For Lakeside, Tuesday night's win over arch-rival Greenbrier was a lot of things. Sure, it gave the Panthers an argument as the county's best team. It also was a big region win that will only help when the playoffs roll around, and it gave them a regular-season sweep of Greenbrier for the first time in school history.
All that being said, to me the win was much, much more. Granted, we have not even reached the playoffs yet, but this game was about more than this season. It was about exorcising some demons or getting a 400-pound gorilla off the backs of the Panther faithful.
Since the school opened its doors in 1988, Lakeside has sort of been Columbia County's red-headed stepchild when it came to sports. When Lakeside came into existence, Evans was in the midst of winning back-to-back state baseball titles. They also had been a force in AAAA football for most of the 1980s as well. Also, don't forget that Harlem had built quite a baseball tradition of their own.
So for Lakeside it was not even second fiddle; they were stuck at third fiddle. It did not help that the football team went through its first season at 0-10, or that Evans crushed the Panthers in their first baseball meeting 15-0. I played for both of those teams at Lakeside, having transferred to the Blue Ridge Road school two weeks into my senior year.
Throughout the 1988-89 season a giant chip formed on the proverbial shoulder of Lakeside's athletic programs. The school enjoyed some success in the early 1990s, with state playoff runs in football and baseball. But they never got over the hump and won a state title in the major sports. In Columbia County, where baseball is king, you are judged on baseball state championships. And while Lakeside fielded some good teams, their hated rival Evans was busy racking up state crowns at a record-setting pace. By the time Lakeside had passed the five-year mark in its brief history, Evans was wrapping up a stretch of five AAAA state championships in eight years.
When plans to open another school in Columbia County became public, many Lakeside supporters welcomed the chance to play big brother and push around the new kid on the block.
Unfortunately for them, that never occurred. Greenbrier made the bold move of bringing in Terry Holder, the coach who led Evans to all those baseball titles. And it did not take long to see that Greenbrier would not experience the same growing pains Lakeside went through.
With Holder at the helm, Greenbrier amazingly earned a state playoff berth in football in its first year in 1996. A few months later, Greenbrier became the only school in state history to capture a state championship in baseball in its inaugural season. Greenbrier's decision to bring in Holder and many former Evans coaches proved to be the key to early success. Many top Evans athletes such as Mark Smith and Mark Thornhill made the jump with their legendary coach.
Lakeside selected great coaches, but for the most part they were unknown commodities in Columbia County. Steve Crislip (football coach and athletic director), Eddie Tucker (basketball) and Jimmy Smith (baseball) had a grand total of zero years of experience in Columbia County before being hired at Lakeside. Further, only Smith, who had been at Evans Middle School, had any county ties.
I feel like that was the key reason why Greenbrier immediately had success, and more importantly, an instant fan base. To this day, if you go to Greenbrier games, it's like an Evans reunion. Many people who do not even have kids in school have become Wolfpack supporters. At Lakeside, it has always seemed like they were the outsiders in this county.
That is, until their shining moment Tuesday night. When Sean Harrell shut down the potent Greenbrier attack allowing Lakeside to earn a 2-0 victory, no one was happier than Lakeside Coach Jay Matthews, and not simply because he is the Panthers' coach; Matthews was a freshman starter at second base during that first season in 1989. He has been through it all, the highs and lows.
So while Tuesday night was a regular season victory, there was nothing regular about what it meant for Lakeside.
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