Shelby County sports year in review

The Harlem Wizards entertained the crowd at HMS on Oct. 1. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

The Harlem Wizards entertained the crowd at HMS on Oct. 1. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

FROM STAFF REPORTS

The second of two parts reviewing the year Shelby County sports from 2013.

JULY

Locals reach CWS with Mississippi State

Former Pelham Panthers and current Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball star Trevor Fitts got a chance to star on the big stage, as he started Game 1 of the NCAA Division I College World Series Finals in Omaha, Neb. June 25.

Fitts took to the mound against the UCLA Bruins, going an inning and a third with three strikeouts and one earned run before being relieved by fellow Alabamian Chad Girodo.

Former Briarwood Christian and current Mississippi State University pitcher Ben Bracewell made an appearance in Game 2 of the NCAA Division I College World Series Finals.

Payne, Stroup named All-County POYs for soccer

Oak Mountain standouts Toni Payne and Chandler Stroupe were named the Shelby County Reporter Players of the Year for girls and boys soccer, respectively. Payne helped lead the Eagles to the 2012 AHSAA Class 6A State Championship as well as the runner up spot in 2013 and is a member of the U.S. National U-17 squad. She accepted an athletic scholarship from Duke University. Stroupe, like Payne, helped lead his team to a runner-up finish in the 2013 AHSAA Class 6A state title game, and headed to UAB in the fall on a partial soccer scholarship, with the chance to earn a full ride after a year.

Hill named to as Vincent head football coach

The Shelby County Board of Education approved new Vincent High School head football coach Jason Hill at their July 2 meeting in Columbiana. Hill replaces Zeb Ellison, who took a coordinator job at Chelsea in June.

Hill comes to Vincent after spending last season as the head coach of Phil Campbell High. Hill is no stranger to the area, as he spent five years as an assistant at Shelby County High under Geoff Walters, a year at Caelra and six years at Chelsea before taking the PCHS job.

“I always thought Vincent would be a cool place to coach,” he said. “ The community kind of revolves around the school.”

Never Give Up Race held in Columbiana

The 2013 edition saw 175 registered runners take the starting line to raise money for five children in need, including Chelsea’s Tripp Nichols, a 1-year-old who suffers from seizures as well as blindness, and Calera’s Cayden Atchison, a 3-year-old with cerebral palsy.

The race took place in Columbiana, and raised more than $4,000 total.

Locals attend camp featuring NFL stars

Several of Shelby County’s finest young athletes came together July 20 to participate at the Joe Webb Football Camp at Spain Park High School.

The camp, which was put on by Godspeed Ministries and RPM Elite Sports Academy of Hoover, brought eight current NFL players, and more than 20 former or current college football players to work with the more than 40 campers that attended.

Players were broken down into groups based on offensive specific skills and defensive specific skills and were warmed up by RPM staff. They were also put through a skills assessment, or combine, by the RPM staff as well.

 

AUGUST

UM to add intercollegiate softball

The University of Montevallo has announced that it will add an intercollegiate softball team to its athletics offerings for the first time in the school’s history. A vote Aug. 2 by the University of Montevallo Board of Trustees to approve UM’s share of facility funding cleared the way for softball to become the eighth women’s sport and the 13th intercollegiate athletic team at the University.

The team will practice and compete at the softball fields in the city of Montevallo’s Orr Park, which will be renovated to meet NCAA standards.

Billings named to preseason All-SEC volleyball squad

Former Pelham Panther and current Kentucky Wildcat volleyball standout Whitney Billings was named to the preseason All-Southeastern Conference team Aug. 9.

Billings, a Helena native, returns to the Wildcats for her senior year following an impressive junior season where she logged 365 kills — leading the team — and was named an All-American. In addition, she notched 17 double-doubles.

Spain Park golfer captures AJGA tourney

Spain Park golfer Connor Smith knows a thing or two about going back-to-back in golf tournaments. When he captured the E-Z-Go Vaughn Taylor Championship presented by TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, it marked the second win at an American Junior Golf Association event this year.

It was also his second straight win in the event, capturing last year’s tournament as well. The 2013 Vaughn Taylor Championship, held at the Jones Creek Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., featured 84 golfers from 12 states and three countries. In the Boys Division alone there were 63 golfers.

Coosa Valley throttles Cornerstone in opener

It took just 52 seconds after kickoff for the Coosa Valley Rebels to set the tone for their rivalry matchup with the Cornerstone Chargers. A touchdown off a 58-yard run by Niko Teofilo on the second play of the game established command for the Rebels, as they took defeated their cross-county rival 50-14 Aug. 23 in Columbiana.

Coosa Valley coach Arlton Hudson said he felt the strength on the offensive line was key in the victory.

We’re a lot stronger than we were last year,” he said. “I think that showed tonight. We controlled the line of scrimmage. That was the difference in the game.”

New head coaches get first win

The Chris Elmore era of Chelsea high football got started with a bang Aug. 29 as the Hornets dominated the John Carroll Cavaliers, 62-14.

“I’m proud of these kids and these coaches,” Elmore said. “They’ve worked so hard since I’ve gotten here. It’s a first step, and we know we still have a long way to go.”

Likewise, Jason Hill’s first game as Vincent’s head coach was a win, as the Yellow Jackets took down West Blocton, 26-20, at home on Aug. 30. “I’m really proud of the way our guys fought,” Hill said. “I’m really glad I’m here.”

Gilham led the team passing with 178 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Kelow had 61 rushing yards and a touchdown. Walker had three receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.

 

SEPTEMBER

Warriors knock off Panthers in Battle of U.S. 31

The Thompson Warriors used a strong defensive showing and a breakout performance by running back Dee Tolbert to take down the Pelham Panthers 31-16 for the first time since 2007.

“It’s really priceless. We are just going to ride this thing and see where it takes us,” Thompson head coach Mike Montgomery said after the win. “The community has always been there.”

Thompson finished the night with 355 total yards of offense, compared to Pelham’s 252. Tolbert was responsible for 202 of Thompson’s yards.

Calera ranked No. 1 in poll

The Calera Eagles appeared at the top spot in the Alabama Sportswriters Association’s poll for AHSAA Class 4A on Sep. 3.

While honored, McKeller said he had a unique way of looking at the ranking.

“It’s kind of like waking up Christmas morning and finding a can of pork and beans in your stocking,” he said, laughing.

The Eagles are coming off an opening week victory that saw them defeat Holt 69-0.

Although nice that people recognized where the program is headed, the ranking could become disruptive if players focus on it too much, McKeller said.

Before the 2013 poll, the last time Calera was ranked No. 1 was on Sept. 8, 1982, when the Eagles held the number one spot for just a week, and finished the season at 8-3 that season.

Kingwood JV volleyball extends streak

The Kingwood Christian Lions’ junior varsity volleyball squad continued its impressive streak, moviing to 15-0 in match play on the season after capturing the Kingwood Rug Rat Junior Tournament Sept. 14.

The Lions faced stiff competition in the single-elimination tournament, taking down Brooklane, Coosa Valley, Cornerstone, Tuscaloosa Christian, respectively, before defeating Edgewood in the finals.

The Lions never lost a set throughout the tournament, winning 12 sets. The closest the Lions came to losing came against Tuscaloosa Christian, as they went down 10-0 in the second set before coming back to win, 25-16.

Oak Mountain falls in OT thriller to PHS

The Pelham Panthers took their first road win of the season on Sept. 20, taking down Oak Mountain 42-41 in an overtime thriller. In overtime, Oak Mountain went for the win by attempting a two-point conversion, but a Shader pass intended for his brother, Harold Shader, fell incomplete in the end zone, giving the Panthers the victory.

The Eagles outgained the Panthers 400 yards to 357 yards in the clash of run-heavy teams. Pelham’s Moregan Sharp accounted for 117 of the Panthers’ rushing yards and recorded two touchdowns.

