Friday night wasn’t just about honoring the best team to set foot on a Warren County High School soccer field. It was also a chance to see if this year’s version of the Pioneers could hang with one of the state’s best.
Coach Todd Willmore and his Warren County squad fell short in trying to measure itself against the Cleveland Blue Devils, as the Pioneers were pounded 5-0.
Friday night’s opponent, which is projected to win District 5-AAA and is a favorite in Region 3-AAA, was fitting since it was the last team the 2001 Pioneers defeated during their run to the state tournament.
Several members of the 2001 team were on hand to take in the soccer action against Cleveland and were honored at halftime.
What they witnessed was a dominating performance by the Blue Devils. Cleveland scored early and often, building a 4-0 lead before the halftime whistle blew.
The first Blue Devil goal came 20 minutes in off a slip up by the Pioneer defense. A ball was played deep into the Warren County zone, but it looked like Cole Warden was going to be able to clear.
However, Warden’s kick attempt barely grazed the ball, leaving it rolling toward the Warren County goal. Cleveland took advantage, as the Blue Devils player’s quick shot caught keeper Chad Womack off guard and slipped into the lower-left corner.
The second goal for the Blue Devils was even more bad luck for the Warren County defense. Cleveland kept on the offensive after its first goal, quickly moving it back into the Pioneers zone.
During a brief rally, one Cleveland player found an open look from well outside the 18-foot box and decided to take a shot.
Nick Shokur jumped up to deflect the shot, but the deflection sailed straight into the goal, giving the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.
After the second goal, coach Willmore made a change in goal, bringing in freshman Kyler Walker. Walker didn’t fare much better against the Blue Devil attack, as Cleveland scored twice in the final five minutes to lead 4-0.
During halftime, members of the 2001 team were brought to midfield to be recognized.
The Pioneers 10-year reunion celebrated a 16-6-1 team which won three-consecutive district titles, two regional championships and advanced to state. The run to state in 2001 is the only time a Warren County soccer team has advanced to the Final Four.
Former coach Charlie Hardee, along with All-State performers Robert Garibaldi and Jimmy Barnes were in attendance. Also making their return back were: Dabe Banerjee, David Bradshaw, Darrell Cook, Matt George, Demorro Grayson, Morgan Gunter, Alex Guthrie, Elliott Hallum, Nathan Hyatt, Bryan Knowles, Casey Simpson, Derek Wilcher and Kevin Youngblood.
Following the brief ceremony, Barnes, a team captain in 2001, remarked about how the support of soccer is seeing a comeback to the days where his team drew large crowds.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to come back and thankful to see our team accomplishments honored,” said Barnes. “Being out here and seeing the crowd reminds me of when we were playing. The bleachers would be packed and it was standing room only down the entire sideline.”
Once the break in action ceased, the Pioneers returned to the field hoping to cut into the sizable Blue Devil advantage. It was a task easier said than done, especially when a foul in the box gave Cleveland a penalty kick early in the second half.
The Blue Devils took advantage of the PK, as Womack, who returned at the start of the second half, was unable to stop the free kick.
Cleveland would coast down the stretch to a 5-0 win, sending the Pioneers to their third loss. Warren County will try to even its record this Thursday when the Pioneers dive back in to district competition.
The Pioneers, who are 1-0 in District 6-AAA, will play host to Coffee County Thursday night. Kick-off is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. following a junior varsity game at 5 p.m.