Best of the best – Top 15 stories of 2004
Charles Prince, Hartselle Enquirer
The past 12 months have been filled with some happy stories of victory and perseverance, some sad stories of loss and heartbreak, and some improbable stories of unexpected athletic achievements. What were the top sports stories in the Enquirer coverage area in 2004? It was hard to chose only 15 when there were so many compelling stories this year. Several outstanding stories just missed making the list. Here's a look back at what happened on and off the field to earn the top 15 headlines this year.
15] Diamond dominance – Of five area high schools, four made the state baseball playoffs. Three of those schools also had their softball team qualify for the post-season. On the baseball diamond, Priceville and Danville made the state playoffs and fell in the opening round of play. Falkville won its first-round matchup, but fell in the second round at home. Hartselle would reach the state semis before falling to Cullman.
Priceville and Hartselle both fell in the opening round of the sub-state softball playoffs. Meanwhile, the Danville Lady Hawks made the state championships in Montgomery for the first time since switching to the fast-pitch game. Danville won their opening game before losing two-straight to fall out of the tournament.
14] Holmes didn't hold back – Falkville senior softball player Amanda Holmes earned a spot on the Class 2A, All-State team by hitting .387, stealing 26 bases, driving in 15 runs and scoring 22 times in only 22 games. Her biggest accomplishment however, was the fact she played sports in high school at all. Holmes suffers from asthma, high blood pressure and hypoglycemia.
She used her inhaler in between innings and continues to take medication to control her blood pressure. Despite her limitations, she always had a smile on her face and seemed to relish each minute she was on the diamond.
13] Bethel Baptist wins the girl's state title – The smallest high school in Morgan County proved it could come up big when it counted. Meagan Price, just a sophomore at the time, was named Final Four MVP of the Alabama Christian Education Association's state tourney as she led the Lady Sentinels to their first championship since 1994.
12] The 1,000-point club – Three seniors, Danville's Nate Orr, Falkville's Meagan Wiley and Priceville's Tiffany Smith all surpassed the one grand mark in career scoring. Wiley's comeback from a knee injury to surpass the mark with just four games left in her season may have been the most inspiring. Had she not missed more than a half a season in 2003 and played the majority of 2004 at less than 100 percent, she would surely have passed the mark sooner.
11] Falkville's track triumphs – The Blue Devils won 15 medals at the Class 2A, State Track and Field Champions in May. Senior Jada Jones won the gold medal in the girl's shot put, while the boy's 4X800-meter relay team of Jonathan McNutt, Jace Wilemon, Robbie Edge and Shane Edge won gold as well. Meagan Wiley and Andrea Tucker won silver medals in the long jump and the 400-meter dash, respectively. The Lady Blue Devil's 4X400-meter relay team of Andrea Tucker, Sara Tucker, Nicole Lee and Lauren Estes took the bronze medal, as did the 4X800-meter relay team of Krystal Gibbs, Alison Saint, Angela Harrison and Tara Tucker.
Six months later the Lady Blue Devil cross-county team of Stephanie Koerber, Athena Kirkpatrick, Amber Tanner, Amy Coley, Diana Holt, Angela Harrison, Stephanie Hargrove and Krystal Gibbs took second-place at the state championships. Gibbs, an eight grader, won the silver medal.
10] Andrews post-season performance – Hartselle senior pitcher Zack Andrews won four-of-four starts in the post-season for the Tigers. Andrews, who posted a 10-4 record in the regular season, used his curve ball to perfection as he whipped Gardendale, 4-2, while striking out 12. Four days later in the second-round of the state playoffs, he stopped Muscle Shoals 5-2, while fanning eight more hitters. In the state quarter-finals, he whipped Buckhorn in the opening game by a striking out seven in three innings and left with an 8-0 lead, as the Tigers won 12-3. Finally, he won the opening game of the Tigers' semi-final matchup with Cullman, 4-0. The shutout would stretch his scoreless innings streak to 12 straight frames. He only struck out two Bearcats, but didn't allow any Cullman runner past first base.
9] Priceville's golden duo set state javelin records – Priceville juniors Justin Lawson and Kristy Barker won the Class 2A, javelin gold medals during the State High School Tack and Field Championships at Troy. Lawson set the state record in the event with a throw 10-feet two-inches longer than the previous mark It was the second state record in the event for Lawson. Barker went him one better, when she broke her own state mark for the third time in the past two years with her winning throw.
8] The Southern Morgan County talent pool – Twenty-one players at our six area high schools were named to All-State teams or honorable mention All-State. They included Meagan Price of Bethel Baptist, Lauren Drake of Hartselle and Tiffany Smith of Priceville, who were all named honorable mention All-State in basketball. In baseball, Ross Summerford of Falkville, honorable mention, and Zack Andrews of Hartselle, first team, were named All-State in Class 2A and 5A, respectively.
On the softball diamond, Hartselle's Sabrina Roberts and JJ Lawrimore were named first team in 5A, while Sarah Whitlow was named honorable mention. In Class 3A, Danville's dynamic duo of Katie James and Kristy Roberts were both named to the first team. In Class 2A, Falkville's Ashlie Mayer was named first team, while teammate Amanda Holmes was named honorable mention.
Finally, on the football field, Hartselle's Justin Youngblood and Chris Wiley were named first team in Class 5A, while teammates Michael Scott and Travis Lightle were named honorable mention. Brewer's Justin Knight was named honorable mention as punter. In Class 3A, Danville's Patrick Pinchon was named first-team for the second straight season, while teammates Thomas Garner, Tyree Murphy and Jeremy Orr were named honorable mention.
7] Stopping the streak at 21 – When new Brewer football coach Billy Coleman took over the Patriots football program, they owned a 13-game losing streak. Coleman instilled togetherness and a positive attitude. But, things didn't seem to be much better as the streak extended to the eighth-week of the 2004 season, reaching a total of 21 games. Finally on Oct. 29, the Patriots whipped Curry 21-12. The win was only the second in the school's last 41 contests. The streak had lasted so long, the most of the players stayed up until 4 a.m. to celebrate. Senior quarterback Travis Boyd explained why.
"I don't' think we wanted to go to sleep. We were afraid we've wake up and it would be just a dream."
The next week Coleman's crew won again, 42-41 over Fairview in overtime.
6] Nikita's saga – He was rated the No. 13 player in the country by one recruiting service and was hailed as the best athlete Hartselle High School had ever produced. The most sought after high school football player in the state of Alabama signed with the team he had followed since boyhood. But, Nikita Stover would not enroll at the University of Alabama in 2004. His grades prevented him from qualifying for admission to a four-year college, so after it was announced he wouldn't enroll in Tuscaloosa he dropped from sight. He stayed under radar for most of the year and reappeared in August at Itawamba Community College in Fulton, Miss.
Stover put his football skills on display as he led Mississippi Community Colleges in kickoff return average, gaining 31 yards per kick return. In addition, he caught 25 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He would later state he's still committed to enrolling at the Capstone and playing for the Crimson Tide when he receives his two-year degree.
5] Danville football reaches state playoffs for the first time in a decade – The Hawks' football program was so far down in the late 1990s and early 2000, it seemed like an upset anytime Danville won a game, which wasn't very often.
They reached a low-point in 2002 losing all 10 games. In 2003, the Hawks made progress and ended the season with a 5-5 record.
In August of 2004, head coach Joey Burch told anyone who would listen, that Danville would make the state playoffs. Four months later everyone realized he wasn't talking just to hear himself think as the Hawks began winning with ease. Danville raced to a 7-0 record to start the season and finished with at 9-2, after losing in the first-round of the state playoffs to Hokes Bluff. Their other loss was at home to No. 2-ranked Winfield. The only two teams to beat Danville this season met in the 3A state semifinals.
In nine Danville wins, the defense dominated, allowing less than 10 points per contest.
4] Season-ending Saturday for Tigers, Lady Tigers – May 8, 2004 is a day which will live in memory of Hartselle High fans for a long time to come. It may have been the most disappointing day in sports for Hartselle during the past 12 months. Both the Tiger baseball team, and Lady Tiger softball team were eliminated from the state playoffs on the same day.
The Tigers fell two-games-to-one at the hands of the Cullman Bearcats in the state baseball semi-finals, when they lost the decisive third game, 12-3.
The Lady Tigers lost to Huntsville High behind the pitching of Kristen Beddingfield.
The Huntsville hurler threw back-to-back 1-0, two-hit shutouts at Hartselle to end the season of the two-time defending state champions.
To add insult to injury, Lady Tiger head coach Shane Alexander was struck in the head by an errant throw just prior to the final at bat for Hartselle. It was minor compared to what befell the Tiger baseball team.
A salmonella-poisoning outbreak occurred at the baseball field and all but five Tiger players missed school on Monday because of the illness. Many players went to the emergency room on Sunday due to vomiting and de-hydration.
3] Kyle Pressley wins the state High School Golf Championship – The Falkville sophomore won the 1A-2A High School Golf Championship with a four-under par total of 140.
Pressley held a six-stroke lead after the tourney's opening day and would hold off a late rush from defending champion Glenn Northcutt. Pressley made two par saves in the final three holes to hold on for a one-stroke win.
Pressley just wanted to qualify for state tournament in 2004, said he hoped for a Top 10 finish in 2005 and hoped to possibly win the championship in 2006.
"By winning it this year, I'm two years ahead of schedule," Pressley said. "Now I want to win the title two more times before I graduate."
2] Hartselle High wrestlers take second at state – In the closest finish in the history of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Wrestling Championships, the Tigers came up four-and-one-half points short of their second state title in five seasons.
Homewood won the Class 5A title with 106.5 total points to Hartselle's 102.
The loss was more painful considering the fact Hartselle led going into the finals.
The Tigers had qualified four wrestlers for the finals, Corey Farmer, Kurt Hamilton, Luke Mize and Dennis Smith. Had any of the four won their weight-class title, Hartselle would have brought home the team championship as well.
Coach Keith Corder's team lost only one senior from the second-place squad as they pursue the title again in 2005.
1] Hartselle High's football team makes second-round of state playoffs – The Hartselle football team had a nine-win season after posting only six wins in 2003. Head coach Bob Godsey's troops lost only to teams ranked in the state's Top 10 polls, while whipping three ranked teams as well.
Hartselle recorded its first win ever over Walker in Jasper, beat eventual state semi-finalist Athens on the road, bounced back from a 2-2 start to reel off seven straight wins. The highlight of the season however, was when the Tigers gave No. 1-ranked Russellville a scare in an early-season showdown.
Russellville won each 5A, Region 8 game this season by at least 20 points, with one exception, a 35-28 shootout at Hartselle.
Hartselle would beat No. 9 Etowah in the state playoffs at home and lost a heartbreaker to No. 7 Fairfield, 20-17.
The Fairfield loss came after the Tigers had a 17-0 lead with 6:21 left to play.
Many people felt the Tigers would go further as evidenced by this comment in the Dec. 1 issue of the Times-Daily newspaper in Florence just two days before Athens and Russellville faced off in the state semi-finals.
"Some match-ups in the semi-finals were anticipated," wrote Times-Daily prep editor Scott Turner.
"However, that can't be said of the Russellville-Athens 5A, semi-final meeting.
"Most people thought another Region 8 team, Hartselle, would be facing the Golden Tigers for the right to represent the North in the Super Six."