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Pioneers 1992 state championship team recalls magical run 20 years later
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Ask any current Pioneer baseball player about 1992 and you’ll get a funny look. Ask players and coaches who were involved with the baseball program 20 years ago and you’ll see smiles and hear tales about things which happened so long ago but seem like they happened yesterday to the person telling the story.
No current Warren County High School baseball player was alive when the Pioneers last claimed a state championship in 1992, a year when all the stars aligned and a talented group of players used team chemistry and a family bond in the dugout to finish 29-6 and hoist the state crown.
Under head coach Ronnie Brown, the 1992 Pioneers went into the season with a goal to end the program’s streak of losing in the regionals.
Warren County had won district titles at the time, but had been one-and-done several times when making it to the regional tournament.
Before the season began March 17, coach Brown spoke with his coaches and quickly realized with a team returning six seniors and several other players with starting experience, the ’92 team had a chance to do special things.
“We felt like, as a coaching staff, we had the material to get outside the district and make a good run in regionals,” said Brown.
“I don’t know if we ever realized we’d end up where we did. The kids had tremendous chemistry and were unbelievably clutch.
“We had the chemistry and talent and the group turned out to be a very, very special team.”
Warren County went into the season knowing it had a great pitching staff, a solid defense and some quality bats throughout the lineup.
Senior J.W. Holt and junior Trevor Wilson were both south-paws who had solid control and could pitch deep into games. Senior Chad Foster had a powerful right arm and junior Robbie France was always clutch in late innings as the team’s closer.
Heath “Opie” Morris was a senior team captain and a steady force on the hot corner for Warren County. While Morris locked down third base, the Pioneer defense also featured standout shortstop George Oleksik, catcher Brent Whitlock and center fielder Jason Mullican.
Oleksik had a great senior season, leading the team at the plate and on the field en route to earning District 7-AAA Most Valuable Player honors. Oleksik would go on to play at MTSU and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Pioneers started the season by winning 10 of their first 11 games, with the only hiccup coming against a team from Illinois in the fourth game of the season.
Early highlights included Foster throwing a no-hitter against DeKalb County and Warren County winning its first five games in district play before being up-ended by Cookeville on the road.
A turning point in the season came in mid-April when the Pioneers dropped both games of a double header against Grundy County.
Holt remembers coach Brown giving a big speech after the games and the team responded in enthusiastic fashion.
“After the Grundy County game, we went on a long winning streak that lasted all the way to the state tournament,” said Holt. “When we beat Baylor to qualify for the state tournament, I think that’s when we realized if we play well and everybody was doing their part, we could do great things.”
Holt played a key role in the postseason to help the Pioneers win the state title. Alternating starts with Wilson, Holt won the deciding game in the District 7-AAA tournament, threw a complete game against Baylor to move the Pioneers into the state tournament and started do-or-die games against Montgomery Bell Academy and Germantown in the state tournament.
Warren County won three straight games in the district tournament, including beating Oakland 12-0 in the title game where Whitlock hit a grand slam in the third inning to put the game away.
The Columbia Lions stood in the way when the Pioneers made it to regionals. With Wilson getting the start and France closing out the game, the Pioneers won 5-4.
Wilson followed it up by tossing a complete-game, three-hitter to beat Franklin County 2-0 in the second round of the regional tournament.
A 3-for-3, four-RBI performance from Whitlock helped the Pioneers beat Baylor 6-3 to earn a top seed in the state tournament.
By the time Warren County arrived in Murfreesboro to play the state tournament at Middle Tennessee State University, the Pioneers had won 12 straight games.
Riding high going into the tournament, Germantown put Warren County on notice in Murfreesboro by pounding the Pioneers 11-2.
Coach Brown remembers the game and talking to the team afterwards.
“We scored the first two runs, but the game ended up being a disaster,” said Brown. “Their pitcher was topping 90 mph and he hit our first two batters. It sent a message.
