Sports year in review, Part 1

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chilton County High School's softball team celebrates after winning the county softball tournament.

Chilton County High School’s softball team celebrates after winning the county softball tournament.

Editor’s note: Below is the first part of a two-part series looking back at the top news stories of 2014. This installment covers January through June. Look for the second installment in the Jan. 4 edition.


Basketball county tournament champions crowned

The 2014 Chilton County Basketball Tournament reached its peak with the championship round on Jan 11.

The host Jemison Panthers kept the hometown crowd excited all night by claiming the junior varsity and varsity boys titles, while rival Chilton County captured the girls championship.

Despite a fourth quarter run by Chilton County, the Panthers managed to hold on and knock off the Tigers 45-34 in the JV game.

After upsetting the top-seeded Panthers on Jan. 9, Chilton County’s girls kept the momentum going and despite a slow start, managed to come from behind to win 50-43 over the Thorsby Rebels.

“Defense was definitely the key for us tonight,” CCHS coach Sharree Tuck said. “It has been a while since we have won the tournament. Last year, we lost by one after missing a lot of free throws. Tonight we did a much better job with our free throw shooting. It feels really good to pick up this win.”

After a back-and-forth first half, Jemison’s boys pulled away late in the game en route to a 71-54 win over CCHS and the tournament championship.

“Our big guys down low, Shun and Cody (Thompson) really took over the game,” Panthers coach Stacy McGehee said. “It is a big win for us and the nine seniors on the team. For them to be able to go out as county champions is a big accomplishment.”

Some local schools move up, some down in re-classification

Chilton County High School moved up to Class 6A, and rival Jemison moved up to 5A in a revised classification system announced by the Alabama High School Athletic Association on Jan 23.

The AHSAA Central Board approved a new seven-classification system for all sports beginning with the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years.

Since 1984, schools across the state have been grouped into six classifications based on enrollment.

Class 7A included the state’s 32 largest schools, including Hoover, Baker and Sparkman.

Chilton County High School, with a reported average enrollment of 583.25, became the fourth-smallest 6A school.

Other changes for local schools included Thorsby dropping from 3A to 2A and Isabella dropping from 2A to 1A.

Billingsley, Maplesville and Verbena will remain in 1A. Billingsley is the largest 1A school with an enrollment of 144.7.

In varsity football, Billingsley, Isabella and Verbena all competed in Region 3 (along with Autaugaville, Loachapoka, Notasulga and St. Jude), while the area’s other 1A school, Maplesville, was placed in Region 4 with A.L. Johnson, Akron, Ellwood Christian, Keith, Linden and Sunshine.


Seven local football stars sign to play in college

At least seven local football players signed Feb. 5 to officially begin their college careers.

The signings were a part of National Signing Day, the first day senior varsity players can sign National Letters of Intent to make their college destinations official.

At Chilton County High School, James Hilyer signed with Faulkner University, and Braylen Parker signed with Alabama State University.

Jemison High School held a ceremony for five Panthers in the school’s auditorium so classmates could witness.

Joseph Hall, Keyshawn Jemison and Raequane Jones all signed with Miles College; while Randy Satterfield signed with the University of West Georgia, and Kortlin Zeigler signed with the University of West Alabama.

The players were all joined by family and friends as they made their announcements.

Jemison starts soccer program

The 2014 Jemison varsity soccer team marks the first for the school, and the program was helped on its way by a $1,000 grant presented by state Sen. Cam Ward on Jan. 18, the same day as the game against Chelsea.

The Panthers won their first game, 2-1 over Marbury on Feb. 10.

“This is very exciting, their first year,” Ward said after presenting the grant, which came from the state’s Education Trust Fund budget. “Obviously, they have a lot of enthusiasm for the program.”

There seems to be support for the program beyond the players. JHS juniors Carlos Paz and David Vazquez said they presented a petition with 160 signatures to Principal Allen Wilson, who agreed to allow the formation of the team.

Maddox tosses no-hitter for CCHS

After falling 16-3 to St. James in the first game of a doubleheader on Feb. 21, coach Josey Shannon took his team to the locker room between games for a little “refocusing session.”

