From championships to leadership changes, 2019 was an eventful year for high school sports in Barrow County. Here is a look back at the top 10 local sports stories of the year.
BCA SOFTBALL WINS STATE TITLE
On April 27, the Bethlehem Christian Academy softball team capped a perfect 17-0 season, sweeping Lyndon Academy in two games at home in the GICAA state championship series.
The Knights beat the Terriers 13-5 in five innings in Game 1 and then crushed them 19-2 in the finale to claim the school’s first athletic team state title since the baseball program won back-to-back GISA Class A crowns in 2012 and 2013.
Taking little time off, BCA transitioned back into GISA competition for the fall and won a region title before falling to Tiftarea in two games in the Class AAA quarterfinals.
WBHS POLE VAULTERS FINISH 1-2 AT STATE
Winder-Barrow girls’ pole vaulters Brianna Bailey and Ticia King finished at the top of the pack in the GHSA Class AAAAAA state meet at Carrollton High School on May 9.
Bailey, a junior, won the state title with a personal-best vault of 12 feet, while King, a senior, finished tied for second with Johns Creek’s Anna Conroy with a jump of 10 feet, 6 inches.
Bailey nearly was eliminated after missing on her first two attempts at 9 feet, 6 inches. But she was successful on her third and final attempt and quickly made her jumps of 10 feet and 10 feet, 6 inches.
She clinched the title after making her second attempt at 11 feet and set a new personal record when she cleared 11 feet, 6 inches on her second try. Bailey took a short break and then cleared 12 feet on her first attempt before calling it a day as heavy rain began to roll in.
BCA BOYS’ BASKETBALL MAKES FINAL FOUR
In the GISA Class AAA Elite Eight at Stratford Academy in Macon on Feb. 16, BCA junior Ray Peevy drilled a 3-pointer with 18.3 seconds left in overtime to lift the Knights to a 46-45 victory over Brookwood School and send them to their first Final Four in program history.
The Knights, under second-year head coach Robert Strong, won their 23rd game of the season after finishing just 8-16 in Strong’s first year. BCA went on to finish 23-7, losing in the semifinals to eventual state champion The Heritage School at Georgia Southwestern State University on Feb. 22.
Strong stepped down later in the school year after accepting a coaching position at East Jackson.
AHS BOYS’ BASKETBALL RUNS THROUGH REGION TOURNAMENT
After winning just two region games in the regular season, fifth-seeded Apalachee capped an improbable three-day run through the GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA tournament at Winder-Barrow High School, beating second-seeded and ninth-ranked Gainesville 51-47 in the championship game on Feb. 9 to win the program’s first-ever region title.
Apalachee, under first-year head coach Ty Rowland, had rallied past Winder- Barrow in overtime in the first round on Feb. 7 and then held off Lanier in the semifinals Feb. 8.
The Wildcats wound up falling to Douglas County at home in the first round of the state playoffs.
After wrestling with the decision following the end of his team’s season, Winder-Barrow High School head boys’ basketball coach Ron Garren officially announced his retirement Feb. 21, bringing to a close a 40-year career in coaching.
Garren spent 32 seasons as a head coach at four different schools, amassing a record of 401-397. He led his teams to three region titles, 13 state playoff appearances, five Sweet Sixteens, three Elite Eights and one Final Four. In 19 seasons at Winder-Barrow, spread across two separate stints, Garren was 243-217.
The Bulldoggs finished the winter 8-18 and were eliminated from state playoff contention in the region tournament by Apalachee for a second consecutive year. The highlight of the year came on Jan. 22, when the Bulldoggs beat Apalachee at home to give Garren his 400th win.
Discovery assistant Travis McDaniel was hired to replace Garren.
AD CHANGES AT BCA, WBHS
In February, Bethlehem Christian Academy fired its head varsity football coach and athletic director Lance Fendley, as school officials announced they wanted to take the programs in a different direction.
