Tuesday, December 27, 2011

SPORTS >> Lots of sports memories in 2011

Leader sports staff

An Arkansas Derby winner, three state championships, eight state championship appearances highlighted the 2011 calendar year in local sports. There was also a recruiting and media frenzy surrounding a local player, and a not-so pleasant exit of a longtime local coach. 2011 brought plenty of excitement for fans of local sports.

The Little Horse that could, but almost couldn’t

Timing is important in horse races. It’s also important in the business of horse racing, and what looked like bad timing in February, turned out to be fortuitous for Jacksonville’s Bob and Val Yagos. Their thoroughbred, Archarcharch, won the Arkansas Derby in April and became the first locally owned horse to ever run in the Kentucky Derby. The horse suffered a career-ending injury at the famed Churchill Downs, but none of its accomplishments would have taken place if not for poor timing by the Yagos.

The JB’s Auto Salvage owners struck a deal in February with an interested party in Great Britain who planned to pay seven figures and run the horse in Dubai. But the contract was finalized 15 minutes too late to be legal. That’s not to say that the Yagos’ were upset about the failed transaction.

Val Yagos had a change of heart in the middle of the proceedings, but yielded to the previous decision to sell. When the contract was nullified, the couple decided not to pursue other opportunities and kept Archarcharch.

The 3-year old went on to give the Yagos’ their first-ever Grade 1 victory at the Arkansas Derby, as well as the first for longtime Hot Springs trainer Jinks Fires.

He became the tragedy of the Kentucky Derby when he suffered a fracture in his left front leg. He drew the dreaded one position in a huge field of 19 horses. He got bumpbed around a lot early and probably suffered the facture then. He still managed to finish 15th on a broken leg, lending credence to the Yagos’ claim that he was one of the most competitive horses they’d ever seen.

Turnaround Troup

The much-maligned rule that began allowing six of eight teams in the 6A and 7A conferences to make the playoffs turned out to be not such a bad thing this past baseball season. If not for the rule, the 6A state champions would not have even made the playoffs. Jacksonville, coming off a conference championship and returning everyone, suffered a mid-season slump that left it needing a win in its final season series just to make the playoffs.

Once there, the Red Devils completely flipped the script from a year ago. In 2010, they were a No. 1 seed and bowed out in the first round.

In 2011, they got in by the skin of their teeth and won the state championship, vanquishing major league prospect Dillon Howard and the Searcy Lions in the title game. Just for good measure and added effect, the Red Devils fell behind 5-1 in the fifth inning before mounting the most unlikely comeback of the weekend.

“We were just getting the two-out hits that we hadn’t been getting earlier,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows told The Leader in May.

Indeed his squad had been close in defeat, and became the cinderella story of championship weekend in Fayetteville in May.

Pinning the medal

That wasn’t The Leader’s only championship team. The Beebe Badgers won the class 5A wrestling title. It happened unusually, with Jason Ferguson pinning his opponent for fifth place in the heavyweight division, but his fifth-place finish gave the Badgers enough team points to overtake Little Rock Christian Academy atop the leaders’ board and earn the title. 103-pound Josh Freeman was Beebe’s only individual state champion. He finished the season 17-0 and beat Oak Groves’ Cole Brainerd for the championship.

Pinning the medal 2

Cabot’s girls bowling team won the state championship in February while the boys finished second to Searcy. Cabot’s Shelby Smith had the state tournament’s best score, and was the only member of the state title team to be named to the All-State squad.

Track title

In track and field, Cabot’s Ariel Voskamp won the state pole vault with a vault of 12-feet 5 inches.

Changing of the guard

It was evident by the end of the 2009-10 season that a change was needed in the Beebe girls basketball program, but that change did not come until a year later, when parents began flooding school-board meetings and contacting the local media to express their discontent with Lady Badgers coach Lora Jackson.

Jackson, who led Beebe to a 5A state semifinals appearance in the spring of 2009 with current Xavier University guard Ty O’Neill, became increasingly despondent during her final two years at the helm.

The community got its wish this past June when former Greene County Tech assistant coach Greg Richey got the nod to head the Lady Badgers program, while assistant coach Janet Pankey, who endured six seasons under Jackson, stayed on board.

The new partnership has paid dividends early this season with the Lady Badgers off to a 7-2 start, their best in years. They made a huge statement last week by winning the Battle at the Brier invitational basketball tournament in Greenbrier, defeating 6A powerhouse Mountain Home 33-31 in the championship game.

Oh, Archie!

