Looking back at the year in sports
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It is the unpredictability, the unknown, the chaos, the chance to see something you’ve never seen before that makes the world of sports so fascinating.
There is no script, and what you think will happen rarely does.
The line between the absolute ecstasy of a thrilling win to the excruciating pain of a heart-breaking loss is so thin, and that’s the beauty of sports.
It’s with that in mind that we take a journey through the year that was in sports in Troup County, focusing exclusively on high-school sports in this story.
Check out Friday’s sports section for a look at some other memorable events from 2019 outside of the world of high-school sports.
As always, there were countless highlights across the sports spectrum, from Callaway’s memorable football journey, to the state-championship seasons enjoyed by LaGrange Academy’s softball team and Lafayette Christian School’s baseball team, to a trip to the state finals for LaGrange High’s softball team, to a phenomenal season by Troup High’s girls’ basketball team.
It was an exciting and enjoyable sports journey in 2019, and I was so happy to be along for the ride, documenting the ups and the downs, the good times, the bad, and everything in between.
Through it all, I can say the student-athletes and coaches from across the sports spectrum gave it their all, and thank you to all of them for the commitment they showed to their teams, and to their schools.
So with the preamble out of the way, here’s a look at some of the moments that made it a year to remember.
Another quick note.
When the spring sports seasons concludes, I’ll take a comprehensive look at the 2019-2020 sports season for each of the local schools, so keep an eye out for that in about six months.
WINNING CAVALIERS: It was another phenomenal season for Pete Wiggins’ Callaway football team.
The Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals for the fourth time since 2013, but they were denied a trip to Atlanta for the championship game with a painful 39-35 loss to the Brooks County Trojans.
For the second straight season the Cavaliers had the ball inside their opponent’s 10-year line in the final moments of a semifinal game with a chance to win, and for the second consecutive season they came up short.
In 2018 it was Rockmart ending Callaway’s season with a 28-22 victory in the semifinals.
A year later, Brooks County outlasted Callaway in a thrilling, back-and-forth game.
Callaway recovered from a 20-0 deficit to take the lead, but Brooks County rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half to win it.
The Cavaliers were once again so agonizingly close to getting that chance to play for a state title, only to see that opportunity slip away.
It was, nonetheless, another exceptional season for a program that defines consistent excellence.
“Any time you’ve got a group of guys that are willing to pay the price, that are believing in what they do, and believing in one another, and when you’re down three scores and those guys stick together and keep battling, I think that’s a great testimony to what kind of kids they are, and I think it’s a great testimony to our program,” Wiggins said.
BEST IN STATE: For the sixth time under head coach Charles Parker, LaGrange Academy’s softball team won a state championship.
Last year’s team did it in dramatic fashion, staging a last-inning rally to beat Flint River Academy 9-6 in the second and final game of their GISA championship series.
Trailing 6-3, LaGrange Academy came off the deck for six runs in the top of the seventh inning to win it.
“They’ve been working since June,” Parker said. “Somebody in the dugout made a comment that this is why we’ve been doing this since June. She’s right. This has been a good group of girls.”
COMING CLOSE: Much like the school’s football program, the Callaway baseball team has also been a consistent winner, with head coach Dusty Hubbard leading the way.
Hubbard, in fact, reached the 300-win milestone during the playoffs last year.
The Cavaliers kept the good times going in 2019, making it all the way to the Class AA state semifinals before losing a tough series to the Rockmart Yellow Jackets.
Callaway had the lead in the final inning of the decisive game three in that series, but it was Rockmart prevailing 7-5.
The Cavaliers thought they had it won when Austin Barber threw what appeared to be a third strike that would have ended the game, but the umpired called it a ball.
Barber walked that batter, and Rockmart scored three runs with two outs to take the lead.
It was the second straight season Callaway lost in the state semifinals.
“It just hurts,” Hubbard said. “There were some borderline calls that could have went either way. You just feel bad for the boys. They put so much in it. This is one of the hardest one’s ever right here.”
