Monday, December 24, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot title tops list of 2012 highs

Leader sportswriter

The first half of 2012 had plenty for local sports fans to cheer about as two of our area basketball teams made school history with their first-ever state-championship victories in early March, while two local baseball teams made it all the way to Baum Stadium in Fayetteville for the finals before having to settle for runners up. Throw in the unexpected meltdown of the Jacksonville boys basketball team in the 6A state semifinals, and that gives us the top five local sports stories for winter/spring 2012.

If you live in Cabot, the Lady Panthers’ 51-41 victory over Fort Smith Northside in the 7A state championship game ranks at the top, but everyone closer to Sherwood would argue that the Sylvan Hills Bears’ 59-54 victory over Mills University Studies in the finals should hold the top spot. Both marked school firsts, and both featured players who became the biggest college recruits in the history of their programs with Archie Goodwin and Melissa Wolff, giving us no choice but to call it a tie for the top spot.

1. (tie) Cabot ladies beat Northside for 7A crown. The 2011-12 basketball season was a year to remember at Cabot High School for a number of reasons, including the unprecedented success of the Lady Panthers team under coach Carla Crowder. It started with the opening of the new Panther Arena early last December, as the Lady Panthers won their own Pre-Holiday tournament as well as all of their 7A/6A Central Conference games in the new facility, and also played hosts for the 7A state tournament in early March.

Cabot took the No. 1 seed out of the Central Conference and received a first-round bye. The Lady Panthers picked up Springdale Har-Ber as their first-round opponent, and easily disposed of the Lady Wildcats to set up a semifinal showdown with a talented Little Rock Hall team, led by junior guard Tyler Scaife.

There were plenty of underlying story lines during the tournament, from the final appearance at home for seniors Wolff, Sydney Wacker and Laci Boyett to a made-over coach Crowder, who abandoned her familiar spectacles and curly hair for a contemporary look during her team’s historic postseason run.

There was also the story of junior Lauren Morris, a dedicated player who started out in the Lady Panthers’ junior-high program only to face endless knee injuries before being told she would have to give up basketball for good. Morris was able to enter the Har-Ber game during the final minute, and again at the end of the championship game as the student section chanted her name.

The semifinal game against Hall proved to be one of the most competitive all season, as the two teams battled to a tie in regulation before the Lady Panthers finally pulled out a 57-55 victory in overtime.

That set the stage for a finals game against Northside on Saturday, March 10 with a 2:30 p.m. tipoff time at Summit Arena. Wolff, who signed with the University of Arkansas before the start of the season, earned MVP with a game-high 22 points and 15 rebounds while classmate Boyett also went out on a strong note with 10 points.

1. (tie) Sylvan Hills beats Mills for 5A boys crown. The Bears came up a game short the previous year, but 2012 proved to be historic for longtime coach Kevin Davis and team as current University of Kentucky freshman Archie Goodwin led Sylvan Hills with 27 points and seven rebounds.

The Bears and Comets were also league rivals in the 5A Southeast Conference, while many of the players from both teams also knew each other from AAU summer basketball.

It made for a rivalry that was friendly at times and perhaps not so friendly at other times, but it undoubtedly made for a closely-matched series of games, with the Bears pulling out wins in both conference matchups before downing the Comets one more time when it counted most on March 10.

Goodwin will undoubtedly go down as the biggest thing to ever come through the Bears’ basketball program, and all of his starting teammates have also found their way to the next level.

Point guard Dion Patton is now a freshman at Arkansas Tech, post player Devin Pearson is at Northark Community College, combo guard Larry Ziegler now plays for Mid South Community College and Daylon Jones is a freshman guard at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.

“I don’t think there were many revelations so much as they knew when it was over what they had accomplished,” Davis said in a recent interview. “The first state championship in school history and 28 straight conference games without a loss. That probably says enough.”

3. Lonoke baseball reaches 4A state finals. The Jackrabbits football team captured a state title in 1994 and the basketball ’Rabbits went all the way in 2008, and 2012 held promise for the Diamond Rabs until a defensively-strong Shiloh Christian team shut them out 4-0 in the state championship game.

Still, it was a great run for Lonoke under coach Darrick Lowery, and with every player from that team returning with the exception of seniors Lane Moore and Hayden Hambrick, the ’Rabbits could land themselves at the top of the 2013 list next year with a 4A state baseball title.

4. Carlisle baseball reaches 2A state finals. Local sports enthusiasts still talk about the Bison’s 14-2 loss to Woodlawn in the 2A title game back on May 19, but unfortunately for the wrong reason.

The game will forever live in infamy due to an unprecedented display of bad sportsmanship from Bison senior Hayden Hoover in the bottom of the fourth inning after he was called out for an illegally batted ball. It marred what had otherwise been a historic run for Carlisle under sixth-year coach B.J. Greene, who was trying to leave the program on an up note after securing the head-coaching job at Heber Springs for the 2012-13 school year.

The pregame started with a brief ceremony for Bison graduates Hoover, Deric Herring, Tommy Inman, Trey Wilson and Will Smith, who received their diplomas from athletic director Scott Waymire in front of the third-base line.

Woodlawn took a 5-2 lead after two innings, and went on another big run in the top of the fourth to go up 10-2. Dylan Brazeal walked to start the bottom of the fourth and Austin Reed grounded out to bring up Hoover, who sent a line drive to shallow center before umpire Steve Powell ruled him out for stepping out of the batters box.

5. Jacksonville Red Devils lose to Jonesboro in 6A semifinals. The Red Devils went into the 6A semifinal matchup against East conference rival Jonesboro on March 3 with the confidence of having beaten the Golden Hurricane six consecutive times, and jumped out to a lead of almost 20 points again before falling apart in the second half. That led to a series of events Jonesboro fans have since nicknamed “The Run.”

The Hurricane outscored Jacksonville 42-10 during that time on their way to a 63-42 victory, setting up a championship game between Jonesboro and Little Rock Parkview, two teams Jacksonville went 4-0 against combined in East Conference play. The Patriots eventually went on to win the title with a 69-65 victory over Jonesboro in double overtime.