In April, Gus Felder, a long-time college assistant coach and a former offensive lineman at Penn State, was hired as the school’s new athletic director and head football coach. Felder had been director of strength and conditioning at Miami under Mark Richt for the previous three seasons prior to Richt’s retirement. He was also Richt’s assistant strength and conditioning director at Georgia from 2014-2015.
Felder also brought in several assistants with college coaching experience. The rebuilding Knights struggled in Felder’s first season, going 1-10, but the coach said he was encouraged by the team’s progress throughout the season. The highlight of the year was a 65-0 rout of Augusta Prep on Oct. 4.
Meanwhile, Winder-Barrow also underwent its own change at athletic director. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, Rob McFerrin announced he was stepping down after six years to take an assistant principal position at Jefferson.
In June, Hillgrove High School assistant principal Jared Noblet was hired to the position. He had previously been an athletic director for three years at North Cobb and also had football coaching experience.
AHS SOFTBALL ADVANCES TO COLUMBUS
The Apalachee softball team defeated Effingham County 7-2 in the third game of a best-of-three series on Oct. 17 to advance to the double-elimination Elite Eight tournament in Columbus for the second time in program history and the first time since 2007.
After Apalachee took Game 1 of the series 4-1 on Oct. 16, the Rebels bounced back to win 5-2 in game 2 to force a third game Oct. 17. But Game 3 belonged to the Wildcats and junior pitcher Emily Hodnett, who went the distance, allowing just one earned run on three hits while striking out nine batters without any walks.
Apalachee eventually dropped a pair of one-run contests in the Elite Eight, finishing the year at 19-12-1 and as Region 8-AAAAAA runners-up under first-year head coach Allan Bailey.
Bailey, also the school’s head baseball coach had been tapped in the spring to take over the softball program after his predecessor, Jessica Sinclair, took the head coaching job at Parkview.
WBHS BASEBALL WINS ANOTHER REGION CROWN, MAKES ELITE EIGHT
The Winder-Barrow baseball team went 15-0 in GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA play to win its third straight region championship.
The Bulldoggs ran their region record over three seasons to 41-4 and went 28-5 overall on the year before losing to Effingham County in two straight games in the Elite Eight. Winder-Barrow advanced to the quarterfinals after sweeping River Ridge in the second round, avenging a two-game sweep at the hands of the Knights the previous year.
AHS VOLLEYBALL WINS SECOND STRAIGHT AREA TITLE
Hosting the GHSA Area 8-AAAAAA tournament on Saturday, Oct. 12, top-seeded Apalachee came back through the losers’ bracket and rallied past Gainesville in four sets in the championship match to win its second consecutive area title after losing to the Red Elephants earlier in the day.
It was the fifth area title for the program, all under the leadership of head coach Joey Alfonso.
The Wildcats finished the year at 44-7 after losing a tough first-round match to River Ridge in five sets. It was the third straight year Apalachee had a 2-0 lead in a playoff match, only to lose the final three sets.
WBHS RECLAIMS BATTLE OF BARROW TROPHY
Winder-Barrow senior Harlin Brown’s three field goals made the difference as the Bulldoggs held off rival Apalachee 24-19 in the 16th Battle of Barrow at W. Clair Harris Stadium on Oct. 4.
The Bulldoggs avenged a 7-6 loss to the Wildcats the previous year and extended their lead in the all-time series to 9-7. They also used the win to help catapult them to a return to the state playoffs after missing the postseason in 2018.
The Bulldoggs grabbed control of a back-and-forth contest in the second half but had to sweat it out at the end. AJ Forbing’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Goss brought Apalachee to within 24-19 following Adrian Lopez’s extra point with 1:54 remaining in the game, and the Wildcats got even more life when Tyson Wilson recovered Brody Ham’s perfectly-executed onside kick at the Winder-Barrow 47.
But the Bulldogg defense stiffened. After they stopped Apalachee running back Shaan Cook for a two-yard loss, James Albury sacked Forbing, and a pair of incomplete passes turned the ball back over to the Bulldoggs, who were able to take one knee to run out the clock.