Here’s a synopsis of just some of the players, coaches, teams and individuals who made the athletic headlines over the past year. Hope you enjoy reminiscing about the year 2011, and Happy New Year!
On Jan. 17, Cedar Bluff boys outlast Sand Rock in overtime 65-63 to clinch first Cherokee County basketball tournament championship since 1964. Tyric Scales connected on two free throws with one second remaining in the extra session for the final. Scales finished with a game-high 23 points.
In the girls title game, Cherokee County claimed its first county championship since 2003 with a 49-43 victory over Spring Garden. Leading the charge was Kaitlyn Griffith, who scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, had five steals and dished out five assists.
The Cedar Bluff Tigers, Sand Rock Wildcats and Piedmont Bulldogs all captured Northeast Regional Tournament championships and advanced to the Final 48 in Birmingham. Cedar Bluff defeated Collinsville 79-68 in the Class 1A Northeast Regional Tournament final for its state semifinal berth. Tournament MVP DeAngelo Hardy scored a game-high 27 points to lead the Tigers.
In the Class 2A regional final, Matt Graham sank the game-winning 3-pointer with 7.1 seconds remaining in Sand Rock’s thrilling 60-59 victory over top-ranked Vincent. Graham, named the tournament’s MVP, led the Wildcats with 19 points, five rebounds and two assists. It was Sand Rock’s third straight regional title.
In the Class 3A regional final, Piedmont cruised to a 64-51 victory over Randolph. Jamaal Johnson led the charge for the Bulldogs, scoring a game-high 22 points with 16 rebounds, three steals and a pair of assists. The victory clinched Piedmont’s second straight Final 48 appearance.
One week after earning Northeast Regional Tournament championships, Cedar Bluff, Sand Rock and Piedmont all fell in Birmingham, dashing their hopes of state basketball championships.
Cedar Bluff went the furthest of the three area teams. The Tigers took down McIntosh 89-50 in the Class 1A state semifinals to set up a showdown with top-ranked Pickens County.
The Tigers rallied from an 11-point deficit at halftime to force an extra period against the Tornadoes, capped by a Scales 3-pointer with 14.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 55.
In overtime, the Tornadoes went on a 15-7 run to take a 70-62 victory that clinched their second straight Class 1A title.
Sand Rock lost to Barbour County 80-41 in the Class 2A state semifinals, ending its season at 23-10. Piedmont stumbled against Clarke County in the Class 3A state semifinals, 61-44, ending its season at 27-9.
At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, the Alabama Sportswriters Association recognized 11 area basketball players on its All-State teams, released on March 27.
Three players were selected to first team in their respective classes: Cedar Bluff’s Tyric Scales, Spring Garden’s Tara Mullinax and Piedmont’s Jamaal Johnson. Second-team selections were Cedar Bluff’s Marcus Reese, Sand Rock’s Justin Kyser and Cherokee County’s Kaitlyn Griffith.
Scales and Griffith were later chosen as the All-Cherokee County basketball teams’ most valuable players.
In college basketball, former Spring Garden Lady Panther Paige Anderson and the Samford Lady Bulldogs earned a berth in the NCAA Women’s Tournament after defeating Chattanooga in the Southern Conference Tournament final, 57-54.
Anderson nailed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the contest to provide the winning margin. It was Samford’s first Southern Conference basketball title.
Anderson and the Lady Bulldogs’ season ended soon after with a 76-46 loss to Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Samford finished the season a 25-8 record.
Cedar Bluff earned the Cherokee County Baseball Tournament championship with a 6-1 victory over Spring Garden on April 4. C.J. Gilreath earned the win after allowing one run on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
In the Cherokee County Softball Tournament, the Cherokee County Lady Warriors earned their fifth consecutive county title with a 12-0 victory in five innings against Sand Rock on April 6. The win also secured a three-game scoreless streak for the Lady Warriors’ opponents. Cherokee County outscored their three opponents 40-0 throughout the tournament.
In tennis, the Cherokee County Lady Warriors took first place and the Warrior boys finished second at the sectional tournament at Jacksonville State University. Several players on both squads advanced to the state tournament in Mobile.
Behind seventh grader Abby Stallings, who won a state championship in No. 5 singles, the Lady Warriors finished tied for third with Brooks in Class 4A. UMS-Wright won the Class 4A girls tennis championship, with St. James finishing second. The Warrior boys finished 10th.
