Instead of focusing on the turmoil that has dominated recent sports discussions in the county, I decided to write about all the great achievements our kids racked up this spring. Usually, this time of year in Columbia County, when we are celebrating sports success it has do to with one of our baseball teams. Though Greenbrier made a tremendous run on the diamond, the county also boasted a wealth of talented soccer, tennis, golf, and track and field accomplishments.
Lakeside’ girls had the most to be proud of. For the second straight year the Lady Panthers claimed a state title in golf. Last season, Lakeside claimed the championship in Class AAAA. This year the team was competing in AAAAA, but the jump in competition did not hurt. Just as she had done a year ago, Eunice Yi led the way, capturing state Player of the Year again. Head coach Jody Hilley capped off a great year with the win. (He was also named Columbia County’s Head Boys Basketball Coach of the Year this season.)
The golf title came on the heels of Lakeside’s girls tennis team claiming the school’s first championship on the courts. Victory in the finals was extra sweet, as Lakeside avenged its only loss of the season by toppling Starrs Mill to finish the season 22-1.
The boys’ golf scene was also exciting this year. Lakeside senior Emmanuel Kountakis was the Class AAAAA State Player of the Year after capturing low medalist honors at the state tournament. He helped guide Lakeside to a tie for fourth in the finals. The Panthers were tied with arch-rival Greenbrier, who posted a top-five finish for the second consecutive year.
As always, the soccer programs throughout the county were solid. While we did not have any state championship teams, the soccer here is as good as just about any area in the state, and the teams at Augusta Prep, Greenbrier, Lakeside and Evans have earned reputations as some of the toughest “outs” in the state tournament each year.
It was also great to see tremendous strides being made with the lacrosse programs at Greenbrier and Lakeside. I will not be surprised to see these two schools among the elite programs in Georgia in the next eight to 10 years.
It was also great to see the county produce a pair of Division I track and field athletes. In February, Kayla Tyson of Greenbrier signed to run for the University of Louisville. Greenbrier also boasts Georgia-bound sprinter Jeremy Harden. Last month, he closed out his high school career with a bang, finishing second in the state in the 100 meters and fourth in the 200 meters and anchoring the Wolfpack’s 4x100-meter relay team, which also finished second in the state.
Tyson, whose brother Rodney plays football at Howard University, was not too shabby, either. She won four region titles during her career in the 100 and 200 meters, dominating both events in the county throughout her prep career.
I understand that other stories might have been more juicy, and in this day of social media it can be easy to get caught up in the more salacious news items, but I wanted to take some time to recognize some of our teams and athletes for their hard work and terrific performances this calendar year. Thank you to all the young athletes and coaches for representing our area in such a fine manner.
It is not often that a pitcher who has logged only 38 innings over the last two seasons between junior college and Division II ball gets selected in the June amateur draft. However, that is exactly what happened to former Lakeside standout Zach Hayden.
The hard-throwing right hander started getting draft buzz as a high school senior for the Panthers, but was not selected and chose to play at Middle Georgia. In 2012, he only had 17 innings of work. This season Hayden transferred to USC Aiken and did not exactly post stellar numbers. He was only 2-1 on the mound with an ERA of 6.00 in 15 appearances. However, his numbers were skewed by a couple of rough outings. He was actually a key member of the Pacers’ pitching staff that helped guide the team to the No. 1 ranking in the nation this season.
The 6-1, 230-pound hurler also has what scouts love ... velocity. He throws 92-94 mph and can top out even higher. He used that power to strike out 41 batters in just 21 innings of work.
That’s nearly two per inning, and the scouts simply could not ignore Hayden’s potential.
That is why the Minnesota Twins made him their choice in the 23rd round of the draft on Saturday. He will join his cousin, former Augusta Christian star Josh Whitaker, in pro ball. Whitaker is a member of the Oakland A’s organization.