“After the game, we weren’t being cliché, but we started taking it one game at a time. We just didn’t want to be the first team to go home.”
Playing a double-elimination, four-team tournament, the Pioneers needed two days to earn another game in the state tournament.
Warren County beat MBA 9-3 in a game which featured a 22-hour rain delay. The delay was a blessing for six seniors who were able to rush home during the break and walk the stage for graduation.
Upon returning the next day, Holt out-dueled MBA ace R.A. Dickey to give the Pioneers a chance to earn a place in the championship game.
In a two-day span, Holt pitched against Dickey and Mickey Calloway of Germantown, two players who went on to have Major League Baseball careers. Holt won both starts.
A nail-biter Saturday night gave the Pioneers their championship chance. Warren County built a 6-0 lead against Dobbins-Bennett, but entered the seventh inning tied 6-6.
Wilson ended up scoring the winning run by coming around on a bad throw to win the game. It was double duty for Wilson, as he was also the winning pitcher in the game.
Warren County entered Sunday’s championship match-up knowing it needed to beat Germantown twice to win the state championship.
Zac Sain, a senior on the team, remembers Morris giving a speech on the bus that seemed to motivate the Pioneers.
“It was a calm tone on the bus. Then Opie got up and told us that if Germantown was going to win it, they were going to have to earn it,” said Sain.
Holt started the first game, but was limited to three innings due to tournament inning rules. The Pioneers were able to pick up a 5-4 victory when Philip Miller had the game-winning hit in extra innings.
Calloway pitched the first game for Germantown and took the loss. It was the only game Calloway lost in his senior year as he compiled a 13-1 record.
Warren County won the championship as Wilson held Germantown in check and the Pioneers pulled away for a 4-2 win.
The last out was recorded when Wilson got a Germantown batter to hit to center field where Mullican was waiting to make the play.
Brown never stopped coaching even as his team was celebrating victory.
“My first thought was it was going to be a hit,” said Brown. “My second thought was Jason caught the ball with one hand and we always taught them to catch it with two.
“It was surreal after the game. I could see what was going on, and see the celebration, but I just sat in the dugout for a minute or two to drink it all in. It was an amazing moment, something you can’t put into words.”
Jimmy Walker, who was the pitching coach with the Pioneers before serving as head coach at Warren County for nine years, recalled having a conversation with a few scouts who had gathered for the championship game.
“After we won the first game, I spoke with some scouts I knew for a long time, guys who had been around baseball for 50 years or more,” said Walker. “I told them there may be 20 teams in the state better than us, but we were still there.
“One scout said, ‘there may be 20 teams with more talent than your team, but there aren’t 20 better teams.’ Then we went out and won state right after.”
The championship experience was only just beginning when fans rushed the field at MTSU to celebrate the championship.
The Pioneers had nearly two miles of traffic following the buses home from Murfreesboro. When the team crossed the county line, a police escort brought the team back to school as fans lined each side of North Chancery Street.
The players were given state-championship rings and met Governor Ned Ray McWherter at a celebration banquet.
Several players from the ’92 team went on to play college baseball, including eight of the nine starters from the team.
The Pioneers had tragedy strike in 2003 when Morris died. He is memorialized outside the Pioneer hitting facility at WCHS and each year the “Opie” Morris award is given to the Pioneer who shows the most leadership and dedication to the program.
Sophomore Brandon Lowery, who was the youngest player on the squad, remembered the fiery leadership of Morris and the expectations of the team.
“We had great senior leadership from two guys,” said Lowery. “Opie was a vocal guy and had the fear factor. George led by example, you just watched the way he went about things.
“They were part of the culture built around the team that everybody bought into. You knew if you didn’t win district, it was a bad year.”
Following the season, Brown received his fourth straight coach of the year award in District 7-AAA and was named the Midsouth coach of the year. Oleskik, Holt, Morris, Whitlock, Foster, Mullican and Wilson were all named all-district after the 1992 season.