PDT Sports Writer
If 2011 proved to be a great calendar year for Southern Ohio athletics, 2012 had to be filled with greater expectations.
The athletes from the start of January all the way through these final days of 2012 did not disappoint. Did the threat of a Mayan apocalypse add as incentive? Doubtful.
Instead, the athletes in this area — no matter what sport it was — brought home some serious hardware and some were also recognized with an opportunity to showcase their talents at the collegiate level.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
In team sports, the highlight came on the first weekend of June when the Wheelersburg baseball team won just its second state title in school history. The run this Pirates squad, made under Michael Estep, was nothing short of storybook.
With Jack Branon, the coach of the other Wheelersburg title team, in a downtown Columbus hospital recovering from a heart attack sustained after the semifinal game, freshman Wade Martin toed the rubber for what turned out to be a game for the ages.
As senior catcher Austin Hall sat on the bench because of an ankle injury, Martin and battery mate Dylan Miller came two outs away from pitching what is believed to have been potentially the first perfect game in OHSAA State Championship history. Instead, he settled for a one-hit shutout over Lima Central Catholic that was filled with drama and excitement leading up to the final out.
Not a bad way to end your debut year. The Pirates were undefeated against teams from Ohio but sustained their two losses to teams from Kentucky. As for Hall, he now catches for the University of Dayton baseball team.
That same weekend, Waverly’s Dylan Dyke became the state champion in the boys Division II Shot Put with a mark of 60 feet, 11.5 inches. He also placed sixth in the discus with a toss of 163 feet, six inches.
It marked the high point for athletes from eight area high schools who competed at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
JUST STEPS SHY
There several opportunities for area teams and athletes to go for the gold, either on the state or regional level, but fell one step short. The Portsmouth boys basketball team, a lineup saturated with seniors, made a return trip to the Jerome Schottenstein Center in March and improved upon its finish from the previous season only to have Cincinnati Summit Country Day deny the Trojans of their fifth state championship in school history.
If anything was learned from the basketball tournament, it’s the Division III Boys Southeast Sectional is strong in Jackson. Of the four teams that played in the Southeast Regional, three (PHS, Ironton and Chesapeake) were Jackson Sectional Champions.
The Waverly and Eastern boys along with Oak Hill girls basketball teams also had dreams of reaching Columbus. Unfortunately, their roads ended in Athens and Logan.
Seven months later, Portsmouth junior Ali Miller finished fourth in the state tennis tournament, the highest placing ever for a Trojan girls tennis player.
Later that fall, the Valley football team finished it’s second-straight 10-0 season and were poised to punch the school’s first-ever state semifinal berth. The Indians redeemed themselves from 2011 by defeating Bucyrus Wynford in the regional semifinals but Baltimore Liberty Union snapped the dreams a week later.
Before hoops dominated the hardwood, volleyball reached a feverish pitch as Eastern went to its first state semifinal in school history. The Eagles soared into the Nutter Center having only dropped one set the entire season. Eastern would play a five-set classic in the semis, only to fall to Kidron Central Christian.
Softball brought excitement for Scioto County fans as both Valley and Notre Dame came one step shy of punching a ticket to Akron. The Piketon and Valley Indian baseball and West softball teams also made strong runs, finishing as regional semifinalists in Divisions III and IV.
New Boston junior Matt Mohr finished literally inches away from the top spot on the podium at the State Track Championships at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus. Mohr, a long jumper, finished third in Division III with a leap of 21 feet and 7.5 inches. The distance was only 3.5 inches shorter than the championship distance.
There gets to be a special feeling when an athlete gets to compete at the highest levels. For many, it’s being asked to showcase their talents for an NCAA Division I institution.
Along with Hall, this region produced a bevy of high-caliber athletes. Valley sent two players to Division I schools as Braiden Dillow is set to pitch this spring for MAC-affiliated Bowling Green while classmate Luke Keller finished his first season at FCS Morehead State.
Piketon’s Alex Southworth is now a Ball State women’s basketball player while her older brother Caleb has been a member of the Central Michigan football team that upset Iowa earlier this season and recently won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Fellow Redstreak Zach Farmer signed earlier this school year to play baseball for Ohio State. Also in Pike County, Jake Kretzer transitioned from a fantastic high school career at Waverly and had joined Peebles alum Blake Justice on the Akron men’s basketball team.
Speaking of the Buckeyes, West’s Levi Ratliff became a walk-on at OSU and was a part of the school’s sixth perfect season all time. Former teammate Trevon Pendleton made a splash on a Big Ten roster this season, playing fullback for Michigan State.
Rounding out the Division I football talent pool, Oak Hill’s Chris Fairchild completed his first season with MAC East Champion Kent State. The Golden Flashes are set to take on Arkansas State Jan. 6 in the GoDaddy.com bowl.
But not everyone’s dreams of playing at their highest peak involves a Division I scholarship. Minford graduate Jake Bloomfield took the path less traveled by area teenagers and moved to Florida to pursue a dream of playing hockey professionally.
He’s not the only one to be chasing a goal beyond a college environment. Portsmouth alum Josh Myers has a spot with the Okotoks Dawgs baseball team in a Canadian summer baseball league while on break from Northern Kentucky University.
Recently, Jen Arnzen reached the 1,000-point club at Notre Dame. She joins Kretzer, Wheelersburg’s Erica Schmidt, Valley’s Blake Yates and Whitney Bear, West’s Tori Leader, New Boston’s Levi Horsley, the trio of Portsmouth’s Peighton Williams, Dion McKinley and Jayllen Carter as well as the Oak Hill duo of Breanna Butler and Taylor Hale set marks with either reaching 1,000 points, or setting marks in career scoring or single-game scoring during the course of this calendar year.
This area also witnessed ends to eras for coaching careers and facility usage.
This fall Portsmouth football coach Curt Clifford and Northwest volleyball coach Judy Bayes each decided to ride off into the sunset as heads of their respective programs.
The time also came to shut the doors on the Glenwood Gymnasium, so affectionately known in these parts as “The Tiger Den.” Although plans were to hold the final athletic event in the winter, the volleyball team became the program to play the final games in this legendary facility.
LOOKING TO 2013
If there is something or someone that has been omitted, apologies in advance with no negative feelings against anyone. But it’s part of a testament to how good high school athletics were in 2012.
The year provides a benchmark for those in the area to strive for once the ball drops a few days from now. Savor what took place this year and look for bigger and better things in 2013.
Cody Leist may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com.