The Tigers came out on fire for Game 2, which ended in a 12-0 victory and a no-hit performance by pitcher Tyler Maddox in a score-shortened game.

Maddox went five innings with two strikeouts and a walk.


Isabella wins Maplesville Spring Softball Tournament

Isabella won the Maplesville Spring Softball Tournament with a 9-8 victory March 15 over Dallas County in the championship game.

Isabella defeated host Maplesville, 11-1, in the first game of the tournament, which began on March 14.

IHS then took an 11-4 decision over Dallas County on Friday, but the Hornets fought back through the loser’s bracket and got another shot at Isabella–and won 6-5 on March 15 to force a third game between the two teams.

After the loss to Isabella, Maplesville was knocked out of the tournament by a 10-3 loss to Central Coosa on March 15.

CCHS softball team reclaims county championship

As “We Are The Champions” played over the loud speakers, hugs were exchanged and even a few tears shed as Chilton County High School brought home the 2014 Chilton County Softball Tournament championship on March 21 with a 7-1 win over Isabella.

Day 2 of the tournament saw both sets of the county’s Red Devils ousted with Maplesville falling to Jemison, 15-5, and Verbena falling to Thorsby, 12-1.

The third game was a preview of the night’s championship matchup with CCHS and Isabella facing off in a play-in game that Chilton won, 7-3.

Game 4 on the day was another elimination game. Jemison showed Thorsby its way out of competition via an 8-5 win for the Panthers.

With both teams having one loss each, Game 5 became not only a play in game for the right to take on the Tigers in the championship game, but also an elimination game as the loser would have to settle for third place.

An 8-2 Isabella victory over JHS set up a rematch in the championship game against the Tigers.


Verbena earns area baseball championship

Verbena’s baseball team won its area championship with two victories over Loachapoka.

The Red Devils defeated their area foe 16-0 on April 1 and 25-0 on April 3.

In the first game against Loachapoka, the Devils scored four runs in the first inning, seven runs in the second, four in the third and one in the fourth.

The game was called in the fifth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule.

Quandarius Ray went 3-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBI, and Jared Mims went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBI.

Adam Heflin, Chris Cook and Bryan Rasberry all had a hit in the game. Heflin scored three runs and drove in two, Cook had two RBI and Rasberry had three RBI.

Cole Mims was the winning pitcher, allowing no runs on three walks and one hit in five innings while striking out six batters.

Cook earned the win in the second game against Loachapoka, also hurling a shutout while allowing three walks and two hits while striking out 12.

Tigers clinch fourth straight baseball area title

Chilton County High School’s varsity baseball team was champion of its area once again.

The Tigers clinched its fourth consecutive area championship on April 11 with a home win against Talladega.

Having knocked off Talladega on Wednesday night, 13-0, Chilton County needed just one win in the two-game series to clinch the area title.

A 12-2 win by CCHS in Game 1 locked up the title, while a 14-2 win in Game 2 of the night was icing on the cake.

“It’s funny, because my ninth grade year we set out to leave a legacy behind us,” Chilton senior J.D. Minor said. “Now that dream has become reality. I’m just glad to be a small part of the big picture. It really shows the hard work and dedication that every player and coach has poured into this program.”

Verbena football title trophy found

The memories from one of the most dominant runs in the history of high school football are alive in the minds of many Verbena residents.

Unfortunately, tangible memorials are harder to come by.

A monument stands in front of Verbena’s school, with results from the Red Devils’ 50 consecutive wins and five consecutive state championships in the 1950s under coach James Porch, but none of the trophies awarded during that run can be found at the school.

Jason Duskin, pastor at Chestnut Creek Baptist Church in Verbena, discovered in the spring the state championship trophy awarded to the 1955 team.

Duskin said the trophy was sitting on a fireplace in the church’s parsonage, which is vacant and up for sale.

“I had never been inside,” Duskin said. “At first, I didn’t know what it was.”

But Duskin soon realized the significance of the trophy. He did some research and found out about Verbena’s success on the football field in the 50s.

The 1955 squad was upset in its second game of the season, 7-0 by Elmore County to snap a 50-game winning streak, but won its next eight games and was named state champion for the fifth consecutive time by The Birmingham News. There was no playoff system at the time.

