Area Sports...

January 2, 2002

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 Lady Panthers explode onto fast-pitch scene
Though there were certainly larger headlines on the national scene, the one sports story of 2001 that is likely to have the most lasting impact is that of Jackson County’s fast-pitch softball team.
From the 10-run explosion in the team’s first-ever inning at bat to an appearance in the state tournament, the success of Jackson County’s fast-pitch Lady Panthers in their inaugural season earned our nod as sports story of the year.
Despite playing without any seniors and having only one team member with varsity experience, the Lady Panthers enjoyed a level of success that older, well-established programs would be proud of.
Coached by Mark Mahoney with help from volunteer Ricky Sanders, the Lady Panthers rode that 10-run first inning to a 14-0 shellacking of Clarke Central on opening day, then proceeded to make a name for themselves as a contender for the area title.
Jackson County finished the season 14-12, with nine of the 12 losses coming at the hands of other teams that reached the state tournament.
Though the Lady Panthers endured some slow times at the plate mid-season, the bats eventually woke up enough near the end to finish second to eventual state runner-up Madison County in the area tournament, and qualify for a state berth with two sectional wins.
Perhaps the greatest feat of all was that the team could be competitive after several successful seasons from Jackson County’s slow-pitch team. But the talent pool held up for both, as both reached Columbus in 2001.
In fact, rather than enduring the in-fighting that might be expected from two similar clubs at the same school, players from both the fast- and slow-pitch teams could almost always be found at the others’ games, rooting for a Jackson County win.
Pitcher Brandi Townsend would eventually be named to the fast-pitch all-state team, and Mahoney would be named one of the state’s top coaches.

Dragons continue strong in Keen Classic
To face biggest challenge next Wednesday
Jefferson’s varsity wrestling team will travel to Dawsonville Friday and Saturday for the annual Amicalola Invitational at Dawson County High School.
What will likely be the Dragons’ toughest dual meet of the season is scheduled for next Wednesday in Lilburn, when Jefferson takes on the second-ranked team in Class AAAAA, the Panthers of Parkview. Jonesboro, another Class AAAAA team, will also be there.
Jefferson continued to look strong in last week’s Keen Classic, running away from the field with 428.5 points. Dawson County finished second at 288.5, Landmark third, Oglethorpe County fourth and Commerce fifth in a surprisingly strong showing for the young Tigers.
Jefferson defeated Adairsville 64-16, Landmark 55-15, Oglethorpe 61-12, Commerce 58-12 and Dawson County 44-27 in Friday’s dual meet portion of the tournament.
In Saturday’s individual portion, the Dragons claimed gold in seven of 14 weight classes, and placed among the top four in four others.
Jeremiah Wilson (119), Nate Wilson (125), Scott Nix (130), Blake Gooch (140), Forrest Garner (145), Hunter Garner (152) and Jeremy Smith (171) all won their divisions.
Will Roper was second at 103, Corey Mack second at 112, Daniel Love third at 160 and Hunter Glenn second at 275.
Jason Fields (135) wrestled well in the dual meet portion, but was unavailable Saturday due to injury. He is expected to be back in the lineup this week.
Six Commerce wrestlers placed on day two. They were Jessie Smith (fourth, 112), Jonathan Beasley (fourth, 125), Blake Milford (second, 135), Kevin Wilson (fourth, 160), Adam Cochran (fourth, 215) and Justin David (third, 275).

