2013 was the year of the Panther

2013 was the year of the Panther

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2013 was the year of the Panther

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There were many accomplishments and feat for area high school sports teams during the 2013 calendar year. Here’s The Advocate’s rundown of the top 10 stories, voted on by sports staffers:

1. Valley softball wins school’s first team state title

After reaching a Division II regional semifinal in 2012 with five freshmen, the Panthers kicked down the door and won the school’s first team state championship in starting seven sophomores.

Valley didn’t win the Mid-State League-Ohio Division. That honor went to Lakewood. But the Panthers caught fire in the tournament.

There were the usual close calls. the Panthers squeaked past DeSales 4-3 in a district final and held off Dover 4-2 in a regional semifinal, its first regional win in 25 years. Then in a regional final, the Panthers rallied past Jackson 3-2 for their first state berth since 1988.

Upon reaching that plateau, they didn’t disappoint. Sophomore pitcher Shelby McCombs helped her own cause with a two-run homer in a 4-1 state semifinal win against Walsh Jesuit. Then in the title game, McCombs’ clutch pitching, a home run by Sierra McConnell and hits from seven players helped produce a 6-5 win against Springfield Kenton Ridge at Akron’s Firestone Stadium.

With almost all of its starters back for the next two years, Valley should continue to make a run at winning it all.

2. NC baseball wins first state title since 2006

Since 2007’s state football title, the Green Wave had lost in five state title games in various sports.

The baseball team made sure that streak didn’t continue with its 2-1 Division IV championship win against New Middletown Springfield at Huntington Park.

Leading into the state tournament, NC run-ruled six consecutive opponents by a score of 99-6. Then it almost did the same to Convoy Crestview in a 9-1 state semifinal victory. Coach John Cannizzaro rolled the dice and gave Drew Buchanan his first start of the season, allowing the Green Wave to save ace Mitch Cox for the title game.

Cox was up to the task, continually pitching out of trouble as NC won its 28th state championship in all sports combined and seventh baseball title, tying it for second all-time with Cincinnati Moeller. Cannizzaro now has 402 career wins along with five of the seven state championships.

3. Newark’s Anthony Johnson wins D-I state 800 title

Johnson made it 3-for-3 in a most unusual way: the Newark senior reached the podium for the third time in his third different event.

After placing in the 300 hurdles and 400, Johnson took aim at the 800 and shattered records. He continually re-set the school record and left meet records strewn across the area.

Johnson ran away from the pack in winning the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division and Division I district titles, but he was caught from behind in the regional. It did not take him long to get redemption.

At the state, Johnson kept the same harrowing strategy. He took off during the first lap and dared others to chase. He edged out the competition in a time of 1:51.58 to take the title.

In the same meet, Granville’s boys placed in six events, led by third-place finishes from Casey Lenfest in the 200 and the 1,600 relay.

4. Granville’s girls sports have banner year

It might have been the greatest year in Blue Ace girls sports history.

Starting in March in swimming was the 200 medley relay of Keely Lovern, Kassandra Mestemaker, Sydney King and Abby Stone, winning the Division II state title in a record 1:44.2. King also was third in the 200 freestyle and 500 free, and Stone took fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 200 individual medley.

A couple of months later, the Granville softball team was launching a 17-game winning streak that propelled it to its first state tournament. Abby Barker pitched four consecutive shutouts before the Blue Aces finally were derailed 1-0 in a state semifinal, preventing a historic showdown with Licking Valley for the state title.

In the fall, the girls soccer team — led by sophomore forward Nikki Cox and her unflappable classmate, goalie Tori Long — did more than win a first district championship. Led by Cox’s school-record 50 goals and a loaded senior class — including All-Ohioan Chloe Kent — the Blue Aces won four more tournament games than they had, not stopping until losing 3-1 in the state final to Rocky River.

5. Newark boys basketball eclipses 1,500 wins in program history

The Wildcats rank third all-time in the state in wins, trailing only Canton McKinley and Archbold, and No. 1,500 couldn’t have been more special.

Newark won 55-53 at Gahanna, which it lost to three times in 2012-13, including in a district final. On hand to witness the milestone were former players such as Greg Avery — who led the Wildcats to the 2008 state title — as well as former coaches such Gary Walters — who has 407 of those wins, most in Newark history.

Interestingly, the most Newark wins have come against former Central Ohio League rivals Lancaster (126) and Zanesville (118). In fact, win No. 100 came against the hated Blue Devils on March 14, 1919.

Mike Giomi, who went on to play at North Carolina State, still holds school records for career scoring (1,316) and single-season scoring (567) in leading the Wildcats to the state tournament 32 years ago.

6. Newark’s Hardwick places second in Division I cross country meet, qualifies for nationals

Toby Hardwick left the Division I state meet his junior season with a bit of an empty feeling. He became Newark’s school-record holder but he fell just short of All-Ohio honors.

Hardwick earned that and more in a magical senior season. Hardwick won OCC-Ohio and district titles before standing among the state’s elite in the first week in November.

Hardwick made a late surge to take runner-up honors. A month later, Hardwick re-set his record for the final time at 15:13, qualifying for the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego, where he placed 17th out of 40.

7. LCL returns with bang on football field

The buildup almost was two years in the making, and the return of the Licking County League did not disappoint on the football field. Newark Catholic produced a signature victory in front of a packed house at Johnstown to win the Small-School Division, and the Green Wave doubled down with a victory for bragging rights against Granville.

The Big-School Division, however, was far from an open-and-shut case. Licking Heights fired the first shot, nipping the Blue Aces in a roller-coaster overtime game. The next week, Licking Valley threw its hat into the ring with a dominating victory against the Hornets. Granville, however, was not to be denied. It rallied to beat the Panthers during the final minutes in Week 10 to force a three-way tie with Valley and Heights.

The LCL featured four Central District Players of the Year — Isaac Maurer (Granville), Ty Griffith (Valley), Clayton Bullard (Johnstown) and Chayce Crouch (Newark Catholic) — and three 1,500-yard rushers: Jaivon Gresham (Heath), Travis Baldwin (Utica) and Cody Farley (Johnstown). Three teams made the playoffs, with the Panthers and the Hornets falling in the first round and the Green Wave reaching a Division VI regional final, losing to Bishop Ready.

8. Northridge wrestling reaches Division III state semifinals in first team tournament

The Vikings were a dominant force all season, winning the Licking County Invitational in December and kept it rolling all the way into February. Northridge wiped out Bishop Hartley to qualify for the first OHSAA team tournament.

Competing at St. John Arena against Amanda-Clearcreek, the Vikings and Aces were locked up in a back-and-forth affair as Northridge trailed 33-29 going into the final match. Needing a pin, Anthoney Verhovec delivered, sending the Viking fans into a frenzy and to a state semifinal where they lost to Massillon Tuslaw.

A month later, Thomas Williams earned his second consecutive fourth-place medal at the individual state tournament, and teammate Jake Adkins joined him on the podium taking eighth. Newark Catholic’s Caleb Ohl (fifth), Bullard (sixth), Heath’s Gunner Loughman (eighth) and Lakewood’s John Gershom (eighth) also placed.

9. NC volleyball wins first regional since 2008

The Green Wave’s previous two trips to the regional ended at the hands of Beaver Eastern. Not this time. NC surprisingly swept the Eagles to gain its revenge and earn its first Division IV state tournament berth in five seasons despite having just two seniors: Becca Kapavik and Maddie Wirth.

Kapavik was a force in the middle, and sophomore Taylor Daignault added power from the outside to give a solid 1-2 punch. Daignault was named to the All-Ohio honorable mention list for the Green Wave, who lost in a state semifinal to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph.

10. Valley girls golf makes first state appearance; Heath’s Derek Hamm earns All-Ohio honors

The Panthers won both Licking County League tournaments and kept on going in the postseason. Valley won a Division II sectional title and advanced to its first state tournament in school history. The Panthers re-set their school record on the final day of the state to finish 10th, and standout junior Tori Johnson was 21st overall.

In the boys tournament, Heath senior Derek Hamm shot 73 on the first day to move into a five-way tie for the lead. He followed with an 81 to tie for eighth and earn second-team All-Ohio honors.

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