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Sports Year in Review Part 1

Isabella's Hailey and Sophia Underwood celebrate a win over Athens Bible that earned the Mustangs a berth in the championship round of the Class 1A state softball tournament Friday at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. (Photo on File)

Isabella’s Hailey and Sophia Underwood celebrate a win over Athens Bible that earned the Mustangs a berth in the championship round of the Class 1A state softball tournament Friday at Lagoon Park in Montgomery. (Photo on File)

Editor’s note: Below is the first of a two-part series looking back at the top sports stories of 2015. This installment covers January through June. Look for the second installment in the Jan. 3 edition of the newspaper.

January

Champions crowned in county basketball tournaments

The undefeated Thorsby Rebels girls basketball team prolonged its winning streak by one more game as they proved too much for Jemison in a 52-41 win on Jan. 13.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Lilyana Barnett and a free throw by Robinson helped the Rebels to a 15-6 lead at the end of the first period.

Five points from Robinson led the Panthers during a 9-0 run to start the second period and made the score 24-6 early in the second period.

Karmen Mims added another three-pointer for the Panthers, but with just 1:45 to play, it did little as the Rebels held on for the win and the county championship.

Robinson led the Rebels with 19 points, three rebounds and four steals. Barnett added 15 points, including five from three-point range, 10 rebounds, two steals and a block for Thorsby.

For the first time in school history, the Verbena Red Devils started the season with a perfect 12-0 record and came into the Chilton County Basketball Tournament championship game looking for their first county title since 1996.

Unfortunately for the Red Devils, the Chilton County Tigers stood in their way of another win and their first county title in 19 years.

Turnovers and missed opportunities at the free throw line by Verbena didn’t help its cause any as the Tigers capitalized on those turnovers along with their chances at the charity stripe to pick up a 70-63 win and a county championship.

Williams led the Tigers with 19 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Tyler Armstrong chosen as ASWA’s Lineman of the Year

Maplesville High School was well-represented in the Alabama Sportswriter’s Association’s Mr. Football Awards Banquet on Jan. 15, with two players up for awards and linebacker Tyler Armstrong taking home AHSAA Class 1A Lineman of the Year honors.

The banquet took place at the Alabama Activity Center in Montgomery, and saw 48 of the state’s top high school football players attend. Athletes in attendance were selected by the ASWA for either back/lineman of the year, or the state’s highest honor for performance on the gridiron, Mr. Football, based on their performances on the field all season.

Armstrong, a senior, posted 123 tackles on the season, along with four sacks, 12 tackles for a loss, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.

Armstrong said he was surprised by the selection.

“I was shocked, to be honest,” he said. “It means a lot.”

In the final voting, Armstrong garnered 48 first place votes, 10 more than runner-up Jake Mintz of Cedar Bluff.

Maplesville head coach Brent Hubbert said he felt Armstrong’s work ethic helped him earn the award.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Tyler’s been all-state the last two years; he’s been an unbelievable player for us. It’s well-deserved.”

Armstrong was awarded with a plaque bearing his name and a picture of him in action in the Class 1A championship game.

February

Thorsby girls basketball remains unbeaten after area championship

The Thorsby Rebels girls basketball team captured the AHSAA Class 2A, Area 9 tournament championship with an absolutely dominating performance, defeating Vincent 59-42 at home Feb. 6.

The Rebels opened up with a 17-8 run, capped off by a Sabrina Ellison basket to end the first quarter with a nine-point lead.

The Rebels picked up where they left off to begin the second quarter, with Keri Robinson kicking off the quarter with a basket and added a three-pointer before Ellison added a basket to extend the lead to 24-8.

Robinson then added another basket, with Barnett closing out the half with a pair of free throws to send the two teams to the locker room for halftime with the score 33-17 in favor of the Rebels.

Adison Argent got the second half started with a basket, which kicked off a 10-2 run to open the quarter. Robinson, Ellison and Marisa Jones all added baskets to give the Rebels a 43-19 lead with under 5:30 to go in the third.

“I thought Keri Robinson was just outstanding,” head coach Ab Argent said. “She kind of carried us. We were pretty good defensively, and it was just a hard-fought game.”

