There was no pep talk needed. New strategies didn’t need to be pursued. Examining the X’s and O’s was pointless.
Lady Pioneer coach Gooby Martin just wanted his team to do the basics and everything else would work out. It turns out he was right.
The Lady Pioneers opened District 6AAA tournament play Friday with a resounding 9-1 win over Rhea County, the team which knocked Warren County out of sole possession of the regular season title just two nights before.
“We hit the ball, Ashton (Whiles) threw it well and we played good defense,” said Martin. “When we do those three things, we’re a really good team.”
Freshman Rhealee Johnson made a huge impact in her first tournament game, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs to fuel the Lady Pioneer offense.
Pitching with the lead from the outset – Warren County scored three runs in the first inning - Whiles showed why she is one of the most feared throwers in the district. The junior hurler held the Lady Eagles to just one run and scattered nine hits while pitching out of trouble multiple times.
“Ashton looked pretty sharp and we made some big plays behind her,” said Martin.
Sometimes Whiles didn’t wait for the defense. She flashed the leather on her own.
Leading 5-1 in the fifth, Whiles surrendered back-to-back hits to start the inning, the second a double into the left-field corner. With runners on second and third, Whiles worked out of a jam when she snared a line drive back to the circle, then threw to third to double off a Rhea County runner who ventured too far from the bag.
Whiles forced a lazy fly on the next pitch, escaping the inning with no harm done.
In the sixth, it was shortstop Emily Mikkola who provided the highlights.
With a runner on third and two outs, Rhea County lead-off Hannah DeArman hit a shot into the hole. Mikkola was able to make a backhanded stop on the hop, then recovered to fire across the diamond. Lexie Chadwell’s big stretch at first was just enough to get the speedy lead-off by a step, preserving a 5-1 lead.
Johnson and Hope Mullican helped close the door in the seventh.
Mullican, one of three seniors in the starting lineup, followed two infield singles with a rip into centerfield. Hailey Wood and Mikkola each scored, while Mullican was able to cruise into second.
A walk and single loaded the bases, bringing the Lady Pioneers’ hottest hitter to the plate. Johnson, who hit a run-scoring double off the fence in the third and nearly missed a solo shot down the left-field line in the sixth, came through again. Johnson didn’t add her third double, but settled for a flare into right field which dropped between three Lady Eagles.
Mullican and Elia Atterson both scored, giving the Lady Pioneers a commanding 9-1 lead entering the final frame.
Whiles preserved the lead, but not without the help of her outfield. Mullican made a running snag in the gap for the second out, while centerfielder Grace Rains ended the game by making a leaping catch while drifting to the fence.
Kyra Hillis, who made a shoestring catch early in the game, helped the Lady Pioneers get off to a quick start. She had a two-run single in the first inning, which followed a run-scoring double from Whiles.
Bri Young made it 4-0 in the third on a RBI groundout, which proceeded the first of Johnson’s three hits.
Warren County will be back in action Tuesday at 7 p.m. in White County. The Lady Pioneers will face the winner of the Cookeville and White County game being played Monday.