Sports Year in Review Part 2
Editor’s note: Below is the second of a two-part series looking back at the top sports stories of 2015. This installment covers July through December.
Area athletes compete in All-Stars Sports Week
Three local athletes competed in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s North-South All-Stars Sports Week.
Maplesville High School graduate Tyler Armstrong competed on the South’s football team, while Jemison High School senior Cameron “Banks” Woodley and Maplesville senior Trevor Wallace competed on the South’s baseball team.
Both were held in Montgomery, the football teams went head-to-head on July 17, while the baseball doubleheader took place on July 21.
Each of the three athletes arrived in Montgomery a few days prior to their games to practice, bond and form a functional team from players who’ve likely never met before.
For Armstrong, this was one of the most difficult but enjoyable elements to the All-Star experience.
“It was a lot of fun getting to know people I never would have met otherwise,” Armstrong said. “I had to have a good bond with the inside linebacker. We worked good together.”
While Woodley and Wallace have one more year to make plans for college, they both foresee sports in their future.
“Whether I play football or baseball in college, this experience helped to prepare me,” Wallace said.
Glen Graham wins 450th game as volleyball coach
The last time IHS played Selma, it was the program’s 300th win. The two teams played Aug. 27 with Graham seeking the 450th win of his career.
The Mustangs won, 3-0 (25-6, 25-9, 25-10).
IHS came out motivated to win even though the players didn’t know about their coach’s milestone.
Isabella’s volleyball team entered its season ranked No. 6 among the state’s Class 1A teams, and with coach Glen Graham optimistic about the team’s potential.
The Mustangs include five seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and one freshman.
Synia Chattman had six kills, while Jayda Jones had six kills and three aces.
Brianna Tyler led the team with 13 aces and one dig.
Maplesville outlasts Billingsley in a gridiron clash
Neither team let a two-hour rain delay dampen their fire in a battle that was contested into the fourth quarter, but the Maplesville Red Devils improved to 2-0 on the season with a 41-27 win over the Billingsley Bears on Aug. 28.
It took all of two plays for the Red Devils to strike pay dirt, when Cole Spencer hit Nathaniel Watson for a 62-yard touchdown strike.
Derrick Dunnigan tied the score at 7-all with a 16-yard touchdown carry.
The tie was short-lived as on the second play of the ensuing Maplesville drive, Dunlap broke loose from 55 yards out to make the score 14-7.
Not to be outdone, the Bears answered the Red Devil touchdown with another of their own, this time on a James Wood two-yard touchdown carry to knot the score at 14-all late in the first quarter.
Taking over at their own 40, the Red Devil offense marched 60 yards and capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Spencer to Trevor Wallace to take a 26-14 lead to the halftime break.
With the first drive of the second half, the Bear offense put Billingsley back in the game with a 61-yard drive that was capped off on a Wood to Tommy Williams 14-yard touchdown to make the score 26-20 early in the third quarter.
The Maplesville offense answered right back with Dunlap striking again, this time from 10 yards out to put Maplesville ahead 32-20.
“We didn’t help ourselves any, but credit goes to Billingsley for the level that they played at,” Maplesville coach Brent Hubbert said. “They played a great game. I am happy for our guys. Our offense did what we needed to do. We had the one turnover that killed us in the first half, but we did what we needed to do.”
Dunlap led the Red Devil ground game with 214 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.
Isabella football wins overtime shootout
Isabella evened its record at 1-1 on the season with a 40-34 overtime win over A.L. Johnson (0-3) on Sept. 4.
A.L. Johnson struck first, but Isabella answered on a drive set up by Caleb Giles’ return.
Jaqarise Stacy carried to the five-yard line, and Austin Brasher punched it in from there.
Johnson added another score before halftime, but the Mustangs started the second half with Brasher scoring his third touchdown of the game, this one with 6:09 on the clock.
The next Isabella score, on a pass from Stacy to Giles, along with a two-point conversion run by Stacy, knotted the score at 28-all.
Stacy scored to give Isabella the lead, but the Eagles answered to send the game into overtime.
A.L. Johnson failed to score on the first possession of overtime, and Stacy ran it into the end zone to give the hosts the win.
“This was a great football game,” Isabella head coach Scott Booth said. “I really challenged our guys during halftime, and our guys came back and fought hard. We give the Eagles a lot of credit because they played well tonight, but I am so proud of our guys.”