The end of April saw tragedy across Alabama. A tornado outbreak wrought havoc on April 27, forcing the Alabama High School Athletic Association to postpone many of its sporting events.
One of the areas devastated most was Hackleburg, which had eliminated the Spring Garden Panthers in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs in three games just four days prior to the tragedy that took 25 lives in the town.
In acts of compassion, the Spring Garden and Cedar Bluff communities pitched in with care packages, meals and donations to send back with the Hackleburg players and coaches, who played at Cedar Bluff in the second round of the playoffs on May 2-3. Hackleburg won that series in three games to advance.
The Cedar Bluff Tiger track and field teams won their fifth consecutive Class 1A state championships on May 6-7. The Tiger boys set a new state record by accumulating 148.5 team points, easily outdistancing runner-up Alabama School for the Deaf (117 points).
The Lady Tigers tallied 113 total points and finished ahead of second place Westminster, which earned 82 points.
Audrianna Hargitt led the Lady Tigers with gold medals in the triple jump and high jump. She also earned silver in the shot put and took fourth in the long jump.
In the boys events, Tony McGinnis set a state record in the pole vault (12’). McGinnis also claimed gold in the 800-meter run, second in the 3200-meter run and third in the 400-meter dash. Dylan Welchel also earned a pair of gold medals in the 110-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles.
In softball, Cherokee County swept its way to its second straight North Central Regional title at Vestavia Hills on May 13-14 and advanced to the Class 4A state tournament in Montgomery. The Lady Warriors defeated Corner 11-5, St. Clair County 7-0, Springville 4-2 and Haleyville 10-0 in five innings.
Senior pitcher and Shorter College signee Lauren Millsaps was selected as the regional tournament’s Most Valuable Player, her second consecutive regional MVP award.
Things didn’t go as well for fellow county softball teams Spring Garden and Sand Rock. They were both eliminated at the North Regional Tournament in Huntsville.
Spring Garden, which was eliminated by Woodville, finished its season at 23-12. Sand Rock fell to Hatton 8-3 and Fyffe 12-2 in five innings to conclude its season at 25-5.
A week after Cherokee County swept through regional play, the Lady Warriors had a valiant effort at Lagoon Park in Montgomery, but fell short of a state championship. They finished as Class 4A state runners-up following a heartbreaking 5-3 loss in seven innings to Dallas County. The Lady Warriors (44-12) split games with Alabama Christian and knocked off Central-Florence, Ardmore and Dadeville to earn a spot in the title game.
Lauren Millsaps, Madison Millsaps, Candace Blanchard and Molly Brewer were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Cedar Bluff sophomore pitcher/third baseman Curtis Abernathy and Cherokee County senior shortstop Brett Burgess were selected as co-Most Valuable Players on the All-Cherokee County Baseball Team.
Abernathy batted .423 with 11 doubles, eight home runs, a triple, 37 runs scored and 42 RBI. He also walked 22 times and stole 12 bases.
On the mound, Abernathy compiled an 8-2 record with a save in 62 innings. He gave up 18 runs (eight earned) on 37 hits with 16 walks and 94 strikeouts with a 1.16 ERA.
Burgess batted .514 with 12 doubles, two home runs, 31 runs scored and 26 RBI. He also had 11 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .604.
Abernathy and Burgess also received All-State recognition. The All-State Baseball Team was released on June 12.
Abernathy earned one of the four Class 1A pitching spots. Burgess was an honorable mention at shortstop on the Class 4A team. The duo was part of eight area baseball players to receive All-State recognition.
Cedar Bluff also had an honorable mention player at designated hitter in Rihied Harris.
Spring Garden had three players garner recognition in outfielder Tyler Smart and honorable mention players Corey Anderson (catcher) and Andrew Maddox (third base).
Collinsville had an honorable mention player catcher Trey Reed, and Piedmont had an honorable mention at second base in Chris Strott.
In softball, Cherokee County senior shortstop Griffith was selected as All-County Player of the Year, her third straight All-County Softball MVP honor. The South Alabama signee ended her high school career sweeping county MVP honors in volleyball, basketball and softball during the 2010-11 athletic seasons.
Griffith batted .564 with 27 home runs, 26 doubles, 11 triples, 96 RBI, 80 runs scored, 32 stolen bases and 25 walks. Her home run total during the 2011 softball season and her career (72) are both second in the Alabama High School Athletic Association fast pitch softball record book.
Griffith also headlined the 2011 All-State Softball Team, released on June 11. She was named to the Class 4A First Team at shortstop, the Class 4A Hitter of the Year and the Super All-State squad.
Griffith was one of 18 area softball players to receive All-State recognition. Lauren Millsaps was named one of four pitchers on the Class 4A team. Cherokee County also had three honorable mention players in third baseman Candace Blanchard, catcher Madison Millsaps and outfielder Molly Brewer.
Sand Rock and Spring Garden both had four players receive All-State Softball recognition. Logan Smith garnered a spot at third base on the Class 2A team. The Lady Wildcats also had three honorable mention players in catcher Amber Henderson, second baseman Whitney Capezza and outfielder Kelsey Hayes.
Representing Spring Garden on the Class 1A All-State squad was outfielder Jordan Sides. The Lady Panthers also had three honorable mention players in catcher Tara Mullinax, third baseman Zonna Forrister and shortstop Heather Smart.
Collinsville had three players receive Class 1A All-State recognition in third baseman Trista Duque, shortstop Erica Osborn and catcher Christy Cox. Duque was a first-team selection, while Duque and Osborn were honorable mention players.
Cedar Bluff’s Lindsey Lambert was selected at one of the Class 1A designated hitter positions. Gaylesville had an honorable mention in outfielder Lauren Hammett.
Also on June 11, three new members were inducted into the Cherokee County Hall of Fame. Former Cherokee County baseball player David Boatfield, former Gaylesville football player Jeff Bullen and former Sand Rock softball standout Jessica Ford Davis comprised the Class of 2011. All three went on to make their marks athletically at Jacksonville State University.
In college baseball, Cherokee County native and JSU third baseman Coty Blanchard was selected as a 2011 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. As a leadoff hitter, Blanchard batted .335 with two home runs and 32 RBI. He also drew a team-high 33 walks.
Blanchard was also named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference Freshman Team after helping JSU earn a 36-23 record and an appearance in the OVC championship game.
On June 24, former Sand Rock standout Taylor Burt was hired at Fort Payne High School as its new softball coach. Burt graduated from Auburn University at Montgomery just weeks prior to being hired at Fort Payne.
On July 14, three former area football players had one last chance to shine on the high school football stage: Cherokee County defensive lineman Hudson Grimes and the Cedar Bluff tandem of Marcus Reese and Tyric Scales.
The trio played in the 53rd North-South Football Classic at Montgomery’s legendary Cramton Bowl. The South won a thriller, 37-33. Scales caught two passes for 17 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Reese finished with five tackles, one for lost yardage, and an interception.
A fourth area athlete, Piedmont basketball center Sloan Garner, played in the North-South All-Star basketball game on July 13.
Former Cherokee County High School basketball coach Kori Walker accepted a teaching position at Striplin Elementary School in Gadsden. In addition to his physical education duties, Walker also serves as receivers coach on Gadsden High School’s football team in addition to assisting with basketball.
Walker, a non-tenured teacher at Cherokee County, spent just two seasons with the Warriors with an overall record of 20-29. He led the Warriors to a 15-10 record and a berth in the Class 4A Northeast Regional Tournament his first season.
In local golf, Piedmont native Jeremy McGatha won the Dub Ellis Golf Invitational held July 16-17. McGatha shot a two-day total of 135 and won by two strokes over Mike Williams and Hunter Hawkins.
Following an impressive district meet in Jacksonville, the Centre Otter swim team qualified 17 swimmers for state competition at Cullman on July 29-30. At the state meet, the Otters set personal best times in 25 of the 31 events they participated, led by 8-year-old Nathan Whitt.
Taylorville American captured the 11-12-year-old O-Zone State Baseball Tournament July 27, held at Ed Yarbrough Park in Centre. Taylorville defeated Auburn Blue 8-1 in the title game.
Cherokee American represented Cherokee County and made its third consecutive O-Zone state tournament appearance. However, the team lost its two games in the tournament against Fairhope (3-2) and Dothan (14-3) on July 23-24 respectively.
