Big Bangs:

2017-18 season full of fireworks for area schools

By Kevin Colley - [email protected]

When one thinks about fireworks, they think of a group of explosives that are set off on or around Independence Day every year.

However, when one thinks about fireworks in the world of sports, it’s usually about a team that has come out of the gates with a bang or an individual that has done the same with his or her play.

Over the 2017-18 season, all 12 Scioto County schools had at least one unit that came out of the gates with a bang, and never let up en route to accomplishing a historical milestone for the school.

Since outside competition, as part of the 2018-19 school year, sits just over a month away, this final wrapup of the 2017-18 school year takes a look at those special units and what they accomplished during the past school year.

2018 Clay Panthers’ baseball, softball teams

Boy, is there some great young talent on both of these squads. From Dakota Dodds to Shaelyn Vassar to Reece Whitley to Lila Brown and Cassidy Wells, in addition to the outstanding leadership that players like Jensen Warnock, Keith Cottle, and Julia Swain have provided for the program among many others, it’s no shock to see how both programs went a combined 43-13 in 2018.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Absolutely. The Clay softball program could enter the 2019 season as the favorite to take home the Division IV Championship, which would be an amazing feat. After battling Strasburg-Franklin for 15 innings before falling in a valiant effort, it’d certainly be warranted. After all, the program did win 42 consecutive SOC I contests.

As for the baseball program, a regional berth certainly isn’t out of the question. Cottle and McGwire Garrison will have to be replaced, but Dodds, Bradley McCleese, Reece Whitley, Shaden Malone, and Jaden Jessee, among others, are more than capable of picking up what’s left behind. And watch out for Clay Cottle. He is already an outstanding shortstop.

2017 East Tartans’ football unit

What can you say? This unit will forever be remembered as the first to ever win a playoff game in a determined 12-6 victory over Waterford in Waterford.

East had a strong collection of talent that included All-Southeast District, All-State, and West Virginia University signee Blaine Scott, along with a talented dual-threat quarterback in Brady Douthat, a pass-catching nightmare in JD Hatcher, and a strong set of running backs in Kyle Flannery, Ethan Carver, Ethan Gifford, Mackie Kingery, and Trace Smith that created a prolific offense that averaged 37 points per game. Douthat, Gifford, Flannery, and Braidan Haney, an outstanding rush end, were leaders for a Tartan defense that held their opponents to 14 points or less seven times in 2017.

Can they set off more fireworks?

It will be a rebuilding year for East in 2018, who lost Carver, Douthat, Gifford, and Scott to graduation. In addition to those critical departures, third-year head coach James Gifford made the move to South Point in February, which will force the Tartans to go into the 2018 season without a leader that had guided them to three consecutive winning campaigns.

However, with Matt Miller at the helm, East could be in better shape than most people believe. Flannery, a standout two-way player, will return to lead the unit. Trenten Bond and Tommy Lambert will be among the guys who will have to carry an increased load.

2017-18 Green Bobcats’ boys basketball unit

Sometimes, 13 is a lucky number.

That certainly was the case for the Green Bobcats’ boys basketball program in 2018, when Dirk Hollar’s unit claimed a 60-56 victory over Ironton St. Joseph to advance to the Division IV District Semifinals at Ohio University for the first time since 2005. Tayte Carver then put on a show to remember against Trimble as the Bobcats defeated the Tomcats by a 68-66 count to advance to its first Division IV District Final since 1999.

That road was paved by a strong rotation that included star talents Tanner Kimbler, Tayte Carver, Gage Sampson, and Caden Blizzard — all excellent scorers — the Huffman brothers (Zach and Ethan), who are springy athletes with excellent motors, and three-and-D standout Rylee Maynard, who brought an equally excellent motor along with the senior leadership necessary for the team to succeed.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Absolutely. While Maynard’s leadership intangibles and ability to do the little things will have to be replaced, the amount of guys who can go and get a bucket, and in a timely manner at that, will make this unit a threat to not only get to region, but compete there. Green has a lot of competitive gamers that should not be taken lightly, and that, along with the infectious coaching style that Dirk Hollar has in place, will have the Bobcats competing in every ballgame that they play in.

2017-18 Minford Falcons’ girls basketball, baseball teams

Wow. What a year for Minford in the sports world. The hype surrounding the girls basketball and baseball programs were simply unreal, and well warranted. Some of the best competitors come from those programs, from the coaching staffs all the way down to the players.