Maplesville football wins battle of top-ranked teams
Turnovers proved to be costly for the Patriots as Linden fumbled the ball four times and fell short in an upset bid to Maplesville, 20-7, on Sept. 18 at the Linden Athletic Field.
Maplesville moves to 4-0 and 2-0 in Class 1A, Region 4 competition while Linden falls to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the region.
Maplesville came into the game ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, and Linden was ranked No. 2.
“I’m proud of our kids for fighting and clawing,” Maplesville coach Brent Hubbert said.
That effort was rewarded on the final play of the game when Dunlap broke free for a 43-yard touchdown as time expired.
The win preserves a 28-game regular season winning streak and also extends the Red Devils’ overall winning streak to 19 in a row.
When asked if his teams was feeling the pressure of keeping those streaks alive, Hubbert said, “If they don’t, they’re not human. The kids are used to winning and they’ve won so much. It’s a constant battle.”
Dunlap finished as the game’s statistical leader, finishing with 158 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for Maplesville.
As a unit, the Red Devils gained 267 yards of total offense with 234 of those yards coming on the ground.
Jemison wins county volleyball tournament
With wins over Thorsby (25-15, 25-13) and Isabella (19-25, 25-18, 15-10), the Jemison Panthers took home the first-place trophy on Oct. 3 and the title of 2015 Volleyball County Tournament champions.
Down 12 points and with the Mustangs just two points away from closing out the first set, Leslie Hague took over serving duties for the Panthers and led a nine-point Jemison run.
However, the Mustangs finally broke the serve, and with the score at 24-19, a ball hit out of bounds by the Panthers brought the first set to a close.
Set 2 started much the same way as the first set, but this time the Panthers got the early kick start behind a five-point run on the serving of Kelsey Lowery for an early 8-2 lead.
The Mustangs battled throughout the set but were never able to cut into the lead created during the early Jemison run, and with the score at 24-18, a Cassani Steele kill ended the set and tied the match at one set apiece.
Caley Booth served through a three-point run for the Mustangs to draw Isabella to within two points of the lead at 8-6, but another three-point run behind the serving of Hannah Robinson extended to JHS lead to 11-7.
The Mustangs again cut into the Panthers’ lead to bring the score to 12-10, but a kill by Tayor Ray gave the serving duties back to Jemison to set up a three-point run to close out Set 3 at 15-10 while giving Jemison the tournament championship.
Steele, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, led the Panthers with 16 kills, while Hague added 16 serve points for Jemison.
Isabella volleyball advances to the state tournament
Isabella’s run through the volleyball state playoffs came to an end in the Class 1A quarterfinals as the Mustangs lost a 3-2 marathon contest against Brilliant High School on Oct. 28 at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
“Our effort was inconsistent, and that’s not the team that I have coached for much of the season,” Isabella head coach Glen Graham said. “We’ve really been coming together and had played great the last three games.”
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives for Isabella, mostly due to the play of Synia Chattman and Kinley Tuttle. They established a presence around the net early on and were focal points both offensively and defensively.
Brianna Tyler’s service game created havoc for Brilliant and was a catalyst on several lengthy scoring runs. She helped set the tone to start the first game, as the Mustangs jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first game and eventually won 25-18.
“She’s a really strong server,” Graham said. “She hits the next one as good as the last.”
The loss is the last game for the senior class on a high school volleyball court. Though the outcome hits hard, their leadership was showcased throughout Isabella’s 29-8 final record.
“I’ve been kind of quiet and timid in previous years, but this year I tried to step up and be one of those leaders,” Booth said.
The volleyball program appears in good shape as the focus shifts to next season and beyond. Some of the most impactful players are underclassmen, and their journey to the state playoffs should provide a building block for head coach Glen Graham.
“I see a very bright future for them,” Graham said. “You hope that this gives them more confidence that they can use.”
Verbena football returns to postseason after eight years
Verbena (8-3) was back in the postseason after eight seasons and made the most of it with a 21-13 first round victory over on the road against J.U. Blacksher (7-4) in Uriah on Nov. 6.
The Red Devils found themselves in the midst of a defensive battle and outlasted J.U. Blacksher for a monumental road victory.
Determination was at the heart of Verbena’s win and the major reason why they live to play another weekend of football. Known more evident than when the defense broke up a pass in the end zone to secure the final outcome with about 30 seconds left to play.
The Red Devils led 21-13 at the half, as the defense shut down J.U. Blacksher’s game plan for the entire second half.
Jacob Cleckler recovered a second half fumble while the trio of Trey McCullough, Anthony Miller and Bryan Rasberry combined for 38 tackles on the night.
