The quest for the CTC softball title for the Lady Pioneers turned into an endurance test in Manchester Saturday. The Warren County Middle School softball team needed every scrap of energy over the course of six games in two days – five coming on Saturday – to hoist the title.
By the time the Lady Pioneers beat top seed Franklin North in back-to-back games late Saturday, it was their trophy to hoist, even if many may have been too tired to lift it.
“These were true team wins,” said WCMS coach Joe Damon, who guided the team to a championship in his first season at the helm. “The girls fought hard to come out of the loser’s bracket and take the title.
“These girls have worked hard every day since January. They didn’t take days off and it’s great to see it pay off for them.”
The Lady Pioneers won the title games 4-0 and 12-2, capping a comeback against the Lady Gators and ending their season with a 19-3 mark.
Overcoming adversity was something the Lady Pioneers had to face all weekend. Warren County had players fight through injuries and fatigue, along with bouncing back from a demoralizing no-hitter, to win the tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years.
“I’ve said it all year, our defense is special. They proved it over the weekend,” said Damon. “There’s not a weak spot on the field with this group. There’s no one to hide and every girl gives 100 percent. When we needed big plays in big moments, we had players step up.”
Warren County was forced to battle out of the loser’s bracket after falling to Franklin North early in the day 2-1. Ashtyn Danley tossed a no-hitter in the matchup, with the Lady Pioneers scoring on a first-inning error for their lone run.
The loss put the Lady Pioneers’ backs against the wall, with a second loss signaling the end of the season. Warren County wouldn’t lose again.
Warren County quickly dispatched Coffee County 8-2 in the loser bracket finals, scoring all its runs in the first inning to cruise into the finals. Franklin North awaited the Lady Pioneers after eliminating Coffee County, which also lost 5-3 earlier in the day to Warren County.
The Lady Pioneers knew they needed two wins over the Lady Gators, and proceeded to go to work.
In the rematch, it was Madison Hollis who dominated in the circle. The Lady Pioneer eighth-grader, who would throw almost 300 pitches while starting four games Saturday, silenced the Lady Gator bats while striking out 10 in a shutout. She only got stronger in the second meeting, striking out 11 while allowing one hit.
Hollis seemed to get better as the day went along, something her coach noticed as they rode the powerful righty to a title.
“Madison’s focus was unbelievable. She seemed to get stronger in the circle,” said Damon. “We rotated Halo (Armstrong) and Shelby (Roberts) behind the plate. Madison was really on her game with Shelby in the first game, so we decided to keep them together for the championship.”
Roberts didn’t just provide value as a backstop though. She finished the tournament on fire at the plate, getting hits in nine of her last 10 at-bats. Her loudest hit came in the second championship game, when her solo shot started the third inning and pushed the Lady Pioneers up 3-0.
Warren County would finish the blowout in the championship game with three home runs. Hollis and Marli McBride each hit two-run homers, showing their power and versatility at the plate.
“Madison hit one to deep left. I’m not sure how far it went, but she definitely got all of the ball,” said Damon. “Marli, and the whole team, were so good in the championship placing bunts. But then she came up her next at-bat and hits one out to centerfield.”
Warren County got contributions up and down the lineup all tournament, as well as defensively. Hollis had a team-high 10 hits and 12 RBIs in tournament play to go along with her three victories in the circle. Roberts scored a team-high 10 runs with hitting .563 in the tournament, while Aleya Esparza (.417), Bella Cantrell (.375) and Mea Starkey (.357) were also pivotal during the six-game stretch.
Alyssa Mosley stepped in at shortstop for an injured Juju Pyburn and helped the team defensively. Danika Reno won both her starts in the tournament, dominating Coffee County in the loser’s bracket finals and cruising in a 15-0 victory over Franklin South Friday.
The team, which includes 10 eighth-graders, is one Damon won’t soon forget.
“This was a very driven group. They’ve worked so hard all season,” said Damon. “And the older girls have set a great example for the younger girls. The entire team is stronger because of their dedication and work ethic.”
The WCMS softball team won the CTC championship Saturday. Members of the team are Dallis Melton, Halle Lowe, Kora Forbes, Aleya Esparza, Madison Hollis, Shelby Roberts, Alyssa Mosley and Jessie Young, Halo Armstrong, coach Joe Damon, Mea Starkey, Danika Reno, assistant coach Rodney Whiles, Brooklyn Cope, Jazlyn Ward, Isabella Pennington, Ebonie Ross, Juju Pyburn, assistant coach William Forbes, Bella Bain, Bella Cantrell, Marli McBride and assistant coach Beau Lowe.