SPORTS STORIES OF 2012: Sports Park opening top story (01/13)

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By Chuck Jones

Every December is an interesting time. People begin looking back on the year that was and compiling lists of their favorite moments of the year.

At The News-Enterprise, it’s no different as we start to compile our list of the top stories of the past year. And in sports, we have plenty to choose from as it was an eventful year.

There were great games like John Hardin boys’ basketball team’s overtime victory over LaRue County in the 5th Region Tournament semifinals, John Hardin’s 14-13 loss to Bowling Green in the Class 5-A state football semifinals and Bardstown Bethlehem knocking off Elizabethtown in five sets in the region volleyball tournament.

There were great performances like Brandon Price pouring in 37 points in the region final, Central Hardin senior Abbey Sorrells being named the Area Player of the Year in volleyball once again, the pitching of Central Hardin’s Drew Harrington and Meade County’s Bo Wilson and the dazzling offensive exploits of North Hardin senior Elijah Linscott and Elizabethtown senior Lexy Hazle.

There were sad moments like the suicide of former Murray State and John Hardin lineman Jeff Richard and the passing of Chet Redmon, the former Vine Grove High School coach who led the team to the 1952 region title.

Here are the top stories of 2012 selected by members of The News-Enterprise news­room staff. Stories of the year were nominated by newsroom employees and once a list was compiled, voting was held on a 10-1 scale with a top story receiving 10 points.

NO. 1: Elizabethtown Sports Park opens. The July 25 opening of the Elizabethtown Sports Park with baseball games in the Ohio Valley Regional Tournament capped a lengthy start to finish project of about six years that brought out controversy over its nearly $30 million price tag and the 2 percent restaurant tax imposed to pay for it.

The regionals for 11 and 12-year-olds started a nearly six-month run of baseball, softball and soccer tournaments as well as football events at the multi-purpose complex.

Mayor Tim Walker said the park’s construction was a long process but the reward is a state-of-the-art facility for local children doubling as an economic development tool for restaurants, hotels and other businesses to take advantage of as teams travel to Elizabethtown. This success, he said, will impact the bottom line for the restaurant tax as the city attracts more patrons and the occupational tax as it creates new jobs.

“It may not always show up on a line item in the city’s budget, but it will help restaurants and other local businesses,” Walker said.

NO. 2: John Hardin reaches state football semifinals again. The Bulldogs continued to excel despite numerous losses to graduation a year ago. They finished their fourth consecutive perfect regular season, beating Meade County and crushing Central Hardin and North Hardin along the way.

John Hardin won its fifth straight Region 2 championship, rolling past Jeffersontown, 47-0 to set up a showdown with top-ranked Bowling Green.

The Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead on their opening possession of the game and led 13-6 at halftime. They appeared set to reach their second championship game in four years when the Purples scored on a hook-and-ladder play with 1:36 remaining. They converted the 2-point conversion to take a 14-13 lead. John Hardin had one final chance but turned the ball over on downs.

“It’s one of those things that happen in sports,” John Hardin senior Wade Holtsclaw said. “You see it all the time where the better team doesn’t win. We were the better team. We just all have to get over it and move on.”

NO. 3: Central Hardin and Meade County advance to state baseball tournament. For the first time, two area teams – Central Hardin and Meade County – advanced to the state baseball tournament. The Bruins won the 5th Region Tournament, while the Green Wave claimed the 3rd Region championship.

Central Hardin, which won its third consecutive region title, beat LaRue County, 4-2 in the region final which was delayed twice by rain. With the score tied at 2, Derek Westerfield blasted a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning.

“I was trying to look for something I could drive,” Westerfield said. “He (Cole Hughes) gave me a changeup over the plate. I just wanted to step up and get a hit in that situation. It’s one of those feelings that I can describe. I think it is the best (home run I’ve hit).”

The Bruins, who won the state title in 2011, lost in the first round of the state tournament to South Warren, 3-1. They finished the season 31-10.

The Green Wave knocked off Muhlenburg County, 4-2 in the region championship. It was Meade County’s first region title since 1993.

Meade County, which ended up 27-10, edged Calloway County, 1-0 behind a brilliant pitching performance from Wilson and then topped Ashland, 4-2 to reach the state semifinals. Henderson County ended the Green Wave’s run with a 10-6 victory.

“It’s been indescribable,” Meade County’s Brady Smith said. “Looking back 20 years from now, we’ll still be talking about how far we made it. We had great expectations. Our only goal was to ‘Play in June’ and we made it. We kept it going. I wish we could have pulled it out, but we still made Meade County history.”