Girls Set To Take On Defending Champs On The Road Friday
The Lady Tigers have had seven games to work the kinks out. Now the “real” season starts with region play.
And the start the 8-A slate will see Commerce diving head-first into it, taking on defending state champion and cross county rival Jefferson in the first contest of the region slate.
The Lady Dragons are again among the elite of Class A basketball, sporting a number seven ranking through eight games this year.
If Commerce has a variable on its side heading into the contest, it’s preparation time.
The Lady Tigers have been busy over the Christmas holidays taking part in two tournaments, finishing as runner-ups at the Spartan Invititational while also finishing second at the WJJC Holiday Classic which they hosted.
In the tournament, Commerce found themselves on different ends of lopsided games.
The Lady Tigers had little trouble with Athens Christian the first night, downing the Lady Eagles 42-24, but fell 65-38 in the championship round the following evening.
Commerce jumped on the Lady Eagles and never looked back Friday night in their opening-round 42-24 win over Athens Christian.
The Lady Tigers were led by a trio of scorers in double figures with Mashenta Hester and Stephanie Rainwater tallying 11 and Crystal Rainwater racking up 10.
Commerce ran out to a 16-4 lead after a quarter and led 24-12 at the half. The Lady Tigers then blew the contest wide-open in the third period, outscoring Athens Christian 16-5 to take a 39-18 lead heading into the final quarter.
Others adding scores in the win were Whitney Brown who eight and Heather Beck who had two.
An athletic Oglethorpe County team simply ran away from Commerce in the second half, outscoring the Lady Tigers 32-16 to pick up a 65-38 win in the championship contest of the WJJC tournament.
The Lady Patriots set the tone early, using an up-tempo pressing brand of basketball to grab a 22-13 lead after a fast-paced first quarter of play.
Oglethorpe then continued to apply the pressure, opening the second quarter with 11-0 run to push the Lady Tigers in a 20-point hole.
However, Commerce closed the gap by scoring the last nine points of the half.
The Lady Tigers then kept things at arms length for most of the third quarter, trailing 42-30 at the 1:23 mark. But that’s when things started slipping away.
Oglethorpe went on a 6-0 run to end the third quarter and then outscored Commerce 17-8 in the final period of play.
S. Rainwater paced the Lady Tigers in the loss with 12 points while Hester threw in 10.
Others getting in scorebook were Heather Beck, who finished with nine; Ashley Evans who had five; and Crystal Rainwater, who had two
Oglethorpe got the bulk of their offense with three scorers in double figures—LaTange Wise, who had 18, Quenesia Smith, who tallied 15, and Tiffany Mitchell, who finished with 10.

Banks teams take third in tourney
Williams, R. Smith named to all-tournament team
Banks County’s performance in last weekend’s holiday tournament may have left a bitter taste in the Leopards’ mouth. But the two basketball teams have bigger things to worry about now.
Banks travels to face a usually tough Rabun County opponent Friday before getting into the brunt of a difficult subregion schedule. The Leopards and Lady Leopards will face Apalachee on the road Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Both Banks County teams finished third in the WJJC Commerce Holiday Classic last weekend.
Megan Williams was named to the girls’ all-tournament team. Williams had 20 points in the two nights. Reggie Smith took the nod for the boys’ team, with 29 points in the two games.
Though the Lady Leopards easily slid by Athens Christian in the consolation game, they weren’t so lucky in their first time out.
They fell 53-45 to Oglethorpe County in the opening round of the tournament.
Banks had a 10-5 first quarter lead but started to fall behind in the second. The Lady Leopards tried to catch up in the fourth quarter. Leading scorer Kayla Duncan scored 12 of her 15 points in the final quarter. But Banks was without key offensive scorer Ashley Freeman, who fouled out in the third quarter with eight points. Banks’ efforts came too little too late and they weren’t able to catch the Lady Patriots.
Duncan led the team with 15 points. Williams added 13.
Other scorers were: Freeman, eight; Joni Martin, Jessica Kennedy and Chastico Beasley, two; and Maggie Elrod, Dana Garrish and Jennifer Webb, one.
The Lady Leopards overwhelmed Athens Christian 71-19 to take third place in their highest scoring game all year. Banks also held the Lady Eagles scoreless in the third quarter.
The Lady Leopards had three scorers in double digits. Duncan led the effort with 21 points. Ashley Campbell had 12 points, all of which came off the long ball. Freeman added 10 points.
Other scorers included: Williams, seven; Garrish, six; Martin, five; Webb, four; Elrod, three; Ryan Varner, two; and Beasley, one.
After a close first half, the Leopards turned on the defense in the second half to take a 76-35 win over Athens Christian to claim third place in the tournament. The win was Banks’ highest scoring effort of the year.
Banks County easily jumped ahead of the Eagles 20-8 in the first quarter. But in the second quarter, Athens Christian made some gains.
The Eagles capitalized on several turnovers and Leopard mistakes to go on a 13-4 run to cut Banks’ lead to 24-21 with just over four minutes to play in the half.
But the Leopards went on a run of their own late in the half, hitting several three-pointers and jumping back out in front 39-27 by halftime.
In the second half, Banks’ defense overtook Athens Christian, holding the Eagles to just eight points in two quarters. Meanwhile, the Leopards offensively compiled 37 points to take a commanding lead and win the game.
Four Leopards hit double digits Saturday night. Corey Sims led with 15 points. Both Matt Dale and Reggie Smith posted 12 points and Will Gordon added 11.
Also scoring were: Kyle Duncan, seven; Kyle Roberts and Tra Smith, six; Cody Whitlock, Dustin Bonds and Tyler Sims, two; and Seth McCoy, one.
Banks County fell 52-49 in a close game with Athens Academy in the opening round of the tourney. The Leopards hit only nine of 24 from the foul line in the game.
R. Smith led the team with 17 points. Dale added 12 points off four three-pointers.
Others scoring were: McCoy, nine; Gordon, seven; and Bonds, four.