For the girls basketball program to break through and win a Division III District Championship was huge. The way it was done, however, will not be forgotten, from Erin Daniels breaking the school’s all-time scoring record against Jackson to the big wins over teams like Olive Hill (Ky.) West Carter, Albany Alexander, and Chillicothe Southeastern. Livi Shonkwiler and Maddie Slusher were gritty, tenacious guards, while Caitlyn Puckett supplied the same energy down low. As for Ashley Blankenship, Zoe Doll, and Marissa Risner, you had an excellent low-post scorer in the former and two great shooters in the latter pair of individuals.

As for the baseball program, very few could have envisioned that Minford would have won its first outright SOC I Championship in 50 years, let alone take home a Division III District Championship and a Division III, Region 11 Championship en route to Huntington Park.

You have great leaders in Payton Davis, Luke Lindamood, and Ethan Lauder, speedy and talented hitting outfielders in Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis, Darius Jordan, and Brayden Davis, dependable do-it-all talents in Bailey Rowe and Reid Shultz, and an athletic shortstop in Nathan McCormick. An outstanding staff, led by second-year hand Aaron Hopper, made the team into a pure force en route to a 24-3 showing and an OHSAA Final Four appearance for the first time in school history.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Both teams absolutely can. The Minford baseball program only loses one starter — graduating senior Payton Davis at first base — and returns everybody else.

As for the girls basketball program, replacing Daniels, Doll, Risner, and Marissa Watters will be tough, but the Lady Falcons return Blankenship and Puckett to anchor the low post, while Shonkwiler and Slusher each return up top in a backcourt that won’t change for at least the next two seasons. Then, there’s the bench talent, which includes promising names such as Hannah Tolle, Makenzie Watters, Brittani Wolfenbarker, Micah Thacker, Hannah Thacker, and Ally Coriell. It looks to be nothing but green ahead for the Red and White.

2017-18 New Boston Tigers’ boys and girls basketball teams

The magic is officially back in New Boston, and it showed itself in a big way over the 2017-18 school year. That was especially on the basketball side, where the boys and girls basketball programs each posted banner years within the decade — and for the former, within the millennium.

On the boys side, first-year head coach Adam Cox brought the most vital quality that the New Boston boys basketball program needed — energy — and it showed all season long as the Tigers swept the season series against archrival East, finished second in the SOC I standings, won 17 games, and went to the Division IV District Semifinals for the first time since 2000 behind the outstanding star trio of Kade Conley, Kyle Sexton, and Tyler Caldwell, along with the play of guys like Kyle McQuithy, Eddie Phipps, Malachi Potts, Drake Truitt, and Alex Meade.

As for the girls, the exceptional senior class that the Lady Tigers had finished out their careers by advancing all the way to the Division IV District Finals thanks to the balanced scoring that Mariah Buckley, Ali Hamilton, Peyton Helphinstine, and Kaylee Stone provided, and the energy that the Oiler sisters (Lexus and Sammy), Taylen Hickman, and Bri Humble provided for New Boston. They, too, finished second in the SOC I standings behind the leadership of Kayla Wiley.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Both teams lose significant pieces but also return promising hands (boys, Sexton, Caldwell, Meade, and Potts; girls, Hickman and the Oilers) so I believe that they can. Sexton and Caldwell are multi-dimensional players who define the term ‘positionless basketball’ very well, while Meade and Potts bring excellent energy to the table. It’s a great blend of talent. The key is staying hungry.

As for the girls, the climb will be tougher, mainly because Buckley, Hamilton, and Stone will be leaving behind a great deal of experience to replace, while Helphinstine and Humble provided excellent energy on the floor after transferring from East. However, Hickman was very strong off of the bench all season long in relief of Humble, while the Oiler sisters can shoot the basketball at a high degree. The Lady Tigers need a player to handle the basketball full-time with the loss of Buckley, but if that can be found, there’s a lot to build on.

2017 Northwest Mohawks’ boys soccer unit

From a depth standpoint, there are very few soccer teams around the Southeast District who featured the amount of depth that the Northwest Mohawks had in 2017.

With three excellent offensive talents in Evan Throckmorton, Tyler Webb, and Harald Rundquist, along with the play of guys like Austin Speer, Jacob Goodson, Hunter Berry, Chase McClay, and Mason Campbell, leading the charge, Northwest won each of its first 19 games en route to not only taking home its first SOC Championship since 1993, but also obtained Division III sectional and district crowns along its journey. The Mohawks ultimately scored 7.1 goals per contest while only allowing 1.45 by comparison.

