From the disruptions to many teams’ seasons caused by the coronavirus pandemic, to numerous team and individual achievements, it was another eventful sports year in Barrow County.

Here are the top local sports stories of 2020, in rough chronological order.

FOUR WRESTLERS WIN AREA TITLES

Three Winder-Barrow wrestlers and one from Apalachee captured first place in their respective weight classes Feb. 1 in the GHSA Area 8-AAAAAA tournament.

Winder-Barrow seniors Rosseau O Asu Abang (195 pounds) and Nate Allen (182) repeated as area champions in their respective weight classes and had little trouble doing so, going 2-0 on the day at Lanier High School. Asu Abang pinned Dacula’s Gianni Araujo and Habersham Central’s Tanner Wade, while Allen pinned Habersham Central’s Ashton Parks and Dacula’s Komlan Akoussan.

Mason Bell went 3-0 on the day to win the title at 106 pounds for Winder-Barrow. After pinning Apalachee’s Owen Mabry in the quarterfinals, he won a 7-5 decision over Dacula’s Simaj Best and pinned Lanier’s Chris Wheeler in the finals.

Meanwhile, Apalachee was led by Isaiah Skinner, who won the area title at 126 pounds. Skinner defeated Lanier’s Weston Ward 6-1 and then beat Gainesville’s Brian Le 8-2. Five Bulldoggs and three Wildcats wound up qualifying for the boys’ state tournament, while Sam Hauff qualified for the Apalachee girls. Hauff went 4-2 and finished fifth in her weight class at the state tournament, becoming the first female wrestler in program history to earn a state medal. Apalachee’s Hunter Noblett also went 4-2 at state to finish fifth at 160 pounds.

Winder-Barrow was led at state by Chas Ferm, who finished sixth.

WBHS BOYS HOOPS MAKES RETURN TO STATE

After a two-season hiatus, the Winder-Barrow boys’ basketball team returned to the state playoffs, finishing 17-12 in its first year under Travis McDaniel.

The Bulldoggs clinched a playoff berth with come-from-behind, 77-68 overtime win against Habersham Central on Feb. 6 in the first round of the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament at Gainesville High School.

Senior guard Tyreek Perkins scored 22 points after halftime to fuel the comeback by the Bulldoggs, who trailed by 15 points with 11 minutes left in regulation.

The Bulldoggs lost to Gainesville in the tournament semifinals, dropped the third-place game to Lanier and then fell at fourth-ranked South Cobb in the first round of the state tournament.

BCA BOYS REACH ELITE EIGHT

A year after reaching the GISA Class AAA quarterfinals, the Bethlehem Christian Academy boys’ basketball team again experienced some postseason success and reached the Elite Eight before losing for a second straight year to eventual state champion Heritage School 69-49 in the quarterfinals at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon on Feb. 22.

After senior guard Ray Peevy’s 3-pointer put BCA (12-16) ahead 5-2 with 5:58 left in the first quarter, the Hawks got hot and went on a 13-0 to grab control.

The Knights never got any closer than nine points the rest of the way, and Heritage stretched its advantage to as many as 29 points midway through the final period.

Seven seniors played their final game for the Knights, including Peevy, a four-year starter who scored all 11 of his points in the first half, 9 of them in the opening quarter. Matthew Binns

had a strong second-half performance, scoring 14 points to finish with a team-high 16. Jacob Adams and Laine Jean Francois tallied 5 points apiece, while Eliel Saint Louis and Andrew Richey each finished with 4.

CORONAVIRUS BRINGS END TO SPRING SPORTS SEASON

The coronavirus pandemic has affected virtually every high school sports team in the county in some form or fashion this year, but nothing has been as crushing as the cancellation of all games for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year halfway through halfway through the spring sports season. The cancellation deprived dozens of seniors a full final year in uniform and the opportunity to compete in the postseason one final time.

On March 13, in what turned out to be the final local contest of the spring sports contest, the Apalachee boys’ soccer team edged out rival Winder-Barrow 2-1 at home on the strength of a 70th-minute goal by Jorge Bazan, moving ahead of the Bulldoggs into first place in the Region 8-AAAAAA standings.

A pair of Apalachee seniors teamed up for the winning goal as Nestor Perla broke away down the right side and crossed the ball over to Bazan, who knocked it past Bulldogg goalkeeper Caylan Barron with 10:31 remaining for the eventual match-winner.

After surviving a strong and aggressive counter-attack by the Wildcats struck first on a goal by freshman Jared Romero with 1:04 left before the halftime buzzer.

The Bulldoggs tied the match with 25:40 remaining when a long free kick from about 50 yards out by Osvaldo Juarez tipped off the hands of Apalachee senior keeper Ronal Galindo and into the net. But Galindo atoned for the mistake, coming up with several big stops down the stretch, including a spectacular outstretched save off a line-drive kick with just over two minutes left to preserve the victory.

The cancellation of the remainder of the season by the GHSA, which came a few weeks later in April when Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the state’s public schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, deprived both teams of playoff runs. The senior-heavy Apalachee girls were also denied another playoff appearance, as were the Winder-Barrow and Apalachee baseball teams. Several track and field athletes were also expected to compete for state medals.

The virus' impact has continued to be felt throughout the fall and winter sports seasons with teams and individual athletes having to quarantine. The Barrow County School System also canceled the fall sports season at the middle school level.