Defensive leaders for the Panthers were Christian Davis with 10 tackles and D.J Irvin with seven tackles.

Harlem Wizards visit Helena Middle School

The Sept. 27 matchup between the Harlem Wizards and the Helena Band-its saw the home team fall, 81-75, but it’s safe to say not a soul went home unhappy.

The game was a scheduled match between the barnstorming Wizards and the Band-its, put on by the Helena High School Band Boosters to help raise funds for the brand new school’s marching band.

The Wizards featured former collegiate players and frontman Dwayne “Swoop” Simpson, while the Band-its featured local all-stars like Pelham High band director Jeff Burnside, local TV personalities Mike Dubberly and Brad Radice and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

 

OCTOBER

Calera’s Clark commits to UA

After months of speculation in chatrooms, message boards and around office water coolers, it’s official: Ronnie Clark intends to play college ball at Alabama.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback announced his commitment at a press conference at Calera High Oct. 4.

“Deep down, I knew that’s where I need to be,” he said.

While Clark is currently the starting quarterback at Calera, Alabama is recruiting him to play safety. Regardless of position, McKeller said, UA was getting a great person on top of a great athlete.

“He’s a tremendous individual,” he said. “A lot of times, elite players get by with things. He doesn’t do that. His teammates feel ‘He’s one of us.'”

 

Kingwood JV volleyball wins state title

The streak of perfection is complete.

The Kingwood Christian JV volleyball squad captured the AISA JV State Championship Oct. 12, at home, remaining undefeated through the entire season and the four matches played in the tournament.

After compiling a perfect 20-0 record through the regular season, the Lions — made up of seven players on the entire roster — took down Autauga Academy, Eastwood and Lee-Scott Academy before a rematch with Lee-Scott in the finals.

 

Freddie the Falcon debuts at Midnight Madness

On Oct. 17, the University of Montevallo athletic department held Midnight Madness, a preview for the 2013-2014 men’s and women’s basketball teams. It also featured the debut of the newest Freddie the Falcon mascot costume.

Following a cheer routine, the crowd’s attention was called to the far corner of the arena. The player’s entrance from the locker room was enveloped in smoke from a machine, as Freddie came running out to cheers.

In addition to the debut, both the men’s and women’s teams each were divided in two and played a scrimmage.

Cornerstone falls in heartbreaker to Bessemer in state finals

A mere few inches separated Cornerstone Christian from the AISA Class A volleyball state championship.

Up 14-11 in the fifth set of the championship match against Bessemer Academy, a shot returned from the Chargers landed just outside the court to give Bessemer new life, and ultimately led to a 5-0 run for the Rebels. When all was said and done, the Rebels took down Cornerstone, 16-14, and took the match, 3-2.

Evangel takes ACSC volleyball title

The Evangel Christian Lightning took home the 2013 ACSC volleyball state championship with a win over Hope Christian in the finals, held Oct. 26 in Montgomery.

The Lightning took down the Eagles in two sets, capturing their fifth-straight ACSC title.

Evangel head coach Caprice Lawrence said the win said a great deal about the program and its players.

“I think it’s a (reflection) of the program we have and the girls we have,” she said. “It’s not a one shot deal. The reason we play the best we can is because we put a lot of emphasis on respect for each other. It’s not just about volleyball.”

 

NOVEMBER

Evangel takes down rival Hope, wins ACSC football title

From the outset, the Nov. 1 showdown between county rivals Hope Christian and Evangel Christian had all the makings of a heavyweight prize fight. Two powerhouses, at the top of their games, facing off to decide not just a rivalry matchup, but the ACSC 8-man football state championship.

Those in attendance were not disappointed, as the two squads slugged it out the entire length of the game, with Evangel edging Hope, 29-20. Evangel’s Nate Webster was named the game’s MVP, as he notched two rushing touchdowns and a receiving score, posted eight tackles, had a key fumble recovering and a pass defended.