Can they set off more fireworks?

They sure will. Josh Keeney has had this program on the upswing for a while now even before 2017’s banner year. Expect Throckmorton and Rundquist — if the latter returns via the foreign exchange program — to star in a big way. Guys like McClay, Billy Crabtree, Landen Smith, Braden Taylor, and Patrick Redoutey, among many others, will only continue to build on the excellent formula that Keeney and standout assistant coaches Jacob Hackworth and Chaise Hall have helped develop at Northwest. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see the Mohawks back in the regional semis in 2018.

2017-18 Notre Dame Titans’ volleyball, girls basketball teams

Boy, I don’t know many fanbases or communities that are tighter-knit than Notre Dame. They love their Titans and Lady Titans.

That love was apparent all season, especially in volleyball and girls basketball, where many of the same cast of characters starred on both ends of the spectrum, such as Lexi Smith, Ali Smith, Katie Dettwiller, Clara Hash, Taylor Schmidt, and Ava Hassel, among others.

When you combine that type of talent with players like Molly Hoover on the girls basketball side, the coaching expertise of Kelsey Glockner and J.D. McKenzie in volleyball and basketball, and a person like Sophia Hassel, who essentially served as a player-coach after suffering a knee injury at the beginning of the volleyball season, you’re going to win games.

Both programs did that in spades as the Notre Dame volleyball program defeated archrival Clay twice, knocked off Division III Portsmouth in a regular season matchup on Sept. 11, and, in an atmosphere that rivaled that of a football game, defeated SOC II Champion Wheelersburg by a 3-1 mark. The Lady Titans then went on to defeat Waterford in a thrilling straight-set matchup to claim its first regional tournament victory in school history in the sport before falling in the Division IV, Region 15 Finals to Fairfield Christian Academy.

As for the girls basketball program, Smith, Dettwiller, Hoover, Smith, Schmidt, and Ava Hassel were the main cogs on a unit that defeated Clay and New Boston twice, knocked off Division III competitors Nelsonville-York and Ironton, and took down Eastern Meigs twice en route to winning 25 games in a row and taking home the school’s first Division IV District Championship crown in the sport.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Absolutely. Losing Lexi Smith and Ali Smith in both sports, along with Molly Hoover on the basketball side, will be very tough. Those three individuals personified what good leaders were. However, the amount of success that the younger crop of players have already experienced together, plus their tight bond as teammates, leads me to believe that the success that we saw across both sports will be sustained for a long while.

2017 Portsmouth volleyball unit

This year’s iteration of the Portsmouth Trojans’ volleyball program flew under the radar, but to have a player accumulate 1,000 digs (Allison Douthat) and one accumulate 1,000 kills (Aiden Fields) is special. The pair, along with Lyda Spencer, Aly Ferrara, Anne Marie Raies, and Katie Fannin were an integral part of allowing the Lady Trojans to advance to the Division III District Semifinals as Portsmouth ultimately went 11-3 in Ohio Valley Conference action and 14-9 overall.

Can they set off more fireworks?

It will be a rebuilding year, but the success that the six seniors had as a group is big because it likely makes volleyball an option for those who weren’t considering the sport previously. Morgan Grashel, Savanna Spence, and Jaiden Rickett will form a frontline with a great deal of length and could be strong building blocks as the Lady Trojans begin the rebuilding stage.

2017-18 South Webster Jeeps’ soccer unit

There were very few units that surprised me more than Corey Claxon’s South Webster soccer program in 2017. I mean, they lost Alek Blevins, Shane Zimmerman, and Trevor Coriell to college soccer programs from the year prior off of a team that went to the regional semifinals and won its first 18 games in doing so.

So what does this young crop of Jeeps, with only one senior, do? Oh, not much, except win the SOC I title, again, win a Division III District Championship, again, and defeat an incredibly talented Northwest squad en route to a regional final berth.

This was an incredibly deep and talented unit that featured guys such as Dee Thompson, Jacob Ruth, Caleb Cunningham, and Josiah Edwards, along with star offensive hands in Shiloah Blevins, Sam Holstein, and Ty Collins.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Fireworks may not explain it appropriately enough for this team’s potential. We may need dynamite. The Jeeps lose just Thompson, the lone graduating senior, off of the roster. Can South Webster become the first Scioto County school in 20 years to earn an OHSAA State Final Four berth (Valley, 1998)? It will certainly be interesting to watch, and Northwest, at the very least, will have something to say about it before it’s all said and done.