NO. 4: John Hardin wins second region boys’ basketball title. The Bulldogs entered the season with high expectations, but they got off to a shaky start, losing five of their first nine games. They turned their season around by winning five straight and nine of their next 11.

Following a loss to Grayson County, the Bulldogs closed the season on a tear, winning 11 straight. Among the wins were a 73-69 decision over North Hardin in the 17th District final and a 74-66 victory over Bardstown in the region final. It was John Hardin’s second region championship and its first since 2006.

John Hardin downed Johnson Central, 49-36 for its first win in the state tournament. The Bulldogs, which finished 23-9, lost to Scott County in the state quarterfinals.

“It’s been a great season; in my mind, it’s been a historical season,” John Hardin coach Mark Wells said. “To see what we’ve accomplished this year, it’s been a special year.”

NO. 5: ECTC brings back sports. In a June meeting, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College President Dr. Thelma White formally announced the college would be fielding club-level teams in men’s and women’s soccer, men’s basketball and women’s tennis. Starting with the fall semester, the Barons were back.

Keeping the name Barons was important to school administrators. When the basketball team was first formed, the school asked legendary University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp for permission to use his nickname – The Baron – as its teams’ name.

“Anything you want will be fine, but I think that name will bring success,” former basketball coach Hardin McLane said. “I think it would be a big plus to keep that name and build on the tradition.”

The college last had basketball teams in the 1980s.

The college took the first step in the return to athletics when it named its first three coaches. All three are coaching on a volunteer basis. Alex Molina was tabbed to coach the men’s soccer team, Andre Cooper will coach women’s soccer and John Veague is the men’s basketball coach.

The men’s soccer team finished 5-6 this past season.

“We had a successful season and accomplished what we hoped to accomplish,” said Dr. Dale Buckles, ECTC’s chief student affairs officer. “Five wins in our first season against the competition we played gets the program off to a tremendous beginning. But just as importantly, students had a chance to compete, play the game they love to play and to grow as individuals.”

ECTC’s men’s basketball team is off to a 4-7 start this season.

NO. 6: Steve Delabar’s continues his amazing ride. After breaking into the majors in 2011, Steve Delabar, a former Central Hardin standout, had quite a 2012 season. In March, he was featured on HBO Real Sports for his rapid climb with the Seattle Mariners after being out of professional baseball.

Delabar began the season with the Mariners and then was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays before the July 31 deadline.

“I thank them totally for what they let me do and give me the opportunity to get up here,” Delabar said. “Emotions right now, I’m kind of up in the air. I don’t really know what kind of role I’m going to have or what it’s going to be over there, I just know it’s probably going to be out of the bullpen.

“There’s a lot of stir recently about things happening, so you’re kind of on your toes and knowing this might be a possibility, so you take it in stride and go with it.”

In August, Delabar etched his name into baseball’s record books as he became the first Blue Jays pitcher to strike out four hitters in an inning and the first major league pitcher to do so in an extra-inning game, according to MLB.com.

“Honestly, it’s one of those records people only hear about when it happens, then it’s forgettable,” Delabar said late Tuesday night. “I’m sure it’ll happen again someday, but I get to say I was the first to do it.”

Delabar finished the season with a 4-3 record. He posted a 3.82 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 66 innings in his time with Seattle and Toronto.

NO. 7: Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame has first induction ceremony. The newly established Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame had its first induction ceremony in June at the Historic State Theater’s First Federal Gallery.

The first group of this centennial class included: “King” Kelly Coleman (Wayland); Wes Unseld (Louisville Seneca); Jim McDaniels (Allen County); Darrell Griffith (Louisville Male); Geri Grigsby (McDowell); Clemette Haskins (Warren Central); Rex Chapman (Owensboro Apollo); Richie Farmer (Clay County); Coach Bobby Keith (Clay County); Coach Roy Bowling (Laurel County); Coach S.T. Roach (Lexington Dunbar); Cliff Hagan (Owensboro); Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones (Harlan); Ralph Beard (Male); Coach Ralph Carlisle (Lexington Lafayette); and Clem Haskins (Taylor County).

“It’s a great honor,” the 86-year-old Jones said of being a part of the first inductees. “There are a lot of people very deserving of this, and they’re only taking like 16 people. I’m looking forward to it. I’m tickled to death to be a part of it.”

NO. 8: Elizabethtown girls’ soccer team reaches state semifinals. A year after falling in the region final, the Lady Panthers came back with a vengeance this season, but it wasn’t without its share of drama. Coach Jerry Crabtree resigned during the season and Pat Black took over as the interim coach.