BACK TO COLUMBUS: In the early 2000s, LaGrange’s softball program made back-to-back appearances in Columbus for the state softball finals.
Last season, the Lady Grangers once again discovered that winning formula, and they got to Columbus for the first time since 2004.
LaGrange won two state-playoff series, both at home, to qualify for the eight-team state finals.
LaGrange lost both of its games in Columbus, but it was nonetheless a heck of a ride for head coach Gabby Heath’s team.
Heath said she’s proud of the players, “specifically because of how hard they’ve worked. Sometimes we work hard and we don’t reap the benefit. But this is a great life lesson. It is possible if you work hard and get better, that you can be successful.”
COUGARS STAND TALL: Lafayette Christian School’s baseball team was down, but not out.
Trailing 6-2 in the final inning of the final game of the state-championship series against Peachtree Christian, Lafayette Christian rallied for an 8-6 victory to bring home the GICAA title.
It was the first state championship in baseball for Lafayette Christian, and the victory came against a team that had won back-to-back state titles.
“They’re two-time state champions. All the pressure’s on them,” said Ben Jackson, Lafayette Christian’s head coach. “We have nothing to lose. We’re a second-year varsity team. What do we have to lose? Just go out to play, and they did it. They fight, and they fight. They’ll never quit.”
ROLLING ALONG: Troup High’s cheerleading program, which has been among the state’s best for several years, had another big 2019 season.
Troup won three competitions last season, and it made it to Columbus for the 16-team state finals.
It’s a team that thrived despite its inexperience.
“They’re very young. There are six freshmen out here,” Troup head coach Amelia Key said. “They have stepped up and been competitive at a level that most people didn’t think they would be.”
LaGrange High’s cheerleading team also had a big season.
Like Troup, LaGrange had a stellar routine in the Class AAAA state sectional to make it to the state finals.
It was the first time LaGrange made it to Columbus since 2016.
“It was great to see how far we’ve come, from our freshman year when it was so great to my sophomore year when we didn’t have a team,” said senior Kynzie Dye. “And now we’re really god, and lot of it is that we all get along really well. Everybody likes each other.”
FINISHING IN STYLE: In her final competition of an exceptional high-school track-and-field career, Grant delivered a championship-winning performance. Competing in the long jump, Grant had the best jump in Class AAAA to win her first and only state title.
Grant accumulated eight medals from her four state meets, including the precious gold medal that she won in dramatic fashion.
“The girl before me had just passed my jump,” Grant said, reflecting on that final competition. “I wasn’t going to get beat again. I couldn’t let that happen. So I had to calm down, not stress about it and just give it my all, and it happened.”
Grant also finished seventh in the 100-meter dash, and she was a member of the 400-meter relay team that placed seventh.
Other members of the relay team were Annaya Chelcy, Quay Robinson and Zakeria Staples.
Chelcy was also seventh in the 200, and Renaya Edmondson placed sixth in the discus.
Grant later signed a letter of intent to join the track-and-field team at Mississippi State.
SECOND IN STATE: Lafayette Christian School’s football team came close to winning the program’s second state championship, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Lafayette Christian had the ball late with a chance to drive for the winning touchdown, but it was Griffin Christian securing a 19-13 victory to capture the GICAA state title.
“They played with heart. Every time we played, they never gave up,” said Billy Bryant, Lafayette Christian’s head coach. “Even when we got defeated, like tonight, they never gave up. Tonight was one of those nights where the ball didn’t go our way, but these guys are going to learn from this and will come back next year stronger.”
MAKING IT HAPPEN: During the 2019 football season, Demetrius Coleman helped Callaway reach the state semifinals.
A few months later, Coleman came through with an epic performance to help Callaway’s basketball team beat Banks County in the opening round of the Class AA state tournament.
Coleman scored 43 points to lead Callaway to an 86-83 road win over Banks County.
Callaway then beat Chattooga County 71-59 in the second round before losing to Laney 63-44 in the quarterfinals.
