Tuesday, May 23, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Springtime sees many noteworthy sports feats

Leader sports editor

With the 2016-17 school year at a close, there was a relative dearth of team state championships in the Leader coverage area this year. Three local teams did win championships, all in the second-semester sports. The most recent was last Friday when the Cabot baseball team brought home the hardware for the first time in school history. Just a little more than a week prior to that, the Sylvan Hills girls’ track team won the Class 5A state title for the second time in that school’s history, and first since 2004.

Back in February, the Cabot girls’ bowling team won its’ sixth championship in the last 10 years and third in a row.

There were a few other state championships in individual sports. Cabot senior Harris Sutton went undefeated and won his second-consecutive wrestling championship in the 220-pound weight class.

Cabot junior Casey Gore won the 3,200-meter championship in 7A, and the Meet of Champs.

Lonoke junior Gracie Hyde won the Class 4A 800- and 1,600-meter races. Her teammate and classmate Keiunna Walker won the 4A triple jump championship.

The Lady Bears’ 4x400-meter relay team of Jordan Sanders, O’Shayla Muldrow, Daviunia Jones and Aliya Hatton won that event in the 5A state meet, aiding the overall team championship.

There were other notable events, however, among local teams, and it starts with the Cabot girls’ soccer team. The Lady Pantherscame up short in their quest for a state championship, losing to Bentonville on a rain-soaked field for the second time in two years.

What makes this year’s loss more difficult to swallow was the nature of the game. The 4-0 score is the most inexplicable thing about the entire affair, because the Lady Panthers looked like the better team.

They were clearly the faster and more athletic team. Their speed forced an almost immediate strategy change by Bentonville. After getting broken down twice early in the game by Hadley Dickinson, the Lady Tigers began tackling as much as defending. They defended, and aggressively so, the entire length of the field.

The only balls they didn’t challenge were the kicks from goalkeeper Maggie Martin – even though they did, at one point, slap the ball out of her hands.

The difference was around the goal, where Bentonville couldn’t seem to miss on its drastically fewer opportunities, while Cabot couldn’t catch a break.

Bentonville scored twice on corner kicks, and according to coach Kristina Henry, it was the first two goals on corner kicks the team has scored all season.

The Lady Tigers other two goals were from about 20-25 yards away. They had to be because the Cabot defense scarcely let the ball get behind them the entire game.

Cabot coach Kerry Castillo summed it up when describing how the score reflects the game that was played.

“It’s all wrong,” said Castillo.


In basketball, for anyone paying attention to anything but wins and championships, Sylvan Hills boys’ coach Kevin Davis deserved to at least be in the running for 5A coach of the year. He kept his team focused and on task throughout a brutal conference season that ultimately didn’t mean anything. The Bears went 4-10 in the 5A-6A East Conference that boasted about 20 Division I prospects and signees, of which none were at SHHS.

Davis knew it was a league that refined by fire, and knew that if his squad could get just one win in the conference tournament, it would qualify for state and then have a chance to prove its mettle. That’s exactly what happened. The Bears defeated the two-DI prospect team of Little Rock Christian Academy in the conference tournament, and then advanced to the semifinals of the 5A state tournament, convincingly beating 5A-South champion Hope in the first round.


In 6A basketball, coach Vic Joyner, like every other JHS coach this season, had to play 6A ball with 5A numbers because of a dumb ruling by the AHSAA, but I digress.

What peeved Joyner the most was how bad the officiating was this season, and it reared its head most prominently in the postseason. Jacksonville had to overcome a laughably called game at Pine Bluff to earn the No. 5 seed in the state tournament.

Once there, the Titans hammered tournament host Lake Hamilton, but then had its best player, Cleveland State signee Tyree Appleby, effectively removed from the quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Jonesboro.

That 71-45 final does not disclose how close the game was until Appleby was hit with three quick fouls in the second quarter, and then another one early in the third.

Joyner complained openly to the press about the officiating, and was slapped with probation by the AHSAA. But he’s right about the fact that there is no other real recourse for coaches who feel let down by sub par job performance. And his opinion is nearly unanimous among high school coaches.


In the same vein as Sylvan Hills basketball, Jacksonville baseball coach Larry Burrows deserved some credit for the season his team put together. The team started the season with only one real college prospect, Kameron Whitmore, and he had to play a position (catcher) all season that he won’t play in college.

That kind of sacrifice and dedication to the team concept is what got the Titans a decent season and a three seed in the state tournament. Terrible luck in the timing of a weather-related stoppage helped get them beat in the first round of state, but that doesn’t diminish what the ragtag bunch of Titans accomplished this season.