Friday, December 28, 2012

SPORT STORY >> McClure drafted is 2012’s top story

Leader sportswriter

The second half of 2012 saw a series of unique events and accomplishments by teams and individuals from our local area. Jacksonville watched one of its own sign a Major League Baseball contract in the summer. A Lonoke native and former Jackrabbit became a key starter for the University of Arkansas football team this past season.

An accomplished equestrian from Cabot added making the junior Olympic team to her resume. Fans of the Sylvan Hills Bruins senior American Legion team got to see a player hit for the rare cycle in the summer, and the Jacksonville Red Devils basketball team put on a stellar performance in the recent Hardwood Showcase at the Devils’ Den, which featured basketball powerhouses from all over the country.

That gives us the top five local sports stories from summer to present, with the top story being D’Vone McClure being drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2012 Major League Baseball draft.

1) McClure signs with Indians.

This not only was the top story of the summer/fall seasons, but The Leader’s choice for the No. 1 sports story of the year. McClure, a former baseball and football standout for the Red Devils, was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft on June 5, and received a $765,000 signing bonus. In the summer of2011, he attended a Major League mock camp with several other prospects. After being evaluated, he was projected as a mid-teen round pick when the 2012 high-school season began.

McClure’s play in his senior season impressed scouts, and he quickly became an early-round prospect as the season progressed. At pick No. 143, Cleveland drafted the Jacksonville standout. Although McClure was drafted slightly lower than expected, his signing bonus was more than double the pick value for that particular draft slot, which is set by MLB.

In November of 2011, McClure signed an NCAA national letter of intent to play for the University of Arkansas. Rumors surfaced shortly after the draft that McClure had turned down the Indians to play for the Hogs, but that was nothing more than speculation.

It wasn’t long after McClure’s signing that he gave back to the community that watched him grow up.

McClure recently donated $2,000 to the Jacksonville High School athletic department, where the money will be used to pay for team attire and equipment. The young man is now playing the game he loves for a living, and may 2013 be a prosperous year for the former Red Devil.

2) Morgan Linton becomes Hogs’ starting fullback.

Due to injuries to fullbacks Kiero Small and Kody Walker earlier in the 2012 season, Linton, a Lonoke native, was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time against reigning national champion Alabama.

Linton started the rest of the season for the Hogs. His fullback duties didn’t allow him to get featured time carrying the ball, but he did have four catches out of the backfield for 37 yards. However, the stat book doesn’t accurately reflect Linton’s contributions to the team.

Linton battled through the trenches all season as the lead blocker out of the backfield. It was a job the former Lonoke Jackrabbit standout had to earn. Linton, a walk-on, worked his way into the starting job.

A third-year sophomore, Linton was offered full scholarship rides to play at smaller schools in the state, but chose to be a Razorback. He graduated from Lonoke High School in 2010 and has represented his home town well.

3) Cabot’s Jordan Payton earns spot on Junior Olympic national team.

Payton, a nationally-ranked junior equestrian rider from Cabot, was selected as an alternate team member to compete at the Junior Olympics in the summer along with her thoroughbred horse, Slew’s Aftershock, a descendent of the legendary Seattle Slew.

The Junior Olympics, also referred to as the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships, is the premier championship event for the one and two-star levels of eventing. Eventing is the triathlon of equestrian riding, which consists of three different challenging events or phases.

Payton was selected as an alternate despite having to overcome adversity before the mandatory selection trials that took place in June at Texas Rose Horse Park located in Tyler, Texas. While doing routine fitness work days before the event, Payton’s horse strained one of his tendons, which aggravated a previous injury.

The thoroughbred was given a week off to recover from the injury, which seriously limited any practice time the duo needed to stay sharp. However, Payton and her horse were able to compete and were selected to represent the illustrious team as alternates. Only four riders are chosen to represent the team, but two more are chosen as well to compete in individual events.

Payton was ranked as high as seventh in the Preliminary Junior Division of U.S. Eventing. She spent most of her time training at the prestigious Gold Chip Stables in Bartonville, Texas.

4) Sylvan Hills’ J.D. Miller hits for cycle.

It was the first round of the 2012 Arkansas Senior American Legion state tournament, and the Sylvan Hills Bruins beat Paragould 5-2, primarily because of the effective pitching by Dylan Boone and Miller’s dominant performance at the plate.

Miller went on a wild hot-streak at the plate last summer, and the best example of his stellar play was against Paragould. Miller was effective from the start.

His three-run home run in the first inning towered well over the 375-foot mark in straight-centerfield, which put the Bruins up 3-0. Miller singled and doubled his next at-bats, and achieved the cycle in the bottom of the seventh inning with a stand-up triple to deep right field.

5) Jacksonville’s two wins in Hardwood Show-case Classic.

The Red Devils’ basketball team played lights out against two of the best teams from Oklahoma and Illinois in its own Hardwood Showcase tournament at the Devil’s Den Dec. 21 and 22. In the first game, Jacksonville beat Oklahoma City’s Putnam City West 51-46. The Patriots are one of the premier teams from Oklahoma City, and feature 6-foot-4 junior Omega Harris, who is ranked by as the No. 1 prospect of the 2014 class in Oklahoma. It was a hard-fought win for Jacksonville, but the win the Red Devils earned the next day was even bigger.

Jacksonville upset Chicago’s Orr Academy 72-62. Orr entered the game with a 6-1 record and a top-20 national ranking. Its only loss coming to the controversial start-up school Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, which was co-founded by former Dallas Cowboy and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders.

Prime Prep Academy recently withdrew from the Texas high-school governing body and elected to play a nationwide schedule because four of its players were considered ineligible by the state. Those four players are all DI signees and played at Grace Academy the previous year before transferring in August shortly after Grace’s head coach was hired by Sanders.

The Red Devils made 25 of 37 free throws in the win against Orr, and held Tyquane Greer, Chicago’s No. 1 rated sophomore, to 12 points after he scored 20 the night before.