Rhea County hasn’t been a rival for the Lady Pioneers the last two years. They’ve been more of a punching bag.
The Warren County High School softball team clinched its second straight trip to the region tournament, and third in program history, Wednesday with a 10-1 win over Rhea County.
It was an all-too-familiar setup for the Lady Pioneers, who went through Rhea County last year as well to advance. Wednesday’s matchup was set up after Warren County fell 12-8 to Cookeville Tuesday, setting up a win-or-go-home scenario for the Lady Eagles and Lady Pioneers.
Maddie Cantrell made sure Warren County wasn’t the one taking an early vacation.
In her strongest outing of the season, Cantrell stifled the Rhea County bats for four-plus innings. Cantrell allowed just four hits and one run – a solo shot in the fourth after the Lady Pioneers had opened an 8-0 lead.
“Maddie was huge for us. She really dominated while she was in the game,” said coach Gooby Martin, whose team is now 5-2 in the last two seasons against Rhea County and handed the Lady Eagles both their losses – by a combined score of 19-2 - in the double-elimination district tournament.
The Lady Pioneers used the long ball to give Cantrell plenty of run support. Emily Mikkola launched a solo shot in the first inning, launching the third pitch of the game over the left-field wall. It was part of a two-hit, three-RBI night for the junior shortstop, who added a two-run single in the fourth.
Ashton Whiles highlighted a five-run fourth inning with a monster blast, again sending a hanging pitch to left field. It was Whiles’ seventh home run of the season and 12th of her career.
Kyra Hillis added a two-run double in the second, while Hailey Wood, Hope Mullican and Lexie Chadwell all added RBI hits in the blowout.
Freshman Rhealee Johnson pitched the final two-plus innings, holding the Lady Eagles without a hit to seal the deal.
“We swung the bats really well,” said Martin. “These girls will always play hard until the end.”
The victory propelled the Lady Pioneers into the district championship, where Warren County would need to beat Cookeville twice to earn the title.
Step one was completed Wednesday night.
The offense continued to surge for the Lady Pioneers, who topped Cookeville 15-9 to set up a second title game. The final meeting occurred Thursday night and was still underway at press time.
Mikkola continued her hot streak at the plate, collecting four hits and two RBIs. Bri Young also provided a big boost, finishing with three hits and four RBIs, including a solo homer in the sixth to make it 12-9.
Wood also went deep against Cookeville, with her solo shot expanding the Lady Pioneer lead to 9-6 in the third.
Warren County bust the game open in the second, erupting for eight runs on seven hits. Mikkola, Mullican, Hillis, Young, MaKenna Mason and Elia Atterson all had RBIs as the Lady Pioneers built an 8-1 advantage
Cookeville narrowed the gap to 10-9 going into the fifth, but Whiles gave the Lady Pioneers some breathing room with a two-out RBI single.
Mikkola, Hillis and Young helped put the game away with RBIs in the seventh.
Whiles earned the win, pitching the final five innings and allowing three runs while striking out three.
The Lady Pioneers will be in action in the region tournament next week. The opponent and location will be determined after the outcome of Thursday’s game. Check Sunday’s Standard for more details.