Robinson led the Rebels with 32 points, while Ellison had 10.

YMCA gymnastics team wins national meet

A group of local athletes made a big impact on the national—and international—stage.

The YMCA of Chilton County’s Level II gymnastics team traveled to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Presidential Classic gymnastics meet, held Feb. 13-16, and took home first place in the competition.

What makes the feat so impressive is that not only did the team, made up of only eight gymnasts aged 7-10, have to defeat the some of the best gymnastics squads in the country, teams from across the world were also in the seven-team group.

“We weren’t the biggest team, but we had (good) scores,” team coach Samantha Holt said. “When a team wins, it’s usually by a tenth. We actually won by over a point. They came with their game faces on and showed how hard they’ve worked.”

Holt said the work team has put in during training sessions paid off during the competition.

“They have two days dedicated to skills and one to strength training,” Holt said. “They have a skills and conditioning chart of 20-25 things to do, with 60-100 reps, a lot of things modified for gymnasts.”

Another aspect that Holt said stood out to her was the team’s ability to remain calm on such a large stage.

“It was a big opportunity,” she said. “The fact they didn’t let nerves get to them was amazing. Shoot, I had butterflies in my stomach!”

March

Billingsley hosts and wins wooden bat tournament

In a wooden bat baseball tournament hosted by Billingsley on March 14, the Bears (8-1 overall) continued their winning ways by picking up their seventh and eighth wins of the season over the Dallas County Hornets (8-0) and the Prattville Christian Lions (6-5).

After retiring the Hornets in order to start the game, the Bears scored the first run of the game in the home half of the first inning on a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Dalton Davis, who previously reached on a walk.

The Hornets threatened in the top half of the fourth inning and advanced a runner as far as third before the Bears snuffed out the scoring threat while adding two more runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning.

Acreman lead the Bears at the plate with a 2-for-3 performance with two singles and two RBI.

Early runs by both teams followed by several innings of a defensive battle forced the Bears into some seventh inning heroics in order to pull out a 6-5 win over the Prattville Christian Lions in Game 3 of the day March 14.

Consecutive singles by Dubose and Harrell to start the bottom of the seventh were followed by Davis being hit by a pitch that loaded the bases for Billingsley with no outs.

A walk to Powell cut the Lions’ lead to two by scoring Dubose, while a Joseph Nixon single and drive in Harrell as well as Davis to tie the game at 5-5.

With Powell representing the winning run on second and a full count to Nichols, a shot back up the middle resulted in a double for Nichols and a game-winning run for the Bears as Powell came across home plate to give Billingsley its eighth win of the season.

Joseph Nixon led the Bears at the plate with a 2-for-4 performance with a single, double and one RBI.

Chilton County softball defends title in county tournament

In the finals, Chilton County Tigers successfully defended their title as county tournament champions in a hard fought 5-4 win over the Thorsby Rebels.

It was no easy task for either the Tigers or the Rebels, as both were forced to play all day after going 1-1 during pool play on March 19.

The Tigers’ day started with a matchup against the Maplesville Red Devils in a game that looked to be in favor of the Red Devils until the top of the sixth inning.

With the Tigers down 3-1 and the bases loaded with no outs, consecutive doubles by Morgan Dennis and “Kricket” Caton gave the Tigers four runs in the inning to propel them to a 5-3 win—and a date with the No. 1 seed Jemison Panthers.

The Panthers held that 6-4 lead until the top of the seventh inning, as the Tigers reeled off six runs thanks in no small part to a base-clearing double by Gabriel Kelley as Chilton County went on to knock off the Panthers, 10-4, and punch their ticket to the championship match.

A Caelyn Griffin infield ground ball was mishandled by the Rebels, and put the game-winning run on first for the Tigers in the home half of the seventh inning. Two quick outs for the Tigers managed to advance Griffin to third, but the Tigers were also down to their final out.

With Caton at the plate for the Tigers and facing a 3-1 count, ball four put Caton aboard and brought up Kelley with two away. Facing a 1-0 count, Kelley sent a fly ball over the Rebel infield, pushing Griffin across home plate and giving the Tigers the 2015 County Tournament Championship.

