Perhaps no segment of society likes to argue about their favorites more than sports fans. So as we look back on 2018, here’s more fodder for disagreements as the Ledger-Enquirer announces its top local sports stories of the year:
Central football state championship
On a frigid night Dec. 5 in Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Central Red Devils warmed the hearts of their fans and brought home to Phenix City the football program’s first state championship in a quarter century.
And they did it in dominating fashion, completing their first undefeated and untied season in 74 years.
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The Red Devils, ranked No. 1 in Alabama Class 7A, trounced the No. 2 Thompson Warriors 52-7.
Central senior quarterback Peter Parrish was selected as the game’s MVP. He rushed for 100 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries and completed 5 of 9 passes for 78 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
Leading the Central defense with five tackles each were senior outside linebacker Marquez Henry (14-yard interception return for touchdown, one sack), senior linebacker Trevon Miller (8-yard fumble return for touchdown), junior safety Michael Harris and senior cornerback Damon Jones.
Central head coach Jamey DuBose, in his fifth season in Phenix City, said the key to breaking through after the Red Devils lost to McGill-Toolen in the state semifinals the previous three seasons wasn’t having better schemes but being better players and better coaches and better people.
“These guys gave me their heart tonight,” he said. “… We’ve got some great football players. And not only that, we’ve got some great guys. We’ve got some great talent. We’ve got great kids — and just proud to have them.”
Other team state championships
The Calvary Christian baseball team won the first state championship in a varsity boys team sport in the school’s four-decade history. Playing at home, the Knights swept Covenant Academy of Macon 15-2 and 15-9 for the GICAA title and a 24-11 record. In the doubleheader, freshman Jesse Donohue had seven RBI, including a grand slam, and freshman Nick Morgan earned both wins on the mound.
Despite having to replace nine seniors from the previous season’s title team, the Glenwood girls soccer team overcame a 1-3 start to win 13 straight games, including the AISA Class AAA final 2-1 over Lee-Scott for the program’s sixth straight state championship. Tournament MVP Jordan Wheeler and Emily Sawtelle scored the goals for Glenwood.
The Columbus boys golf team won its third straight state championship when the second round of the Class AAAA tournament at Achasta Golf Club in Dahlonega was canceled due to bad weather and the final results reverted to the first round, which had the Blue Devils at 10-under 278 and two strokes ahead of second-place St. Pius X. Columbus senior Ben Carr was the low medalist with a 67, followed by junior Jonathan Parker’s 68, junior John Calhoun’s 70 and freshman Sackett Carr’s 73.
Individual state championships
In February, Central senior Tony Morales capped his high school career in style with this third straight state championship. He won the 160-pound weight class by pinning three opponents in a row, including Bowman Hill of Vestavia Hills in the final match. The Red Devils finished second in the team standings.
Also in February, Smiths Station seniors Alonie Sutton, Charles Hughes and the Panthers’ 4x800 boys relay team (7:58.51) won state titles in the Alabama Class 7A indoor track championships. Sutton won the girls long jump (18-8, state record) and triple jump (40-8, state record), and Hughes won the boys 800 (1:56.97).
In March, Sutton became an All-American in the long jump when she finished sixth (19-2.5) at the New Balance Nationals in New York.
In May, Sutton added two more state titles and records to her collection. During the Alabama Class 7A outdoor track and field championships in Gulf Shores, she won the long jump (19-9.5) and triple jump (42-5). Hughes nipped teammate Savian Taylor by less than 1 second in the boys 800 (1:54.40 to 154.72). Smiths Station junior Chad Strickland won the shot put (50-8.75). The Smiths boys finished second as a team.
Northside junior Jonathan Myrthil won the Georgia Class AAAA boys 800 (1:53.74). Columbus senior Tiondra Grant won the Class AAAA girls shot put (39-4). Marion County junior Ansley Whitley won the Class A public-school discus (139-0) for her third straight state title.
CSU wins NCAA Division II men’s tennis title
The second-ranked Columbus State men’s tennis team won the progam’s first NCAA Division II national championship with a 5-4 victory over top-ranked Barry in Surprise, Ariz.
The Cougars finished their season with a 28-3 record.