Piedmont, Cedar Bluff and Collinsville’s football teams were all ranked in the Alabama Sportswriters Association Preseason Football Poll, released on Aug. 3. Class 3A Piedmont came in at No. 2 behind top-ranked Leeds. Cedar Bluff and Collinsville were ranked at No. 5 and No. 7 respectively in the Class 1A poll.
The 2011 football season began on Aug. 25-26. Cherokee County held off Cedar Bluff 28-23 on a Thursday night game in Centre. Also on Thursday, Collinsville crushed Coosa Christian 49-0.
Then on Friday, Sand Rock’s Chad Thompson rushed for 224 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 35-8 victory over Pleasant Valley at Jacksonville State University. Class 4A Douglas doubled up on Gaylesville 28-14, Ranburne defeated Spring Garden 32-7 and Piedmont blanked Hokes Bluff 21-0.
Cherokee County’s own Coty Blanchard directed the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on a last-minute drive against UT Martin to take a 24-23 victory on Thursday, Sept. 1.
Running back Calvin Middleton capped a 50-yard, nine-play drive with his 4-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left in the game.
Blanchard was thrust into the starting quarterback role after senior quarterback Marques Ivory broke his right fibula. Blanchard, a sophomore, remained the starter the rest of the season.
Piedmont High School opened its newly renovated Field of Champions with a resounding 40-14 victory over Susan Moore on Sept. 2. Two weeks later, the Bulldogs defeated White Plains 40-0 and vaulted to the top spot in the ASWA Class 3A Football poll. It was the first time since 1984 Piedmont was the top dog in the rankings.
The Bulldogs took over the top spot after Clay County knocked off previously top-ranked Leeds 14-7. Piedmont held on to its top ranking for the remainder of the regular season.
WEIS Radio debuted its “End Zone” show on Sept. 8. The hour-long live show, hosted by Nolen Sanford and Kurt Duryea, was sponsored and held at The Gridiron restaurant in Centre. It ran through Thanksgiving.
The show featured special guests, including interviews with past and present area football coaches and players. Its final segment every week featured a college football picks roundtable with Sanford, The Cherokee Post’s Scott Wright, Cherokee County Herald Sports Editor Shannon Fagan and a “mystery sixth-grader.”
The “mystery sixth-grader” was revealed to be Sand Rock 11-year-old Carson Carver on the final show. Carson is the son of James and Sherry Carver.
On Sept. 16, Sand Rock basketball and volleyball coach Lisa Bates was inducted into the Jacksonville State University Athletic Hall of Fame.
The former Lisa Baswell played basketball at JSU during the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons. She finished her JSU career with 1,187 points, and her record of 28 games scoring in double figures still stands today. Bates also set the school record in free-throw percentage (.854).
Bates also made a name for herself academically. The two-time Atlantic Sun Player of the Year was also a two-time Academic All-American, including Academic All-American of the Year in 2000.
The Sand Rock Lady Wildcat volleyball team captured the 2011 Cherokee County Volleyball Tournament, held on its own home court Oct. 1. Sand Rock held off Cedar Bluff in three games, 18-25, 25-17 and 15-12 in the title match.
Cedar Bluff would go on to win the Class 1A, Area 10 tournament Oct. 10 against Spring Garden and claim the Class 1A, Regional C championship Oct. 15 at Gaston High School. The Lady Tigers outlasted host Gaston in the title match in four games, 25-19, 20-25, 25-17 and 25-21.
Audrianna Hargitt was named the regional tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
In sub-state volleyball action on Oct. 20, Cedar Bluff secured a berth in the state tournament at Pelham with a 25-13, 25-11 and 25-16 victory over Waterloo.
A week later, Cedar Bluff’s hopes for a Class 1A state championship were dashed in the Elite Eight. They won their opening match at the state tournament against Kinston 25-22, 25-13 and 25-18, but fell in its next match to eventual state champion Donoho. The scores were 14-25, 6-25 and 14-25. Cedar Bluff’s record season ended at 35-18.
The 2011 high school football season concluded its regular season on Oct. 28. Games of note in October were Alabama School for the Deaf at Spring Garden on Oct. 21, and Spring Garden at Sand Rock, Piedmont at Cherokee County and Ragland at Collinsville on Oct. 28.
Panther junior fullback Forrest Livingston rushed for 251 yards on 28 carries and scored six touchdowns, but Spring Garden fell in a 52-41 shootout to ASD. Livingston had eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a Week 8 win at Woodville.