2018 Valley baseball, softball teams

The runs that each of these programs had during the second half of their campaigns were truly phenomenal. From Tucker Williams to Cayton Ruby to Tanner Cunningham and Kayden Mollette, to the play of Faith Brown, Marissa Markins, Margaret Caldwell, Madison Kuhn, and Kirbi Sommers, both Valley rosters were loaded with players who were ready to make the changes necessary to put both programs back in the spotlight.

Their exciting victories in district action on the way to regional semifinal berths (Wheelersburg and South Point for the baseball program and Eastern Meigs and Notre Dame for the softball program) will be remembered for a long, long time.

Can they set off more fireworks?

The baseball program will next year without a question. Nolan Crabtree has the ball rolling, especially when one considers that Cunningham, Jesse Jones, Jake Ashkettle, and Jared Morrow can all pitch, play in the field, and swing the bat effectively. Breckon Williams came on strong from the bottom of the order, as well, and Mollette is an outstanding jack-of-all-trades guy who will play anywhere and everywhere needed.

As for the softball program, the loss of its five seniors will mean a rebuilding year. However, Montie Spriggs’ return to the helm should lead to Valley returning to a place similar to this past season’s regional semifinal berth sooner rather than later.

2017 West Senators’ football unit

After a year where the Senators struggled with injuries, 2017 proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the West Side, as player after player stepped up to provide arguably the best season for the Senators, as a whole, since 2008.

West was led by the unshakable poise of Dylan Bradford, the hard-nosed running styles of Garrett Hurd and Josh Berry, the tenacity of Cody Staggs, the incredible leg of Drew Cassidy, and an outstanding line that will have three of its players (Caleb Deaver, Jacob Hall, and Brandon Weaver) playing in college football programs this coming fall. Jakeb Guilkey, Sid Shifflet, Isaiah Norman, and LT Maynard all starred at different points for a unit that was exceptional in 2017.

The Senators ultimately went 10-2, won all four of its games that were decided by six points or less, and added in another incredible victory by coming back from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Portsmouth, 32-14, after scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter of action.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Yes. Hurd, Berry, and Shifflet are gamers. Norman has the ability to be a shutdown corner. And Bradford fits the mold of the tough, gritty quarterbacks who have led West in the past. The offensive and defensive line play will be a work in progress as expected when a team loses three college-bound senior linemen, but Joe Igaz, along with several additional hands, will be more than ready to pick up what’s been left behind by the departing seniors.

2017-18 Wheelersburg volleyball, football teams

Another year, another slew of championships for Wheelersburg. It was quite a year, alright.

For starters, how about Allen Perry taking over a program and leading it to the regional finals? I don’t care what type of talent a team has, that’s hard to do.

Then, there’s the talent. From the gritty mindsets of Ellie Ruby and Mia Darnell, to the strong passing ability of Abbie Kallner, and to the frontline play of Alli McQuay and Mallory Bergan among many others, the unit was full of depth and full of girls that simply worked to get better en route to obtaining a regional semifinal appearance.

Then, the football program. What can you say? It’s hard to find another program out there that was as dominant defensively as it was offensively, but Wheelersburg certainly was that as the offense put together 6,022 total yards while the defense held their opponents to just 8.5 points per bout and 2,541 yards on 739 plays for an average of 3.4 yards per play. It all leads to a 15-0 season and a state title.

Can they set off more fireworks?

Both programs sure can. The volleyball program lost just Ruby and Darnell and has a truckload of exceptional talent on the way from its middle school feeder programs. A run to the state final four, or further, is definitely not out of the question.

As for the football program, it, even with the loss of incredible standouts like Xander Carmichael, Dominic Reyes, Bryson Keeney, Nic Parsley, CJ Hall, and Alex George among many others, should be the favorite to repeat as state champs in Division V heading into the season. Trent Salyers and Tanner Holden are two outstanding talents, Makya Matthews will be one of the best all-purpose guys around, and Evan Dahm is arguably the best linebacker coming back regardless of division in the Southeast District. That’s just a few of the many hands who will be contributing in heavy doses.

2017-18 season full of fireworks for area schools

By Kevin Colley

[email protected]

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT