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In their own words... The 2017 Lady Pioneer softball team
Jacob Dodd photo - The 2017 Lady Pioneer softball team was the first in program history to win a regular season district championship.

The 2017 Lady Pioneer softball team was the one to finally break through and claim a district title. Warren County did it in emphatic fashion as well, beating Cookeville 20-3 on the road to make sure the regular-season championship, and a No. 1 seed in the district tournament, would belong to the ladies in the red, white and blue.

The victory in 2017 set the table for future firsts in the next two seasons. In 2018, the Lady Pioneers won the program’s first district tournament title, helping it play host to the program’s first region game. In 2019, Warren County stepped it up another notch, winning a region championship and playing in the sectional for the first time ever.

Makenna Mason, Calyn Damon and Savannah Cox remain as the final Lady Pioneers who were with the team back in 2017, though only Mason – as a pinch runner – saw much time their freshman year. Their road was blocked by a stacked roster, one which has produced nine college athletes.

Mason was the latest to sign to play softball in college, making her pledge to play at Motlow next season. Cox also signed at Motlow, albeit to play soccer.

In all, nine players on the 16-person roster signed college scholarships, including 2017 seniors Neva Tackett and Skyler Youngblood (Motlow), junior Lexie Chadwell (Motlow) and sophomores Emily Mikkola (Tennessee Wesleyan), Ashton Whiles (Cumberland University) and Hailey Wood (University of the Cumberlands). Bethany Porter, a 2017 senior, went to Motlow on a soccer scholarship.

All that talent was gathered under one roof in 2017. Here’s how members of the team remember that season (Questions by Southern Standard sports editor Jeffery Simmons):

Q: What made the 2017 team special? And when did you know you were going to accomplish great things?

Neva Tackett, 2017 Lady Pioneer senior
Sr. Neva Tackett (3B/DH, .469 BA, 25 RBIs in 2017) – I always knew we had a special group of girls, we just could never find the right combination on the field. We had our disputes off the field like sisters, but the moment we stepped on the field, everything changed. We were closer than we could ever be. We kept doing more than the year before. We started winning game after game and achieving the goals we had set. That’s when I knew the group of girls on the field and in the dugout was going to do bigger things than we had done in a very long time.

Senior Skyler Youngblood from the 2017 team.
Sr. Skyler Youngblood (C/DH, .383 BA, 5 HRs, 26 RBIs) – What made the season really special was we all worked really well together as a team. It felt like a big family – we all had each other’s backs on and off the field. The winning was fun, no doubt, but the feeling like a family is what really made that season the best. 

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Madison Mason, right, was a senior on the 2017 softball team. MaKenna Mason was a freshman and appeared in 22 games, often as a pinch runner.
Sr. Madison Mason (OF, .281 BA, 13 RBIs) - We were the definition of team players. We had each other’s back on and off the field. We also had so much work ethic that people didn’t see. People were staying after practice to work on batting or fielding. It wasn’t required but we were putting in the extra time to be better. 

2017 Lady Pioneer junior Hope Mullican
Jr. Hope Mullican (OF, .366 BA, 14 RBIs) - The 2017 softball team was my favorite team/year. The girls made the team special.

Kyra Hillis
Jacob Dodd photo - 2017 Lady Pioneer junior Kyra Hillis.
Jr. Kyra Hillis (OF, .362 BA, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs) - The thing that made our team special was the relationships we all had with one another – the girls and coaches. We were one big family and I knew we were going to make big moves that year.

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Lexie Chadwell, 2017 Lady Pioneer junior - photo by Duane Sherrill
Jr. Lexie Chadwell (1B, defensive specialist) - What made that team special was that we all had the desire to be there and we all wanted the same outcome. We also got along really well and that goes along way, especially when you know you can trust each other and that people will be in their spots for certain plays.

I knew in that moment that softball was something I didn’t want to give up anytime soon. That feeling I had when we won is what drives me to want to win. I love that feeling - I can’t get enough of it.

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2017 sophomore pitcher Ashton Whiles
So. Ashton Whiles (P/IF, .494 BA, 5 HRs, 28 RBIs, 9 wins) - Everyone could rely on each other and trusted them to do their job. Also, we were just solid all-around - from the top to the bottom of the lineup we would consistently produce hits. I knew our team was destined to do great things, not necessarily off ability or any of that, but just the fight we had. We would do anything to win and had that mentality until the bottom of the seventh.

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2017 Lady Pioneer sophomore Emily Mikkola - photo by Jeffery Simmons
So. Emily Mikkola (SS, .385 BA, HR, 13 RBIs, 30 runs) - Everyone played for the team and the goal, not for themselves. Big things happen when a team has good chemistry and play together. 

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2017 sophomore 2B Hailey Wood
So. Hailey Wood (2B, .400 BA, 30 runs, 10 RBIs) – We were able to gel from the beginning. I knew the first day of practice that we had big things ahead of us because I could see how badly everyone wanted to win – not for themselves, but for the team.

Jacob Dodd photos When the 2017 WCHS softball team clinched the program's second-ever trip to the region tournament, it was a celebration on the field. Pictured following a win over Rhea County are, from left, Lexie Chadwell, Ashton Whiles, Neva Tackett and Skyler Youngblood.

Q: Looking back, what was your favorite memory (the Cookeville blowout? Beating Rhea in the region? Playing all night in the district tournament? Or a personal moment)?

Tackett: The whole season was the biggest moment for me. Everything leading up to that final moment made everything about that season special to me, but - for sure - the best part was those last two games (in the district tournament). After we won the first one, everyone was pumped and ready to go another round.

I still can remember the emotion and excitement we all had. Most everyone was disappointed after that second game, but I just couldn’t be. Every girl on that field gave their all and as a senior that’s all I could ask for. That whole night was the biggest night for me as we had never made it that far in the three years before. As a senior, it was a truly awesome moment to see the progress we had made in four years.

Youngblood: One of my biggest moments for me was hitting an inside-the-park, walk-off home run to beat Cookeville on our home field (Editor’s note: Warren County won 7-6). I’m not very fast and being a catcher I always got a courtesy runner. When Gooby waved me home, I think I had everyone nervous!

(When asked a follow up about her grand slam against Cookeville in the 20-3 blowout): It wasn’t my first grand slam, but definitely my favorite. I don’t know exactly what she threw or what I was thinking, but as soon as I made contact I could hear my dad yell, ‘See ya ball!’ My dad has always been my biggest fan.

Mason: It was probably winning the district. I remember a catch I made in right field like it was yesterday (Editor’s note: Mason made the last catch in a 7-5 comeback win over White County in the regular season finale, the clinching victory for the Lady Pioneers). I also remember the celebration after knowing we were making history for Warren County.

Mullican: Looking back, my favorite memory was playing all night in the district tournament. It didn’t matter that we had school the next day, all we cared about was winning. We all had so much fun that night and the crowd was amazing even at midnight.

Hillis: Beating Cookeville with a blowout - The energy that filled the dugout and the stands was insane, and made us want the ‘W’ even more.

Chadwell: (It was) when we beat Rhea county then beat Cookeville and got to play in the championship game that went on to last until past midnight. The crowd and the atmosphere is something that I’ll never forget.

My personal moment was in the first game against Cookeville in the last inning (in the district tournament championship, Game 1). There was one out and we were ahead. A girl was on first and I caught a line drive and tagged her out for a double play that ended the game.

Whiles: The Cookeville blowout was nice. I can’t lie about that, but the all-night district tourney is one of the memories I will never forget. I remember when I pitched 19 innings in a row, but I also remember having nothing left but just digging deeper not only for myself, but for the girls that stood behind me that whole night and did the same for me.

Mikkola: One-hundred percent, the Cookeville blowout was and will be my favorite memory. Nothing feels better than showing Cookeville who is boss, no matter what the sport. And to run-rule them – even better.

Wood: My favorite moment looking back would have to be blowing out Cookeville. The fight we showed to win the two games we needed to be the top team was incredible. It gives me chills to this day just thinking about that night.

Q: What does it feel like to know you will always be part of Warren County lore – the first Lady Pioneers to win the district?

Tackett: I look back and wish I could do it all over again, not to do better, but just to live in those moments all again. I believe very strongly that the team we had in 2017 gave the ones after us an even better goal to reach. And, of course, they did. The girls below us seniors saw how special those moments were as we became the first district champs and made it to regionals. They wanted that just as bad as we did. We set the mentality for the younger classes as they have done for the ones after them.