Verbena’s offense struck first thanks to a 65-yard bomb from Tristan Short to Juwan Tyus. Anthony Miller’s knocked down the extra point and the Red Devils led grabbed a 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Hakeem Underwood answered a J.U. Blacksher score with a 49-yard touchdown run, as Verbena reclaimed the lead 14-7 midway through the second quarter.
Before the half, Dorrian Parker broke a 71-yard run for a score to give the Red Devils the lead heading into the halftime break. His touchdown would prove to be the final time either team reached the end zone in the game.
Maplesville wins back-to-back state football titles
The Maplesville Red Devils are the champions of Class 1A for the second straight season following a decisive 59-24 victory over Cedar Bluff at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 2.
Terence Dunlap led the way as he has for most of the season. Workhorse performances have become common on a weekly basis. That was no different as he finished with a game-high 262 yards rushing on 24 carries.
His five total touchdowns set the record for the most scores by a player in the history of the Class 1A title game en route to earning Most Valuable Player honors for the second straight year.
“Terence is a tremendous athlete with the ball in his hands,” Maplesville head coach Brent Hubbert said. “He seems to find those little creases, and I’m glad he’s back again next year.”
Maplesville took back the momentum heading into halftime with a precision two-minute drive that mixed both run and pass plays. Spencer fired a strike to Trevor Wallace on a slant from 12 yards out to give the Red Devils a 23-6 lead at the break.
“We’ve got a quarterback that can throw the ball, but we just haven’t had to use him,” Hubbert said. “We knew that they were going to pack the box.”
Wallace was a reliable target in the passing game and finished with a team-high 71 yards on six receptions. He also proved his versatility with a pair of punts pinned inside the 20-yard line.
“Trevor has been that guy for three years, but people just haven’t recognized it,” Hubbert said. “He plays everything, and he’s just a tough kid that gets it done.”
The Red Devils led 44-18 entering the fourth quarter following a 15-yard touchdown on a play-action pass from Spencer to Stevonta Bradley. It was Spencer’s third passing score of the game.
“It’s just been a lot of preparation,” Maplesville senior linebacker Corey Hall said. “I’m just glad that we were able to make history. There is never an easy day, and I’m just thankful for everybody that went through it with me.”
Jemison boys basketball earns signature victory
Jemison’s boys basketball team avenged a Dec. 8 loss at Central High School of Tuscaloosa with a 49-46 home victory over Central, who entered the game on Dec. 14 ranked No. 6 in Class 5A.
“It meant a ton, because most guys on the team had never beaten a team ranked that high,” Jemison guard Wes McGehee said. “Everyone was screaming and giving high-fives after the game.”
The second half belonged to Jemison, as the Panthers outscored Central thanks in large part to shooting 58 percent as a team from the free throw line.
“We have to out-hustle whoever we’re playing because most teams that we play have a lot more talent than us,” Jemison head coach Stacy McGehee said. “The guys realize how important each possession is in a game.”
McGehee spurred the effort late in the game by knocking down seven-of-nine free throw attempts during the fourth quarter.
“The crowd appreciates the effort that they see from the boys on the court,” McGehee said. “Our gym is a definite home court advantage with the support that we are getting right now.”
Will Jones provided 13 points off the bench and contributed his share of timely baskets and defensive stops. Tremont Bryant added eight points and three assists.
“They don’t really care who does what as long as we do something good,” McGehee said. “They seem like they have fun playing with each other, and it’s an enjoyment to watch.”
Verbena basketball enters Christmas break undefeated
With a 57-39 win over the visiting Isabella Mustangs on Dec. 18, the undefeated Verbena Red Devils varsity boys basketball team took a 9-0 record to the Christmas break.
Dorrian Parker knocked down a basket that started an 8-2 run that gave Verbena a 23-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Austin Brasher opened the second period with a basket for the Mustangs but was quickly answered by a three-pointer from Anthony Miller.
Two baskets by Hakeem Underwood and two by Miller aided in a 12-0 run by the Red Devils to close out the first half with Verbena leading 40-14.
The theme continued throughout the period as the teams traded points.
The Red Devils maintained a 53-27 lead going into the final period of play.
Jarred Campbell and Christopher Headley exchanged baskets, and another basket from Campbell started a 7-0 run by the Mustangs that came a little too late as the run ended with the game-ending buzzer to give the Red Devils a 57-39 victory.
Juwan Tyus led Verbena with 17 points, four rebounds and two steals.