It was CSU’s eighth NCAA title in a team sport and the first since the baseball team in 2002.
Rare local winner of Southeastern Amateur
Columbus High School 2015 graduate Stanton Schor became the first local winner of the Southeastern Amateur at the Country Club of Columbus in 15 years.
On June 16, the Mercer rising senior finished at 9-under 271, two shots ahead of South Carolina rising senior Ryan Stachler from Alpharetta.
Defending state champion Northside won four straight games in the losers bracket to reach the final round Oct. 27 in the Georgia Class AAAA tournament at the South Commons Softball Complex in Columbus. The Patriots faced Heritage-Catoosa, the same team they lost to in the tournament opener. So they had to beat Heritage twice to win their second straight state title. Northside’s hope ended in heartbreak as Heritage prevailed 5-4 with a walk-off RBI hit.
The Columbus girls tennis team finished as the Class AAAA state runner-up to North Oconee, and the Brookstone girls tennis team finished as the Class A private-school state runner-up to Walker.
The Glenwood girls basketball team (23-7) reached the AISA Class AAA state championship game. The Gators lost 27-25 to Tuscaloosa Academy.
Glenwood and Calvary Christian played for a state softball titles this year. The Gators, seeking their fourth straight championship, lost to Edgewood 14-6 and 8-7 in the AISA Class AAA final round. The Knights lost the GICAA Division II championship series when King’s Academy won its fourth straight crown with a 10-1 and 11-3 sweep.
The Brookstone girls golf team finished second in the Class A private-school tournament, led by sophomore Sanders Hinds, who shot a two-round total 159 for eighth place.
And the Columbus Lions appeared in the 2018 National Arena League championship game but lost to the Carolina Cobras 66-8 in the Greensboro Coliseum.
Brookstone junior Hannah Mattson tied Abby Pilkenton of Holy Innocents for the Class 1A-3A state championship in the 100-year freestyle (50.98) Feb. 3 at Georgia Tech. Mattson also finished second in the 200 freestyle (1:50.14) and helped the Cougars finished fourth in the 200 freestyle relay (1:43.94).
In Class 4A-5A, Columbus sophomore Katie Jordan finished second in the 500 freestyle (5:09.14) and third in the 200 freestyle (1:56.61). The Columbus girls 400 freestyle relay finished third (3:36.29), another reason why the Blue Devils finished third as a team.
The Columbus boys also had outstanding individual performances as sophomore Fabrizzio Orderique finished third in the 500 freestyle (4:51.56), and senior Chase Parker finished fourth in two events: the 200 freestyle (1:44.54) and the 100 breaststroke (59.42).
CSU and CVCC play in World Series
The Columbus State baseball team advanced to the NCAA Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C., for the program’s eighth appearance in the season’s final tournament but its first since 2007, and the Chattahoochee Valley Community College baseball team advanced to the National Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., for the fourth time in five years.
CVCC was eliminated immediately in heartbreaking fashion as the Pirates lost two one-run games, 8-7 to Temple College and 7-6 to Iowa Western.
Three months later, CVCC coach Adam Thomas confirmed that a health scare — blood clots in his lungs — prompted him to resign. He remains CVCC’s athletics director, and assistant Hunter Vick was promoted to succeed him as head coach.
Bobby Howard returns to coaching in Columbus
In May, Pacelli announced the hiring of baseball coach Bobby Howard, who won 12 state championships in 31 seasons with Columbus High.
He sat out the 2018 season after resigning from Central in May 2017 then becoming the coach at Cartersville in June 2017. But a misunderstanding about his retirement benefits led to his resignation a month later.
Howard replaced Brent Benefield, who went 5-16 in his one season at Pacelli.
Nationally televised signing
In a ceremony televised live Feb. 7 on ESPN2, Central five-star wide receiver Justyn Ross signed with Clemson over finalists Alabama and Auburn. Northside three-star outside linebacker/defensive end Caleb Johnson signed with Auburn.
On Dec. 19, a Class of 2019 duo at Central, took advantage of the early signing period: quarterback Peter Parrish signed with LSU, and safety Ray Thornton signed with Clemson.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.