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Falling just short
Lady Pioneers eliminated in sectionals
Gooby Martin talks to his Lady Pioneers after a season-ending 10-5 loss in sectionals at Riverdale.

Ever since 2017, the Lady Pioneer softball program has been taking steps toward being one of the best teams in the state. The rise has been steady, but the group has hit a stopping point just before the summit each of the last two years.

Warren County was eliminated one game shy of the state tournament for the second straight season Friday, falling 10-5 at Riverdale. The Lady Pioneers mounted a huge rally in the sixth, plating all five of their runs in the frame to charge to within three late, but overcoming a slow start proved to be too much to ask.

Riverdale scored four runs in the first – aided by back-to-back errors to start the game from the Lady Pioneers – and put two more runs up in each of the fourth and fifth innings before Warren County made its charge. It came as no shock to coach Gooby Martin to see his Lady Pioneers to see his team never quit, even though it wasn’t quite enough late.

“What they’ve done all year is fight. This team always played hard and gave me their best effort – we just came up a little short,” said Martin, who has led the team to three sectionals since 2019. “The first inning hurt us. It got us behind a bit, but they battled back and gave us a chance to win it or tie it.”

Warren County (16-13) showed its Achilles Heel early, booting a grounder to start the game and committing a throwing error on the next play. The early errors, coming just two days after Warren County committed five in a 10-0 loss in the region championship in Manchester, gave the Lady Warriors early fuel.

Jada Moore, one of the top hitters in the state, followed with a two-run single to right and the Lady Warriors tacked on two more runs before Warren County could finally retire the side early.

The Lady Pioneers didn’t lack for chances to make a quick comeback, but never seemed to come up with clutch hits until the sixth. Warren County stranded two runners in the second and fourth innings and left the bases loaded in the third as Riverdale pitcher Haleigh Sisco snuck out of jams.

Reese Haun gave Riverdale extra insurance in the fourth by going the other way with a two-run single, one that dropped in front of right fielder Dallis Melton and allowed two runners to circle and score. By the time Montana Arel and Haun had back-to-back RBI doubles in the fifth, Riverdale was flirting with a run-rule win.

Warren County had other plans. Sisco walked two around a Jessie Young single as the Lady Pioneers loaded the bases and Martin decided to search for a spark. He sent in freshman Ceilee Gudat and she changed the tide with a pinch-hit, two-run single to ignite a rally in the sixth.

Alyssa Mosley followed with a one-out double, sitting back on Sisco’s dangerous changeup and smashing it to the left-field gap as Gudat and Ky Damon scored to make it 8-4. Mosley, who finished 2-for-4 to hit .625 in the postseason, didn’t stay at second long though.

The senior went flying around third on a Kora Forbes single through the left side and was able to beat the tag at home to bring Warren County within three and force Riverdale into a change in the circle.

The Lady Warriors called on Libbie Dennis to stop the rally and it happened, though she got some help from a hustle play backfiring on the Lady Pioneers. Brooke Wilson, running for Forbes, tried to take third shortly after Dennis entered and slung a ball to the backstop, but she was tagged out after her impressive slide under the initial tag pulled her off the bag on the turf field. Dennis ended the frame with a strikeout two pitches later.

Riverdale added extra insurance in the bottom of the sixth on a controversial call. The Lady Warriors had the bases loaded with two outs against Gudat when the lead runner turned back toward third, only to sprint home when the freshman turned her back in the circle thinking it was a no-advance situation following the runner’s retreat. Martin argued the call for several minutes, but it came to no avail. 

The Lady Warriors added a second run on a wild pitch before Gudat finished striking out the side for the final out.

Dennis followed suit, striking out the side against the Lady Pioneers in order in the seventh to punch Riverdale’s ticket to this week’s state tournament. Coach Martin and the Lady Pioneers have been looking for that state tournament pass for years, but it will have to wait for another year. 

“One day we’re going to get over the hurdle. We’re 0-for-3 in sectional games and I want it more than anything. We’re going to keep fighting and grinding. The young girls have to understand how close we came but how much better we have to get. Our focus has to be better, our strength has to be better – we all have to be better,” said Martin.

Friday’s game proved to be the last for Mosley, Young and Melton as they go out as just the second group of seniors to advance to sectionals twice (joining last year’s seniors). Coach Martin gave each of them a hug before the exited the field and flew back to Warren County to take part in graduation.

Martin made sure to leave them with some parting words before they took off their Lady Pioneer jerseys for the final time. 

“They’re hurt, but they don’t understand what they’ve done or how close they were the last two years. That may never happen again. I’m proud of this senior class. They went out on top and had great careers,” said Martin.

Warren County is potentially set to return six starters, along with DH Maddox Adams (who had a hit in Friday’s game) next year. Help could be on the way too as WCMS has also went to sectionals the last three years and had a number of eighth graders who helped the young Lady Pioneers reach the door step of the TMSAA state tournament two weeks ago.

It feels like only a matter of time before the Lady Pioneers finally reach their peak.