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Searching for offense
Rhealee Johnson 2.jpg
Sophomore Rhealee Johnson is currently hitting .385 for the Lady Pioneers, who have struggled offensively during a 4-4-1 start. Warren County snapped its three-game losing streak Saturday, beating Ravenwood 1-0 at home. See the Standard website for updates on the team's district debut Tuesday in Sparta.
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With the offense struggling, the Lady Pioneers have counted on defense and pitching for wins. Freshman Madison Hollis has helped in the circle, posting a 2.10 ERA in six appearances.

While claiming back-to-back District 6AAA championships, the Lady Pioneers have been downright offensive to opponents. Coach Gooby Martin is waiting for his current Warren County team to find that same explosive aspect at the plate.

The Lady Pioneers have started the season 4-4-1, including snapping a three-game losing streak Saturday with a 1-0 win over Ravenwood. Martin came out of Saturday’s win concerned with his offense, which has scored over 10 runs just once after doing it 10 times last season.

“To get where we want to go, we have to swing the bats,” said Martin after Saturday’s victory. “We have to have better approaches. The girls we had last year hit the ball. At the top of the lineup now, we’re not making adjustments.

“It’s something we have to work on. We have to get better offensively to have a chance to win district games.”

Tuesday's 9-0 victory at White County was an encouraging sign. 

The offense has yet to resemble the last two years, when Warren County clinched a 2017 season title with a 20-3 blowout or last year’s 17-2 tournament-clinching victory, both coming against Cookeville.

The Lady Pioneers opened the season with an 11-1 blowout of DeKalb County, scoring all their runs in two innings while hitting two home runs. Since their 13-hit, 11-run debut, Warren County is averaging just 6.5 hits and 5.1 runs per game.

Some early struggles were expected. The Lady Pioneer graduated two prolific hitters from last year’s championship squad. 

Hope Mullican was the district offensive MVP last year, hitting .354 for the year with a team-best 32 RBIs. Kyra Hillis was a rock in the middle of the lineup, hitting .395 with 23 RBIs.

“Kyra and Hope had lots of experience at the plate. They came up with big hits. We’re still working to get there,” said Martin.

Clutch hitting has been one of the bigger issues. During losses last week, where Warren County fell by one each game, the Lady Pioneers had the tying run on base in the final inning. Both times, the runner was stranded in scoring position.

Martin is optimistic the team’s clutch hitting (25 runners left on base in four losses) will eventually come through.

“We have girls who have hit the ball well and will do so again. They’ll make the adjustments,” said Martin.

A slow start by some of the team’s best hitters likely won’t last either. 

Of the team’s top four hitters in the lineup, only Ashton Whiles (.390 last year, .407 currently) has improved her batting average from last season. Hailey Wood (.405 last year, .286 currently), Emily Mikkola (.452 LY, .333 currently) and Rhealee Johnson (.393 LY, .385 currently) are coming around.

Wood, in particular, is due for an outburst. The reigning District 6AAA player of the year has been hampered by a hand injury suffered during last week’s Coffee County loss when her hand was stepped on while stealing second.

Wood should be able to play this week without heavy bandaging on her hand.

The offense will get second looks at a pair of squads in the coming days. Warren County will go on the road to face DeKalb County Thursday night, with the game scheduled to start at 5 p.m.

The Lady Pioneers will also face Coffee County Sunday, March 31 in Manchester. The first pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.