Caton led the Tigers in the championship game with a 2-for-3 performance with two doubles and two RBI. Kailey Cordes pitched three innings while allowing two earned runs and recording three strikeouts.

Verbena's Taylor Deavers (right) tags out Maplesville's Thomas Schoener at home plate on Saturday in a first-round baseball playoff game. (Photo on File)

Verbena’s Taylor Deavers (right) tags out Maplesville’s Thomas Schoener at home plate on Saturday in a first-round baseball playoff game. (Photo on File)

April

Verbena baseball garners top spot in Class 1A poll

It’s not bad, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

That is the mentality of the Verbena Red Devils baseball team upon finding out it is ranked No. 1 in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll on April 3, according to head coach Scott Doss.

Doss said the team is happy to be recognized as the top team in Class 1A, but doesn’t plan to rest on its laurels.

“The boys are excited, and I’m a little excited, but I’m trying to keep it tempered,” Doss said. “Coming from where we’ve been the last few years, it’s a great accomplishment. The first thing I did was (ask) ‘How will you react?’”

The Red Devils had posted a 10-2 record as of press time on April 2, with wins over Class 4A West Blocton and Elmore County.

Taking on tough opponents has become a staple of Verbena baseball.

Doss said he makes a point to try and schedule tough out-of-area teams in order to make the Red Devils ready for the postseason.

“What I’ve tried to do is schedule tougher competition,” he said. “Being a small 1A school, it’s a no-lose situation.”

Verbena baseball wins the battle of Red Devils

Verbena got the better of a battle between two sets of Red Devils on April 19, defeating Maplesville 6-0 and 8-5 to win a best-of-three baseball playoff series and advance to the second round.

Verbena (16-2) struck first in Game 1 by picking up three runs in the home half of the first inning. Quandarius Ray led off with a walk, and with Christian Agee reaching on a Maplesville error, Verbena had two on with one out.

A leadoff home run by Garret Deavers, way over the left field fence, gave Verbena a five-run lead after five innings of play.

Maplesville got the bats going early in Game 2, with a run in the bottom half of the first inning on a RBI single by Devan Wallace to score Thomas Schoener, who reached on a single.

The lead was short-lived, however, as Verbena answered with five runs of their own in the top half of the sixth inning.

Walks to Bryan Rasberry and Agee, along with a single by Ray, loaded the bases for Verbena with one out.

Doubles by Taylor Deavers and Heflin accounted for four runs, and with Rasberry touching home on a wild pitch, Verbena took an 8-5 lead.

One single for Maplesville through the next two innings did little to help cut into the deficit as Verbena picked up the win and advanced to Round 2.

 May

Area athletes finish strong at state track meet

No local athletes brought home state championships from this year’s track and field state tournaments, but there were some close calls.

Isabella’s Sarah Graham (Girls 800 Meter Run 1A) and Maplesville’s Terence Dunlap (Boys 400 Meter Dash 1A) and Will Harrison (Boys Javelin Throw 1A) all turned in second-place finishes to highlight the performances of local athletes.

The state meet was held May 1-2 at Cullman High School.

Below are the best results from area athletes by school.

Billingsley

•Graham finished fifth in the Girls 1600 Meter Run 1A with a time of 5:32.87.

•Katelyn Smitherman finished ninth in the Girls Javelin Throw 1A with a distance of 84-03.

•The school’s Boys 4×100 Meter Relay 1A team finished fourth with a time of 46.48.

•Jarred Campbell finished third in the Boys Long Jump 1A with a distance of 20-05.00.

•Hunter Langston finished 10th in the Boys Long Jump 1A with a distance of 18-08.50.

•Langston finished 10th in the Boys Shot Put 1A with a distance of 37-05.50.

•Smitherman finished second in the Boys Discus Throw 1A with a distance of 127-03.

Maplesville

•Maplesville’s girls finished in 15th place overall, and the boys finished in sixth place overall.

•Janiya Moore finished eighth in the Girls 100 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 13.65.