Elizabethtown entered the postseason with back-to-back losses and then a tie but turned things around, reeling off seven consecutive wins. The Lady Panthers edged Central Hardin, 1-0 for the district championship and then shut out Bardstown, 4-0 for the region crown.

The Lady Panthers, who finished 17-6-2, downed Louisville Mercy, 5-1 in the state tournament before pulling out a 1-0 victory over Louisville Assumption to become the first area girls’ team to reach the final four. Their run came to an end in the state semifinals with a 1-0 loss to Notre Dame.

“I think we had a great season and I’m really proud of our team for making history for E’town, having never been able to get this far,” Hazle said. “We can’t look down at this. We weren’t supposed to win. All the odds were against us and I think we gave them a good match. I don’t think they expected us to come out as hard as we did.”

NO. 9: Karisa Akin wins Women’s State Am at ECC. Capping off her long and hot week of solid play, Akin drained a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to edge longtime and friendly rival April Emerson, 1-up to win the 86th Women’s Kentucky State Amateur Golf Championship at the par-72, 5,603-yard Elizabethtown Country Club in June.

Akin charged back from 2-down on the final 10 holes to win her second Women’s State Am championship.

“It’s crazy, just crazy,” Akin said. “This is one of those moments I’ll remember forever. I was down today, but I found it in me to come back. I’m a very competitive person. I’ve never liked losing. After the eighth hole, I realized how much I wanted to win this tournament. Winning it means so much to me.”

The match was all square when the players arrived at the 18th hole. Akin had outdriven Emerson off the tee most of the day before Emerson had the longer drive on 18. However, Akin used a 7-wood on her second shot to give herself a chance at a 12-foot eagle attempt, while Emerson missed the green with her second shot and had to chip onto the green with her third.

Emerson then three-putted and settled for a six-shot bogey, but still put the pressure on Akin to make the birdie because of the pin placement. Akin rolled in the putt to secure her second title in the last three years.

NO. 10 (TIE): Central Hardin wins third straight region volleyball title. The Lady Bruins became the first area team to win three consecutive region championships when they breezed past Green County in straight sets.

Central Hardin, which finished 36-5, lost in the first round of the state tournament to North Oldham, but it didn’t diminish what the Lady Bruins were able to accomplish.

The Lady Bruins finished off their three-peat with plenty of firsts. Central Hardin swept all five of its postseason matches – district tournament wins over North Hardin and Elizabethtown and region victories over Nelson County, Marion County and Green County.

Central Hardin recorded its 47th straight victory over a region opponent – a streak which dates to 2009. The Lady Bruins have also won three straight district and region titles with three coaches – Wendy Boeglen in 2010, Jeff Crady in 2011 and Bill Rineker this season.

“This is an amazing bunch of girls. I’m telling you, I don’t know if anyone realizes the blood, sweat and tears these girls have pushed through three straight years of being under the gun, having everybody shooting for them with a giant target on their back and they came through every single time,” Rineker said. “You can’t imagine the pressure when you’ve got a long streak like that going and everybody wants to be the one to end it. They’re just amazing. I could not be any prouder of them.”

NO. 10 (TIE): Gumm named Miss Golf once again. North Hardin senior Lydia Gumm earned Kentucky’s Miss Golf for a record fifth time. This is the fifth time in the last seven years that she won the award, accomplishing the feat in 2006, ’08, ’10 and last year. She also made the All-State team for a record seventh time.

“It is special,” Gumm said. “They all are, but this one is more special because it is my last year. I think it’s a good mark for me and my career to win five times. I’m excited I’ve been able to do it that many times. It’s gone by so fast, it’s crazy. I’ve worked really hard. When I’m older and I look back, it’ll be a really good feeling to know I did it five times.”

Gumm, who signed with Florida State in November, had another dominant season, winning six invitational tournaments and was runner-up three times. She also won the Girls’ 3rd Region Tournament championship at Lindsey Golf Course, firing a 6-under-par 66 – her lowest score in a region tournament. It was her sixth region championship.

Gumm capped her career with a second-place finish at the Leachman Buick-GMC-Cadillac/KHSAA Girls’ State Championships. It was the fourth time she was the runner-up.

Other stories receiving votes: Former Central Hardin kicker John Wallace makes field goal to send Louisville to Bowl Championship Series game; North Hardin boys’ soccer team advances to state quarterfinals for first time; and new tennis courts open at Freeman Lake.

Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.