Former big league baseball scout speaks to local high school squad

Chilton County High School’s varsity baseball team was eliminated from the state playoffs April 19, but the losses surely can’t be blamed on a lack of preparation.

Coach Josey Shannon and his staff gave the Tigers the instruction they needed, and leading up to the playoff series against Briarwood, the players were inspired by a visit from a baseball legend.

Kenneth “Squeaky” Parker, who spent 52 years in Major League Baseball, mostly as a scout, spoke to the team on April 17, the day of a practice game against Thorsby and two days before the Tigers hosted Briarwood at Jack Hayes Field in Clanton.

“My main point was the way they live their lives: stay away from drugs, steroids, alcohol and all that,” Parker said. “I talked to them about the importance of the Lord Jesus Christ in my life. We also talked about honoring thy mother and father, the importance of a hard work ethic and life after baseball. Regardless of what they do, there’s the importance of education. I thought it went well.”

Shannon describes Parker, 77, as a long-time friend. The two met in 2001, when Shannon was a junior at the University of West Florida in Pensacola and Parker was a scout for the area for the Pittsburgh Pirates–and a benefactor for the local college program.

“He was like our pawpaw,” Shannon said. “He had a big heart. He didn’t take for granted the opportunity that was given to him. He’s a special man to me.”

In addition to the Pirates, Parker has worked as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds, and for MLB’s scouting bureau.

Parker signed big-league stars including Will Clark, Matt Williams, Charlie Hayes, Jeff Brantley, Robby Thompson and Mike Remlinger before his retirement in 2008.

Tigers sweep Chilton County Golf Tournament

Chilton County High School’s golf team won the county tournament April 24 at Clanton Country Club, and the Tigers also swept the first, second and third individual finishes.

CCHS’s golfers combined for a 298 score to best Jemison’s 363 and Thorsby’s 422.

Isabella also competed.

CCHS sophomore Cole Watley claimed the individual championship by shooting 73.

Watley was followed closely by teammates Jordan Lightsey (74), Bailey Price (75) and Trey Baker (76).

Watley shot an even par on the front nine, including back-to-back birdies on holes 6 and 7.

Watley barely held onto the lead on the back nine, as he shot five-over par as Lightsey charged from behind.

Watley learned he needed to par final two holes for the win. A difficult pin position on Hole 2 led to his birdie putt rolling downhill past the hole by about 6 feet.

He sank the par putt for the win.

Jemison’s top scorer was Brandon Stokes with an 83, Isabella’s top scorer was Trey Vessicchio with a 96 and Thorsby’s top scorer was Colton Castleberry with a 102.

Three local softball teams to compete in regional tournament

Three local softball teams advanced to the regional round of the state playoffs after finishing first or second in area tournaments.

Billingsley, Maplesville and Verbena all competed in the Class 1A South Central Regional, from May 9-10 at the Troy Sportsplex.

All three teams played their first games at 3:30 p.m. Maplesville played Ragland, Verbena played Fayetteville and Billingsley played Jacksonville Christian.

The tournament was double-elimination, with the top two finishers advancing to the Class 1A state tournament, to held May 15-17 in Montgomery.

Chilton County High School, Isabella, Jemison and Thorsby all failed to advance.

Isabella athletes win track state championships

De’Rodgus Campbell and Sarah Graham earned Isabella’s second, third and fourth individual track and field championships at the Class 2A state meet on May 2-3.

Graham finished first in the girls 800-meter run with a finals time of 2:25.20.

A junior, Graham has competed at the varsity level for five years.

Isabella was also represented at the meet by Jordan Clark, who finished 22nd in the 400-meter dash with a time of 1:10.85.

Isabella’s girls team finished 13th in the state, while the boys finished 10th, based solely on the performances of Campbell.

On the other end of the spectrum from Graham’s track experience, Campbell won two championships in his first year to compete.

Campbell was first in the long jump in a distance of 21-06.25.

He was also first in the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.17. Campbell was second by two-tenths of a second to Lanett’s Cameron Trammell in the preliminaries but bested him in the finals.