•Moore finished seventh in the Girls 200 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 27.49.

•Josey Smitherman finished 10th in the Girls 400 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 1:04.97.

•The school’s Girls 4×400 Meter Relay 1A team finished seventh with a time of 4:33.38.

•Terrance Dunlap finished seventh in the Boys 100 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 11.78.

•Dunlap finished third in the Boys 200 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 23.14.

•Dunlap finished second in the Boys 400 Meter Dash 1A with a time of 51.31.

•Harrison finished fourth in the Boys 800 Meter Run 1A with a time of 2:06.59.

•Will Harrison finished fourth in the Boys Discus Throw 1A with a distance of 107-04.

•Will Harrison finished second in the Boys Javelin Throw 1A with a distance of 148-11.

Isabella softball reaches state finals

Isabella’s 2015 softball team became the first squad in school history to play in a state championship game in any sport.

The Mustangs advanced to the final round of the Class 1A state tournament with an 11-3 win over Athens Bible at Lagoon Park in Montgomery on May 16. They then fell to eventual state champion Brantley, 10-0, but players, coaches and fans could still go home with their heads held high, knowing that the team made history.

The path to the championship game was no easy task for the Mustangs (25-13) as an opening round 4-0 win over Ragland moved IHS into a second-round winners bracket game with Brantley, which got the better end of the first meeting between the two schools with a 6-0 win that knocked the Mustangs into the losers side of the tournament bracket.

One more loss would have sent Isabella home from the double-elimination tournament, but the Mustangs found a way to win time and again.

With four games under her belt already on the weekend, the Mustangs looked to their workhorse Chelsea Cox on the mound once again with a berth in the championship round on the line.

Cox pitched seven innings against the Trojans, allowing one earned run on five hits and two walks while striking out five.

Jones led Isabella at the plate with a 4-for-4 performance with two doubles and four runs batted in.

June

24-hour challenge carries on through muddy condition

Thunderstorms delayed Perry Mountain Motorcycle Club’s 24-hour race on June 11, but did not hinder the riders’ determination as they adjusted to the inclement weather and muddy track.

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.

Once a local race with only Alabama riders, the event has grown tremendously in 13 short years and now attracts riders from thousands of miles away.

Danny Morphew, member of the victorious Valley Exteriors team, agreed that Maplesville and the Perry Mountain Motorcycle Club have made this event “something special.”

“I have to hand it to the Perry Mountain group,” Morphew said. “They have a unique event. I don’t know of a more grueling competition that tests your endurance as much as this.”

Baseball and softball players of the year named

Tyler Owens has always been a good hitter, but The Clanton Advertiser’s Baseball Player of the Year became a great hitter his senior year thanks to some hard work on June 15.

Owens, who has batted in the clean-up position of the order for Thorsby’s varsity team since his sophomore season, made an effort to be able to hit the ball the other way.

It’s safe to say he was successful, as Owens put up incredible numbers during a senior season that included him leading THS to the second round of the state playoffs: 40 hits in 78 at-bats for a .513 batting average to go along with a .638 on-base percentage, 25 runs scored, 41 runs batted in and nine home runs.

“I felt more comfortable in the box,” Owens said. “I was able to hit any kind of off-speed stuff or anything [on the outer portion of the strike zone].”

The Clanton Advertiser’s Softball Player of the Year was Isabella Pitcher Chelsea Cox who completed an “incredible” senior year that was 14 years in the making.

At 4 years old, Cox walked onto the softball field for the first time, and according to her, she just couldn’t get enough of the sport ever since.

In fact, she’s pitched every game for the Isabella Mustangs varsity team since the beginning of her eighth grade season.

“There is no telling how many pitches I’ve thrown during my lifetime,” Cox said.

Throwing over 700 pitches in just two days at the state tournament, Cox said she relied on the “adrenaline rush” to get her through the seven games.

“I knew I had to pitch. I wasn’t going to complain about my arm hurting or needing a break,” Cox said. “We made it because our team had a ‘want-to’ attitude.”

Cox’s “want-to” attitude is one of many reasons that she has been awarded with player of the year honors.