A historic season for the Lady Pioneers came to a swift halt Monday night.
Playing the first-ever region game on its home field, Warren County fell 10-3 to visiting Walker Valley, ending a 20-7 year which saw the Lady Pioneers win their first-ever district tournament championship.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” said Lady Pioneer coach Gooby Martin. “Once you get into these games, you have to play mistake free, error free and come through in clutch situations. We didn’t do that.
“Our girls battled hard. That’s what they’ve done all year and I’m proud of them for fighting.”
Warren County took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, getting a lead-off triple from District 6AAA player of the year Hailey Wood and a sac fly from Emily Mikkola.
The lead would hold until the fourth, when the Lady Mustangs plated a pair of runs off freshman starter Rhealee Johnson. Walker Valley added three more runs in the fifth, taking advantage of three Warren County miscues in the frame – the biggest coming on a wild pitch that turned into two runs when the throwback to the plate went past the pticher, allowing Walker Valley to take a 5-1 lead.
By the time the Lady Mustangs got bats rolling in the sixth, belting four hits off Ashton Whiles and Maddie Cantrell and drawing three free passes for five runs, the hole was too big for Warren County to climb out.
“We just didn’t have our best. I’m sad – sad for our team,” said Martin. “It’s a learning experience though and we’ll remember this and try to get better for next year.”
The Lady Pioneers were to pile up 12 hits off Walker Valley ace Natalie Pruitt, but 13 runners left on base doomed Warren County.
Many of those runs were saved by Lady Mustang leftfielder Carissa Frost.
Frost made a leaping grab on a line drive by Elia Atterson in the second, stealing a potential two-run, extra-base hit from the Lady Pioneer freshman. She followed by gunning Savannah Cox at home to end the fourth, when coach Martin rolled the dice on a two-out single by Mikkola in hopes of tying the game at 2-2.
Instead, Frost made a perfect throw to preserve her team’s one-run lead.
Frost saved her best play for last, running down a Mikkola liner in the gap to end the sixth when Warren County had the bases loaded.
“Carissa steps up. We joke at practice that we can’t get it down in the outfield. She catches everything,” said Walker Valley coach Lauren Limburg. “I can’t say enough about her defense, and our team’s as a whole.”
Warren County wouldn’t go down without making it interesting though.
The Lady Pioneers got down to their last out quickly in the seventh, but got a break when Walker Valley dropped the potential final out at first. With two runners on, senior Lexie Chadwell entered and roped a single into right field to load the bases.
MaKenna Mason followed with a RBI single through the middle, giving hope to a packed Lady Pioneer crowd of a comeback. Atterson followed suit, drilling another RBI single into center.
Wood came up with the bases loaded with a chance to dig into the deficit, but her hot shot to third was scooped on one hop. The Lady Pioneer speedster was thrown out by a step, ending a season where Warren County made waves as a top contender in the Midstate.
“Warren County is a great team. They had a great season and played a heck of game,” said Limburg. “We couldn’t let up. We had to keep fighting.”
Wood finished with a team-high three hits in the loss, followed by Atterson and Mason with two hits each. Chadwell and Kyra Hillis had one hit each in their final games, joining Hope Mullican as one of the most successful senior classes in school history. Mikkola and Bri Young also had one hit apiece.
Johnson took the loss, throwing into the fourth inning before giving way to Whiles. Cantrell took over in the sixth and closed out the seventh.
Pruitt went the distance to earn the victory. Kaylee Hughes paced the Lady Mustang offense, finishing with two hits and two RBIs. Walker Valley advanced to the region final, where it will face Ooltewah Wednesday after the Lady Owls downed Cookeville 12-0.