Campbell played four sports at Isabella—including competing in track and baseball at the same time.

Former high school softball teammates compete in top junior college event

Two former Chilton County High School softball players continued to shine on the softball diamond as they competed in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament with Southern Union Community College May 14-16.

Brianna Cleckler is a 2012 graduate of CCHS and a freshman at Southern Union.

Cleckler earned 24 wins and 116 strikeouts as a starting pitcher for the Lady Bison this season.

Lauren Stewart is also a 2012 graduate of CCHS and a sophomore at Southern Union. Stewart played first base and appeared as a designated hitter, earning a .325 batting average and a .438 on-base percentage for the season.

Southern Union went into the National Tournament with a 58-10 record after earning the state title in the District O, Region 22 Championship.

The Lady Bison traveled to St. George, Utah for the National Tournament to begin playing on Wednesday, May 14. Southern Union lost their first game 7-6 in extra innings to Angelina, the team who ultimately won the tournament.

Southern Union’s fight for the national title came to an end after a 10-3 loss against Chattanooga State Community College. Southern Union finished in the top four teams of the tournament.


Thorsby baseball player selected in MLB draft

Though the wait wasn’t as long as Matt Morgan expected, it certainly seemed like an eternity for the former Thorsby baseball player and his family and friends.

Morgan was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 6 in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, becoming possibly the highest draft pick ever for a Chilton County player out of high school. Also, according to MLB, Morgan became the first Alabama high school catcher to be drafted in the first five rounds of the draft since 1998.

Thorsby's Matt Morgan was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 6 in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, becoming possibly the highest draft pick ever for a Chilton County player out of high school.

Thorsby’s Matt Morgan was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 6 in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, becoming possibly the highest draft pick ever for a Chilton County player out of high school.

Morgan celebrated the accomplishment with more than 15 relatives and friends at Thorsby coach Ab Argent’s home. The party cooled their nerves long enough to enjoy pizza and soft drinks before turning their full attention to the widescreen TV in the living room.

Though Morgan’s agent gave him a heads-up that the Blue Jays intended to draft him with the 114th pick of the draft (he was projected to be selected around the 150 mark), there were still cheers when the announcement was made—and plenty of smart phones and tablets recording the moment.

Immediately afterward, Morgan fielded several phone calls and texts from well-wishers, distributed hugs to those in the room and even posed for photos with a young protege.

24-Hour Challenge a success despite thunderstorms

Thunderstorms delayed Perry Mountain Motorcycle Club’s 24-hour race June 7, but did not hinder the riders’ determination as they adjusted to the inclement weather and muddy track.

Valley Exteriors, a team competing in the Elite category, took home the overall win.

The event underwent a delay of about three hours in the midst of the competition June 7 due to a thunderstorm warning and large amounts of precipitation.

The delay resulted in a quick remaking of the course after excessive mud did some damage to the track.

Event organizer Glenn Hollingshead said that despite the inclement weather and a couple of injuries, the race went as planned.

“I don’t think [the delay] actually affected the outcome of the race,” Hollingshead said. “The riders were grateful that we weren’t making them ride through lightning and storms. Their safety is our No. 1 concern.”

The winners were based on the number of laps completed at the end of the 24 hours. If the number of laps were the same, then the first to cross the finish line seized the victory.

Gary Barr, 56, of PawPaw Racing, was the winner of the Ironman 50+ category in which the rider tackles the 10-mile course by themselves for the full 24 hours.

Barr, a native of Grant, completed 30 laps, and said that it is all in the way you strategize for the race.

“A lot of it comes down to being not only physically ready, but also emotionally ready,” Barr said. “There will be a point when your body just wants to quit, and you have to be prepared to emotionally push through and keep going.”

New coach Bradford begins work with Tigers

Brian Bradford became the new Chilton County High School football coach.

Bradford took the place of former coach, Donnie Hand, who has coached the Tigers’ football team for the past three years.

On top of his coaching responsibilities, Bradford will also serve as the athletic director.

He was on the field training and coaching the Tigers, but was not officially hired until the Chilton County Board of Education made the final decision on June 17.

Bradford was introduced at the Gridiron Club meeting on June 10.