2024 All-County Softball: Excellent season lands Warren Central’s Ellis Coach of the Year honors

Published 3:55 am Saturday, June 8, 2024

The road to Warren Central’s best softball season in a decade started with a side trip to Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in the Vicksburg Outlet Mall.

“I went to my son and my daughter-in-law’s chocolate store and I got some dipped Oreo cookie pops,” Warren Central coach Brian Ellis said. “I had a meeting with (players). In my mind, they needed to get to know me. I wanted them to be able to drown out everything they’ve heard. I knew I had to, to get them to be able to play for me, and for me to get their confidence and respect. That was an icebreaker.”

The sweet gesture of sweets worked. Ellis was not the most popular choice when he moved across town from Vicksburg High last spring, but he soon became one.

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From buying the right treats to setting the right lineups, Ellis pushed all the right buttons to make the Lady Vikes’ season a success.

They finished with a 22-8 record — the program’s best since 2014 — and reached the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs. Now Ellis has capped it off by capturing The Vicksburg Post’s softball Coach of the Year award.

“This has been an amazing ride. All the years I’ve been coaching, this was at the top of my list of seasons I’ve ever had,” Ellis said. “Just being on that ride, that journey with them, and seeing the excitement. I feel like I should be paying to be a part of this.”

In April 2023, longtime Warren Central coach Dana McGivney announced she was leaving to become Oxford’s coach. Ellis, who had been at rival Vicksburg since 2013, was a surprise choice as her successor a month later and it did not sit well with some in the Warren Central program.

Some players quit the team. Others transferred. Ellis’ first job — and perhaps his most crucial one — was to win over those who remained.

“I just told them I didn’t come over here to change your world,” Ellis said. “You all can obviously play this game. You all obviously work hard. So we’re going to get to know each other.”

They spent the June practice period doing just that, with morning workouts and a handful of games that allowed Ellis to learn all about his new players — and vice versa. By the end of the summer the initial apprehension had already started to fade.

“He came in all nice and really worked us to our best,” sophomore pitcher Madison Pant said. “He didn’t push it to where we didn’t have a chance to not like him. He really showed us that he can be a great coach. We really ended up liking him at the end of the year.”

Ellis said it helped that he had a large, talented group of seniors who were good leaders and dedicated to winning. Jenn Smith, Adalyn Anderson, Makayla Jackson, Sarah Cameron Fancher, Tyra Bridges, Whitley Parks, Jill Smith and Kamryn Morson had played softball together most of their lives and were committed to finishing their high school careers on a strong note.

“I had meetings with those seniors. Basically to reassure to them that it’s their team to run, so to speak, and for them to lead by example,” Ellis said. “It was one of the best groups of seniors I’ve coached. They did lead by example. The younger girls looked up to them. They understood.”

The Lady Vikes started the season strong, which further helped everyone to get on the same page. A victory over Madison Central in the season opener — just Warren Central’s second over the Lady Jaguars since 2010 — was part of a 12-3 start.
A split of a home-and-home series with Class 7A power Germantown inspired more confidence.

“I told them that our goal is to win our last game. When you become believers that you can actually do that, who knows what’s going to happen?” Ellis said. “When we beat Madison Central for the first time in I don’t know how long, I could see it in their eyes.”

Warren Central only lost twice in its last 14 regular-season games. It outlasted Grenada in a wild three-game series in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs, and then took eventual state champion South Panola to a third game in the second round before being eliminated.

The Lady Vikes won three elimination games in the playoffs, including an epic 10-inning affair in Game 3 against Grenada and a 2-0 shutout of South Panola in Game 2 of that series.

Five players batted above .300, and the Lady Vikes averaged 9.6 runs per game. Pant, The Vicksburg Post’s Player of the Year for Warren County, developed into an ace with a 16-7 record, 2.48 ERA and 144 strikeouts.

It was the kind of season that validated everything Ellis believed the Lady Vikes were capable of, and then some.

“I wasn’t just blowing smoke. I was very, very confident that we could have a really good season,” Ellis said. “As we went through the course of the year it was fun to watch us make plays. They listened, they made adjustments, and they played relaxed.”

2024 – Brian Ellis, Warren Central
2023 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2022 – Brian Ellis, Vicksburg
2021 – Brian Ellis, Vicksburg
2020 – No winner (COVID)
2019 – Amanda Yocum, Porter’s Chapel
2018 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2017 – Amanda Yocum, Porter’s Chapel
2016 – Brian Ellis, Vicksburg
2015 – Candice Reeder and Howard Park, St. Al
2014 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2013 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2012 – Gene Rogillio, St. Aloysius
2011 – Amanda Yocum, Vicksburg
2010 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2009 – Dana McGivney, Warren Central
2008 – No winner
2007 – Amanda Yocum, Vicksburg/Porters Chapel
2006 – Chris Etheridge, Porters Chapel
2005 – Lucy Young, Warren Central
2004 – Kevin Griffin, Porters Chapel
2003 – Kevin Griffin, Porters Chapel
2002 – Gene Rogillio, St. Aloysius and Lucy Young, Warren Central
2001 – Gene Rogillio, St. Aloysius
2000 – Josh Harper, Vicksburg

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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