromptu doubleheader Wednesday, one the Pioneer pitching staff was ready to dominate.

Hollingsworth continued to cement his case for the district’s best pitcher honors, throwing his second shutout while improving to 5-1 in district starts. Hollingsworth lowered his ERA to 0.76 against district opponents, highlighted by his two-hit, five-strikeout night against Rhea County.

Jack Keele and Brooks Helton were nearly as impressive in the second game, combining to hold Rhea County to just four hits and one run while fanning 11 combined.

It’s the kind of outings coach Powers has come to expect from his staff.

“We’ve really succeeded at doing two things in district games – pitch the baseball and play defense,” said Powers. “They were key factors in both games. Our pitching has been solid all season, but I also think our defense has done a good job backing up our pitchers.

“Sometimes the defense gets overshadowed, but it’s something you can’t live without.”

Warren County (14-11) didn’t have a big night at the plate, but did enough to get the job done in each game.

The Pioneers jumped on every Rhea County miscue (eight errors in two games) to help spark the offense. In the first game, Warren County scored all its runs in the fourth, aided by two Rhea County errors.

After a lead-off walk to Brooks Helton and single by Hunter Adams, coach Powers called for a sac bunt from freshman Braden Bottoms. Bottoms laid it down in front of the mound and his hustle to first caused a rushed throw, one that sailed into right field. Helton and Adams were both able to score, while Bottoms advanced to second.

Fellow freshman John Garrett entered as a courtesy runner for the team’s catcher and ultimately scored on an error.

The Pioneer defense showed up in the fifth, with Bottoms scrambling to the plate to stop a steal of home to preserve the shutout. Hollingworth did the rest, getting four groundouts and two strikeouts in the last two innings after allowing free passes to begin both innings.

The scoring in the second game started much earlier, with the Pioneers opening the game with three runs in the first inning.

Bottoms was in the middle of the action once again, with his two-out shot into right field bringing in Helton and Adams to make it 3-0. The Pioneers scored their first run on a fielding error, allowing Brandon Hennessee to race home safely.

Helton added an RBI single in the fourth, making it a four-run game.

Keele dominated the early innings, even erasing the few runners he allowed to reach. Keele ended the second inning with a pick-off at first base before striking out the side in the third.

Keele ran into his lone jam in the fourth, loading the bases on a single, walk and error. Keele walked in Rhea County’s lone run before bouncing back with back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

After adding an insurance run in the sixth on an error, the Pioneer defense flashed the leather to end the game.

With one on and one out, Helton – who entered in relief in the fifth – forced a liner toward the 5/6 hole. Adams swooped in to make the play, then fired a strike to first to double up the retreating runner for the final out.

The Pioneers will be back in action Saturday in Tullahoma, facing the Wildcats in an 11 a.m. start.