I think after that year Warren County softball can only go up and get better. I always looked up to the girls we only heard of from the history of our team and I’m so happy to now be one of those girls with all the wonderful girls that played beside me. It was truly a blessing to be a part of such a special team.

Youngblood: Having coaches like Gooby (Martin) and Nick (Cantrell) made not only that season special, but my time playing for Warren County special. They believed in us no matter what and we all wanted to work hard for each other – and especially them. They are the best coaches I’ve ever had!

Mason: It’s an honor and something I’ll never forget! Coming back from an ACL tear my junior year, coach Gooby Martin believed in me. You can’t take that away. That team was authentic and genuine and was the definition of what a team is.

Mullican: It was an honor being a Lady Pioneer for four years and being a part of a team that made history will be something I’ll never forget. I’ll always be proud of the bond all the girls and the coaches had. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to play on.

Hillis: Being a part of the Lady Pioneer softball team was undeniably the best. It gave me memories and people I will cherish forever. I am so proud of the things we accomplished in my four years as a Lady Pioneer and I’m so thankful i was able to be a part of it.

Chadwell: It’s a sense of pride knowing that I’ll always be a part of the team that won the district. Knowing that all of the hard work we had put in finally paid off was well worth it. That win gave our program hope for the future and gave the returning girls hope to be better the next year, which we did in 2018 and in 2019.

We set a foundation that year that we have been able to build off of every year since. I’ve never been prouder to be a part of a program like I am the Lady Pioneer program. It made me who I am today and has given me opportunities of a lifetime.

Whiles: I am so proud to be a part of the Lady Pioneers - not even because of the district win, but because of the drive to win and doing whatever it took. People won’t necessarily always remember the score, but they remember us playing until 1 a.m. and giving it all we had.

And (I’ll remember) the great coach who got us there. He put in work after practice with all of us and always had our backs. Behind every great team is a great coach.

Mikkola: It’s an honor to be able to say I’ll always be a part of Warren County softball. I was lucky to be a part of this team and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Wood: I love knowing that I will always have my part in Warren County. I love this small town and I truly found who I am on WCHS softball field under the leadership of Gooby!


Q&A with head coach Gooby Martin:

Q: What made the 2017 team special? And when did you know you were going to accomplish great things?

Martin: This team was special because it had great leadership. Skyler, Madison, Lexie, Hope, and Kyra were great teammates. Skyler was the leader of that team. When she thought her teammates weren’t giving it their all, she would let them know. She led by example during practice and games. She was the heart and soul of that team. 

I knew we had a chance to be special because we could really hit. Our hitting line up was special. We were dominant 1-8 hitters on a nightly basic. It didn’t matter who we were facing, we were going to score runs. 

Q: Looking back, what was your favorite memory (the Cookeville blowout? Beating Rhea in the region? Playing all night in the district tournament? Or a personal moment)?

Martin: My favorite moment was the day we clinched the regional berth. We had to win against Rhea County, which had the best player in the district at that time. Getting over that hurdle was a huge relief.

Follow up: What was it like playing all night at home in the district tournament?

We had to beat Cookeville twice after that win on the same night. The atmosphere at our place was so electric. We had fans all around the fence - it was literally standing room only. I was glad our girls had a chance to experience that feeling, playing in front of a packed house with a lot of our community there to support. We lost the third game after midnight after we played over seven hours that night. We played as hard as we could and came up a little short. Our effort that night was tremendous. 

Q: Did you know that roster would go on to produce nine college athletes? And have you had a group with that much athletic ability all together?

Martin: It doesn’t surprise me nine of those girls went on to play college ball. A lot of those girls really loved the game. All aspects of it - practice, games, being challenged daily by our staff. They loved it. That showed in the way they approached each game that season. They were competitors. They loved to compete. You can’t teach that, you have to love the game and love to compete to be special and a lot of those girls were special. 

Q: I know it hurts, but what do you remember about how it all ended?

Martin: The game at Soddy we played really well. We had a 3 run lead going into the last inning. We had some calls go against that last inning that swung the momentum in their favor. That’s a tough place to play at and win. They are a powerhouse and we went there and gave them all they wanted. That loss fueled the teams after that 2017 season. We learned from that loss - we had to finish games and get 21 outs. 

That team set the tone for the recent success we’ve had as a program. If you buy in, work hard, compete, and put the team first, anything is possible. I’m really proud of those 17 girls and our staff that year. They really mean a lot to me.