Chelsea knocks off Shelby County in rivalry game

With both Shelby County and Chelsea out of the playoff race, the Nov. 1 rivalry game was one final chance for both teams to finish the season on a high note.  Chelsea exploded out of the gate, scoring the first 39 points of the game on its way to a 64-28 victory.

Chelsea closed the season with a 4-6 record while Shelby County finished at 1-9.

UM travels to face Kentucky in exhibition

University of Montevallo junior Troran Brown finished just one point shy of his career high as he led the Falcons with 30 points in a 95-72 loss on the road at top-ranked Kentucky in front of the largest crowd in school history at historic Rupp Arena in an exhibition game Nov. 4.

Brown finished 12-of-34 from the floor and 5-of-7 from the charity stripe in the exhibition game, which was televised regionally by Fox Sports South.

Calera ends title run with loss at Dadeville

Despite a 200-yard performance rushing by Ronnie Clark, the Calera Eagles’ season ended with a playoff loss at Dadeville. Dadeville held a 21-17 lead at the break, but Calera (10-2) got the ball first in the second half and proceeded to cap off a 8-play, 70-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Ronnie Clark, as the extra point gave the Eagles a 24-21 lead with 9:31 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers responded on the third play of the ensuing possession Dadeville senior quarterback C.J. Tolbert eluded Eagle defenders for a 65-yard touchdown run.
Another touchdown by Dadeville sealed the win for the Tigers.

Clark led Calera with 222 yards rushing on 30 carries, while ShaKeith Tyes had 104 yards on 22 carries for the Eagles.

Briarwood falls short at Jackson

The Briarwood Christian Lions’ hopes for another AHSAA Class 5A ended like so many of their drives against the Jackson Aggies on Nov. 15; in the mud of a rain-soaked Legion Field at Simpkins Stadium. The Lions fell to the Aggies, 24-7.

BCS head coach Fred Yancey went on to say that while his squad was unhappy with the loss, they understood how high the stakes were in the playoffs.

“When it’s all said and done, only one team’s going to come out of this thirty team tournament,” he said. “It’s a sad night for all of us at one time or another. We’re sick we lost tonight, but thankful we got to play a class team like Jackson.”

 

DECEMBER

Spain Park’s Dill steps down

After seven seasons at the helm of the Spain Park volleyball program, head coach Paula Dill has stepped down from her post, per a press released issued by the school Dec. 5.

Dill said in an interview that she felt a change was needed for the program.

“I just told Patrick (McDonald, the Spain Park athletic director) my passion has not altered,” he said. “I know God placed on my heart (to step down). My main concern is that the program needs a new face.”

Kellogg wrote in the release that the program understood and supported Dill’s decision, which will include remaining in a teacher role at Spain Park.

Bivins named All-County POY

Thompson’s Kelsea Bivins’ combination of being able to take over a game physically while maintaining calmness on the court that led to her selection as the 2013 Shelby County Reporter Volleyball Player of the Year.

Her leadership and offseason work helped give the young Thompson squad the boost it needed to reach the AHSAA Class 6A state championships. During the course of the season, Bivins posted 606 kills, 145 blocks and 123 digs.

Pelham grabs county boys’ basketball tourney

The Oak Mountain varsity boys’ defense made the road rocky for Pelham, though it was the Panthers’ own defense that stepped up to the plate.

Pelham held the Eagles to a mere four points in the fourth quarter and went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line to grab the championship of the Shelby County Boys Basketball Tournament with a 46-42 win over the Eagles Dec. 21.

Down 42-36, the Panthers scored the game’s final 10 points to get the victory and improve to 12-3 on the season. Zachary Allison paced Pelham with 15 points while Jacob Grundhoefer’s 12 points led Oak Mountain.

THS girls capture County basketball tournament

The Thompson Warriors girls’ basketball squad captured the 2013 Shelby County Basketball Tournament on Dec. 21. The Warriors took down Oak Mountain, 51-43.