Sand Rock’s Chad Thompson eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier on his first carry of the game as Sand Rock defeated Spring Garden 48-6 in Week 10.
Top-ranked Piedmont secured its first 10-0 regular season since 1990 with a 42-22 win at Centre, and Ragland denied Collinsville a perfect regular season for the second straight year with a 12-7 victory. Those two teams would meet again in the Class 1A state quarterfinals at Ragland.
The Cherokee County Herald’s coverage area was well represented in the state football playoffs, which began on Nov. 4. Six of the seven area teams qualified for the postseason, with Cedar Bluff, Collinsville and Piedmont advancing to the second round.
Cedar Bluff defeated Akron 47-0. Collinsville downed Appalachian 21-14 for its first playoff victory since 2001. Piedmont pounded Geraldine 38-7.
Anniston running back Troymaine Pope was too much for the Cherokee County Warriors to handle in a 41-0 loss. Sand Rock fell at third-ranked Tanner 31-13, and Ragland defeated Gaylesville for the second time during the 2011 season with a 40-14 decision.
In the second round on Nov. 11, Collinsville junior kicker David Hernandez booted a 27-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game to propel the Panthers past Lynn, 24-22. The win sealed a rematch with Ragland, which defeated Collinsville 12-7 in the regular-season finale.
Piedmont posted a 34-24 victory over Sheffield, and Cedar Bluff’s season came to a close with a 41-21 loss at eventual Class 1A state champion Marion County.
Collinsville’s chance at redemption fell short at Ragland on Nov. 18 in the state quarterfinals. The Purple Devils ended the Panthers’ season with a 28-7 victory.
Piedmont’s season also came to a close at Rogers, 28-21.
Behind a 15-of-19, 213-yard, two-touchdown passing performance from Coty Blanchard, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks claimed a share of the Ohio Valley Conference football championship with their 38-16 win at Tennessee State on Nov. 19. Blanchard also rushed in for another score in the victory.
The Gamecocks finished at 7-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play. They shared the OVC title with Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech. It was JSU’s first OVC title since 2004.
However, the Gamecocks were not among the teams selected for the Football Subdivision playoffs.
Also on Nov. 19, the Sand Rock Lady Wildcat cheerleaders captured their second consecutive Class 2A state cheering title on Nov. 19. The event was held at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.
Cherokee County native Roy Knapp was one of 12 new members selected to the Alabama High School Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 on Nov. 20. Knapp, now deceased, was selected to the “oldtimer” category after winning over 200 games in his prep coaching career that spanned over 40 years at various schools in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Knapp and the rest of the 2012 class will formally be inducted at a ceremony in Montgomery on March 19.
The Cherokee County volleyball and football coaches selected their All-County Volleyball and Football teams. Cedar Bluff’s Audrianna Hargitt earned the MVP honor in volleyball after posting 709 kills, 569 digs, 108 aces and 60 blocked shots. In football, Sand Rock’s Thompson was chosen Offensive MVP, and Cedar Bluff senior linebacker Dallas Plummer claimed the Defensive MVP honor. Cedar Bluff coach Jonathan McWhorter was chosen All-County Coach of the Year.
Thompson gained 1,120 yards on 143 rushing attempts with 15 touchdowns. He also caught 14 passes for 282 yards and four scores in leading Sand Rock (6-5) to the Class 2A state playoffs. Plummer posted 122 total tackles, caused two fumbles, recovered three more and had a pair of sacks to help the Tigers (6-6) reach the second round of the Class 1A state playoffs.
Both players also garnered honorable mention recognition on the ASWA All-State Football Team, announced on Christmas Day. In all, 18 area athletes received recognition, with Collinsville and Piedmont leading the way with five players apiece earning recognition.
Collinsville had four first-team selections in Nathan Coker, Luis Perez, Curtis Williams and David Hernandez. Piedmont had three players make first team in Jamie Major, Sloan Garner and Clay Dent.
Cedar Bluff’s Curtis Abernathy and Sand Rock’s Matt Graham rounded out the first-team selections.
In basketball, the Woodland Lady Bobcats and Collinsville Panthers won the Cherokee Basketball Invitational championship games, held at Gaylesville on Dec. 21. Woodland defeated Cherokee County 59-50, while Collinsville claimed a 63-49 victory over Chattooga, Ga.