FOOTBALL COACH, AD CHANGE AT BCA

Right as the pandemic was hitting the state and the area, Bethlehem Christian Academy was dealing with another change as athletic director and head football coach Gus Felder resigned in March after just under a year with the school to take an assistant strength and conditioning coaching position with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

Felder, a former All-American offensive lineman at Penn State, spent a year with the Cleveland Browns before beginning his coaching career, which has included several high school and collegiate stops, including stints as director of strength and conditioning under Mark Richt at Miami from 2016-2018 and assistant strength coach under Richt at Georgia from 2014-2015. He was hired by BCA in April 2019 as the school’s head football coach and AD following the dismissal of Lance Fendley from those duties two months prior.

The rebuilding Knights struggled on the gridiron in Felder’s only season at the helm, going 1-10.

After a three-month search, in June the school hired veteran coach Bruce Lane to take over the football program and Tim Early to become the new AD.

WINDER-BARROW’S HOUSE SELECTED TO NATIONAL SHOWCASE

Winder-Barrow senior infielder/pitcher Brady House, a Tennessee signee and highly-ranked national class of 2021 prospect who has been projected as a first-round MLB Draft selection, was selected to compete in the 18th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic, which was held Sept. 4 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City.

House got off to a torrid start during his junior campaign in 2020 before it was halted halfway through due to the coronavirus pandemic. He hit .653 in 15 games with a .734 on-base percentage, eye-popping 1.816 OPS, four homers, five doubles, three triples, 20 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 10 attempts out of the leadoff spot in the batting order.

House, who served primarily as the team’s closer last spring, was also dominant on the mound, finishing with a 0.88 ERA and 16 strikeouts in just eight innings of work before the remainder of the season was canceled.

BULLDOGGS PREVAIL IN ANNUAL BATTLE OF BARROW

After a two-week delay to the start of the high school football season and the cancellation of preseason scrimmages, rivals Winder-Barrow and Apalachee returned to the gridiron Sept. 4 for the 17th annual “Battle of Barrow,” and the Bulldoggs claimed a 34-27 victory at R. Harold Harrison Stadium for their second straight win in the rivalry.

Senior running back J.C. Green scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 61-yard run with 5:05 remaining, and the Bulldoggs held off a last-ditch effort to improve to 10-7 in the all-time series. Green ran for 184 yards on just 17 carries to lead the Bulldoggs.

WINDER-BARROW’S DUDLEY GETS 200TH CAREER WIN

Omarious Smith intercepted an Antonio Meeks pass with 18 seconds left, and Winder-Barrow held off Shiloh 35-28 for a key Region 8-AAAAAA win on Oct. 23 and gave Ed Dudley his 200th career victory as a head coach.

Dudley, in his third season at Winder-Barrow and 27th overall, became the 62nd coach in Georgia high school football history to reach 200 wins.

WBHS BOYS’ CROSS COUNTRY TEAM WINS REGION TITLE

The Winder-Barrow boys’ cross country team got four top-10 finishes to win the Region 8-AAAAAA championship meet on their home course between Russell Middle and Winder elementary schools on Oct. 24.

Junior Brian Gaddy paced the Bulldoggs with a fifth-place finish (16:52.30), crossing the line just ahead of senior teammate Ryan Kehoe (16:52.90). Junior Christopher Parada-Rubio came in seventh place (16:56.90), and sophomore Daniel Laird finished 10th (17:35.80). Sophomore Kyle Kehoe came in 16th (18:10.20) to help give the Bulldoggs a team score of 37, well ahead of second-place Dacula (68). All five of those runners, along with junior Noah Boyd and senior Jacques De la Reza represented Winder-Barrow and finished 11th as a team in the Class 6A state meet at Carrollton High School on Nov. 6.

Also, Winder-Barrow sophomore Matilee Rogers finished second in the region meet (20:43.80) and registered a top-20 finish at the state meet.

AHS VOLLEYBALL REACHES ELITE EIGHT

Apalachee’s volleyball team reached its second Elite Eight under Joey Alfonso before dropping a 3-0 decision to Whitewater at home in the state quarterfinals on Oct. 27.

Apalachee had to reload after losing some key seniors off the 2019 team, but still had seven seniors play their final match in a Wildcat uniform. Senior outside hitter Emily Crocker finished the season with 597 kills, cementing her place as one of the top players in program history.

AHS SOFTBALL MAKES FINAL FOUR

Strong pitching from senior all-stater and Georgia State signee Emily Hodnett and solid hitting up and down the lineup led the Apalachee softball team to a historic season that saw the Wildcats finish 28-8 and reach the Class 5A Final Four before losing a pair of one-run games to Whitewater and Starr’s Mill in Columbus on Oct. 30.

The Wildcats’ heart-stopping playoff run included a walk-off three-run homer by sophomore catcher Sam Woody that capped a second-round sweep of Calhoun. Apalachee reached the Final Four by sweeping Northgate in the quarterfinals with a pair of 1-0 victories. Sophomore shortstop Tiyara Wingfield supplied both runs in that series with a sixth-inning homer in Game 1 and an RBI single in the fourth inning of Game 2.

The Wildcats reached the Final Four with a team that still consisted mostly of underclassmen and is set to return six starters in 2021.

WINDER-BARROW’S MERRIFIELD SIGNS WITH FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Winder-Barrow senior defensive end Jacob Merrifield put together another strong season in 2020 and was named the Region 8-AAAAAA Defensive Player of the Year.

The 6-foot-3, 275-pound, 3-star recruit committed to Florida Atlantic over the summer and signed with the Owls on Dec. 19 on the first day of the NCAA’s early-signing period. Merrifield graduated early from Winder-Barrow and will enroll early at Florida Atlantic in January.

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