In that memorable Banks County game, Coleman made five 3-pointers and was 12-of-14 from the free-throw line.
“It was real fun,” Coleman said after that game. “They’re my brothers, and I love competing with them.”
Callaway’s girls’ team also had a successful season, reaching the state tournament before losing to Elbert County 47-45 in the first round.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Troup High girls’ basketball team enjoyed its best season in nearly a decade, posting a 17-9 record while finishing second in Region 5-AAAA.
The season came to a sad conclusion for the Lady Tigers, who had to deal with a tragedy to a member of the basketball family.
Shortly before the state-tournament game against Oconee County, the brother of team member Samarria Weldon was shot and killed.
Weldon didn’t play in the Oconee game, and Troup lost 41-28.
“We tried hard for her, but it’s been a rough week,” Troup head coach Carla Thornton said. “They gave me what they had, but their hearts and minds were in a lot of different places. She came to the game to support us, but it hurt not having her.”
Most of the players from that team are back this season, and Troup won its first nine games to carry a perfect record into the start of region play.
STREAKING CAVALIERS: What a spring it was for Callaway High’s track-and-field team.
Callaway placed in 10 different events at the state meet at Berry College in Rome.
In the final event at state, Callaway’s 1,600-meter relay team finished third, with Antinez Blount running a blistering anchor leg to make up ground.
Larry Davis, Osiris Rivas and Tely Fanning ran the first three legs in the 1,600 relay.
“I was trying my best,” said Blount. “I knew my team was depending on me. We made it this year. I had to give it all I had.”
Also finishing third was Callaway’s 400-meter relay team of Aniyah Simpson, Markiya Harris, Leijorey Sanders and Niakoe Burks.
All four of those runners return next spring as they try to chase down a state title.
“That relay team, they’re going to be tough,” Callaway coach Melissa McDonald said. “I heard them talking about next year. I want to do this. So they’re already preparing. It’s amazing.”
Also for Callaway, Simpson was third in the 400-meter run, Harris was fifth in the 200-meter dash, and Burks was sixth in the 100-meter dash.
On the boys’ side, Curmondre Bray was fifth in the 200, Osiris Rivas was fifth in the 400, and Larry Davis was seventh in the 800.
In the field events, Burks was fourth in the high jump and Blount was sixth in the high jump.
SPRINTING AT STATE: Troup High’s Ashanti Tigner capped an outstanding junior season by placing in two events at the track-and-field state meet in Albany.
Tigner finished fourth in the 100-meter dash, and sixth in the 200-meter dash.
Tigner won the Region 5-AAAA championship in both of those events, and she also posted the best time in both events at the state sectional.
Tigner enjoyed her junior season in part because she was healthy, something that hasn’t always been the case.
“Throughout high school I’ve been getting hurt,” Tigner said. “This year, it’s been a pretty good year. I got a lot of new (personal records), and I’ve become a whole lot better sprinter.”
Carla Thornton, Troup’s trackcoach, said “she’s put in a lot of work outside of practice. She works out with Kane (Bradfield), building that strength. She’s a complete runner. That’s what it takes to achieve greatness.”
MAKING HISTORY: For the first time ever, Callaway High’s wrestling team made it to the state duals.
After finishing second in the area, Callaway went 1-2 at the state duals and finished in the top 10 in the state.
“I got the job (before the 2017-2018 season), and that’s what I preached to them was, let’s go to state, let’s do it,” said Callaway head coach Jason Boatman. “And we barely missed it (last season). We worked so hard trying to win that thing last year.”
PLACING IN MACON: Four local wrestlers placed at the state meet in Macon, two apiece from Callaway and Troup.
For Troup, Darious Hanson and Colby Harry each placed fourth, giving them each a place on the podium for the second consecutive season.
For Callaway, Anthony Elliott and LaQuize Gilbert were third and fourth, respectively, in their weight classes at state.