The Leader first spotted Sylvan Hills guard Archie Goodwin as a dynamic freshman who led the junior Bears to a 19-2 record and River-City Conference championship back in 2008, but it took the rest of the country until the summer of 2010 when he appeared in a combine showcase game in St. Louis to understand his special talents for the game of basketball. Once the proverbial egg hatched, the floodgates at Hillside busted open with elite NCAA Division I coaches visiting the tiny Sherwood gymnasium to catch a glimpse of the 6-5 shooting ace.

That list included North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kentucky’s John Calipari, who watched Goodwin and the Bears dismantle Watson Chapel back in January.

Legendary Kansas University coach Bill Self got perhaps the best show during his visit to the Hill as he watched a dramatic overtime win against nearby conference rival North Pulaski. The gymnasium was filled well beyond its 280-seat capacity, as Goodwin scored a career high 48 points.

The recruiting frenzy was not without its share of controversy, however, as former Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey came under fire for posing with Goodwin and teammate Trey Smith in a photo taken by Smith’s mother at the Conway tournament in November of 2010. The photo came to light in early March as the Bears were preparing to face Alma in the 5A state championship game. Pelphrey was on hand for most of the games at Summit Arena in Hot Springs that weekend, but was curiously absent when Goodwin and the Bears took to the court to face Isaac McCoy and the Airedales.

Many suspected all along that Goodwin aspired to be a Wildcat despite over 40 DI offers, and he verified it in October with an early signing to the prestigious university.

Devil of a season

What was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Jacksonville developed into a run to the 6A state championship game this past March, as Red Devils coach Victor Joyner led his young squad to a share of the conference title and a No. 2 seed in the 6A-East Conference.

Senior guard Raheem Appleby proved himself to be one of the most versatile players in the state as a strong scorer and defender throughout the season. The 6-3 guard suffered an ankle injury in the semifinals against Jonesboro, and was not at full speed when the Red Devils converged on Summit Arena in Hot Springs to face East foe Little Rock Parkview for the state championship.

It was anyone’s game heading in as the two teams split their conference schedule. Each team won its home game during a jumbled run of league play that was the result of inclement weather which eventually forced the rescheduling of nearly two weeks worth of games.

The Patriots prevailed 50-44 in the championship game, led by Arkansas Razorback signee Aaron Ross’s 13 points to earn MVP honors, but Appleby led all scorers with 19 points despite his weak ankle. Appleby and sophomore point guard Justin McCleary were both named to the all-tournament team.

Barreling Bison

Carlisle’s football team was also supposed to be rebuilding this season after losing almost its entire starting offensive line. The team, especially its 13 seniors, didn’t see it that way, and it was obvious even before the season began. Starting quarterback Zac King told The Leader during two-a-days that he expected the squad to “beat Des Arc, beat Hazen, go 15-0 and win the state championship.”

Not many other people believed it could happen, and if not for an unprecedented, record-breaking performance by Strong’s Kenneth Dixon, it would’ve happened. Carlisle went 13-0 and advanced to the state championship, though it was pegged an underdog in its first playoff game, a slight favorite in its second, and an underdog again in the semifinals.

There just wasn’t anything the Bison could do about Dixon. There wasn’t anything any team in 2A, or probably even 3A, could have done about Dixon that night.

It was still a remarkable season, and it rightly earned head coach Scott Waymire the coach of the year award. Everyone knew Strong was good. Dixon had already committed to a Divison I school, and there is at least one other DI player in the Bulldogs’ senior class. Carlisle has none. The Bison may not have anyone who will play college football at all next year. They got where they did because they were above average athletes with exceptional leadership, toughness and belief in each other.

The Real McCoy

Sylvan Hills made headlines with its dynamic junior shooting guard Archie Goodwin, who generated national interest in the program, but Goodwin was one in a starting lineup full of all-star caliber junior players in 2010-11. The Bears went undefeated in their 5A Southeast Conference run and won three dramatic games in the state tournament to set up a showdown with Alma in the state finals.

The Airedales were led by senior Isaac McCoy, who had signed to play football for Oklahoma State earlier in the year. The odds overwhelmingly went to Goodwin and the Bears going in to the matchup, but McCoy stunned the state with a record-shattering performance that included 39 points and 20 rebounds to earn MVP as the Airedales rolled to an 80-64 victory.

Goodwin struggled from the floor and finished with a season low 15 points and seven rebounds while point guard Dion Patton added 13 points. Goodwin and then utility player and now starter Larry Ziegler were both named to the all-tournament team.