Young softball Raiders turn heads with second place finish in state
It’s probably safe to say now that the Madison County softball team doesn’t rebuild, it just reloads.
Just when it looked that the program’s cupboard was bare, Doug Kesler’s untested group evolved into a seasoned outfit of veterans in 2001, winning a school-record 30 games on their way to a school-best state runner-up finish.
“They made some memories that they’ll have forever...There are 69 other schools in Class AAA that would like to have been where we were,” said Kesler after the season.
Considering where Madison County was at the beginning of the year, the success of 2001 was doubly sweet.
Madison County lost eight seniors off last years’ team that posted a 26-11 record and boasted a fourth-place finish in the state.
And the two players on the team that had the most experience—senior Amanda Lewis and junior Lyndsey Barnette—started the year on the disabled list.
But the team was able to shake off their early season injury problems and ride the arms of a strong pitching staff past everyone’s expectations in 2001.
From the mound, freshman Sarah Tippins, junior Danielle Johnson and Raider ace Lyndsey Barnette—who had to pitch through pain—mowed down hitters, allowing less than one earned run per contest.
Madison County’s bats proved to be stable enough to carry them to the postseason, boasting a .306 average with seven batters hitting. 300 or better.
As the year progressed, Madison County talk of a rebuilding year disappeared after the team posted a 25-5 regular season record.
And talk of championships sprang up after the team picked up two wins at the state sectionals, sending them to the state title tournament in Columbus.
That talk almost turned to reality as Madison County continued to clear foes standing in their way on the championship path.
Madison County outlasted Dublin in a 10-inning thriller, got by LaGrange 2-1 and topped Loganville 3-2, leaving them a victory shy of the AAA state crown.
But that was the one win that they couldn’t come up with in their otherwise win-filled season.
Loganville rallied for back-to-back wins to snatch the title from Madison County and leave the Lady Raiders to settle for second place.
But Kesler pointed out that his team played valiantly, even in defeat.
“We were disappointed because we wanted to win state,” Kesler told The Journal back in October. “We knew going down there we didn’t have as much talent as some other teams, but we played as a team and played together very well.”
While Kesler praised the Raiders’ effort as a group, several on the team were received recognition for their individual performances.
Barnette, who didn’t let her injuries stop her from compiling a 0.53 ERA, was named the AAA “pitcher of the year.”
Also grabbing All-State honors were Sarah Owen, Lewis, Candace Shubert and Brooke Kesler.

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