MILESTONE: Kenny Moore took over LaGrange High’s tennis program in 1991, and for nearly three decades he has helped the boys’ and girls’ teams enjoyed tremendous success.
In 2019, Moore reached a milestone with his 800th victory as LaGrange’s tennis coach.
“I’ve got the greatest situation,” said Moore, a calculus teacher at LaGrange High. “I love coming to school. I never dread coming to school. Weekends are fun, they’re fun, but it’d be OK with me if we didn’t have them. I love coaching tennis. I love teaching calculus.”
The 2019 season was another successful one for LaGrange, with the girls’ team making it to the state quarterfinals before losing to Columbus.
LaGrange’s boys’ team fell to St. Pius X in the first round at state.
FOUR IN A ROW: This is a golden era for LaGrange High girls’ soccer.
LaGrange has not only won four consecutive region championships, but it hasn’t dropped a region game during that time.
After winning another region title last spring, LaGrange advanced to the second round of the state tournament before losing to Blessed Trinity.
In the game that LaGrange had to have to win the region title, it rallied from an overtime deficit to beat Cartersville 3-2.
Caroline Thompson had the tying goal in overtime, and Sydney Ormsby won it with a goal about a minute later.
“It was a special night,” said Colin Ross, who coaches the team along with Andy Fritchley. “It was a real special night for us.”
LaGrange edged Stephens County 2-1 in the first round of the state tournament before losing to Blessed Trinity 6-1.
LaGrange High’s boys’ team had a spectacular season of its own.
The Grangers finished with a 14-4-2 record, and they won the region title with an unbeaten record.
In the state tournament, LaGrange beat North Oconee 3-2 before losing to Marist 3-0 in the second round.
LaGrange won its region title with an unforgettable win over Cartersville.
It was tied 3-3 after regulation and overtime, and LaGrange won on penalty kicks to secure the region title.
Josue Recinos delivered the decisive penalty kick, delivering the thrilling win to LaGrange while ending Cartersville’s reign as region champs.
Callaway High’s boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, meanwhile, both made it to the Class AA state playoffs.
BACK AT STATE: For the fourth consecutive season, the Troup High football team made it to the state playoffs.
Competing in one of the state’s deepest regions, Troup finished fourth in Region 5-AAAA before falling to eventual state-champion Blessed Trinity in the first round of the state playoffs.
SWINGING STRAIGHT: The girls’ golf teams from LaGrange and Troup both made it through to the Class AAAA state tournament after strong showings in the region tournament.
LaGrange finished third in the region tournament, with Sydney Ormsby nearly winning the individual title with a 77.
Troup, meanwhile, finished fourth in the region tournament to qualify for state.
RUNNING STRONG: Callaway and LaGrange were both represented in the state cross-country meet in Carrollton.
Callaway’s boys’ and girls’ teams both made it to Carrollton, and Ashley Bowden was the school’s top finisher with a 38th-place finish, while Calik Kemp was 44th in the boys’ race.
LaGrange’s boys’ and girls’ teams also advanced to state, and Miller Penn and Alex Bowie both finished in the top 40.
Lauren Farris led the LaGrange girls’ team with a 32nd-place finish.
DIAMOND SUCCESS: With Donnie Branch returning to the dugout as head coach, LaGrange High’s baseball team knocked off Stephens County in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament before losing to Blessed Trinity in the second round.
Troup’s baseball team, meanwhile, made it to state and fell to a strong St. Pius X team in the first round.
BEST IN AREA: Callaway High’s volleyball team, under second-year head coach Precious White, went 9-1 against area opponents during the regular season.
That gave Callaway the regular-season area title, and it hosted the area tournament as the number one seed.
Callaway then finished third in the area tournament to qualify for state, and it fell short in the first round.
ALL WET: Troup High’s Kate Moore finished eighth in the state in the 50-yard freestyle, and she also competed in the 200-yard medley relay along with Belinda Hart, Sophia Pacelli and Madison Bilbo.
OF NOTE: For more photos from 2019, check out Facebook.com/LDNSports