Another fantastic year for Columbia County sports is in the books. We had great individual performances, terrific team wins and plenty of state titles along the way. Here is a look at my favorite sport stories of 2006. And yes, just so I can get some hate e-mail, I tried to put them in order.
Williams goes in style
The Wolfpack had one of the finest seasons in county history as they raced to the Class AAAA state title. Greenbrier was dominant from start to finish with a 35-1 record and finished the season ranked among the nations top 20 teams in three separate national polls.
Along the way, the Pack outscored their opponents 368-58, held opponents to three or fewer runs in 33 of 36 games, and they won by 10 or more runs 19 times. It was the school's fourth state championship in just its tenth year of existence.
The win was even more special because it was Ed Williams' final game as head coach. Chris "Fud" Johnson hit three homers in the two-game final series and also earned county Offensive Player of the Year honors by hitting .445 with 13 homers and 48 RBI.
Belcher baffles batters
While two of my favorite stories are very much related, I think Nolan Belcher deserved his own section. The sophomore left-hander was about as dominant as it gets. He finished the season 15-0 with an era of 0.73. He also struck out 156 batters in 91 innings of work. He also hit .395 with 32 RBI on offense. In my opinion, Belcher's 2006 season is the finest season by a pitcher in county history. His teammate, Brandon Cumpton, also had a season worthy of mention. The 6-3 right-hander was 14-1 with an era of 1.89.
ACS claims crown
No Nolan Belcher, no problem for Augusta Christian. Despite losing its star player when he transferred to Greenbrier, Augusta Christian battled their way to the 2006 SCISA Class AAA state crown. SCISA Player of the Year Josh Whitaker led the way (.507 batting average, 10 home runs) for the Lions as they overcame a runner-up finish in the region to show its muscle in the state playoffs.
Hoops make history
Columbia County has never been known as a basketball hotbed, especially in girls hoops. However, Greenbrier is doing its best to change all that. One year after they finished 23-8 and advanced to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals, the Lady Wolfpack took it a step further in 2006. Garrett Black's squad piled up a county record 29 wins and made its way to the Class AAAA Final Four. Point guard Michelle Swiec became the school's first-ever All-State performer and claimed her third consecutive county player of the year award.
Evans boys make run
While Greenbrier's state semifinals run was somewhat expected after their success in 2004-05, the boys team from Evans turned many heads in 2005-06 as they racked up win after win. Kevin Kenny and the Knights made one of the deepest runs in county history as they advanced to the second round of the state playoffs and finished 24-6. Also, the Knights were 14-0 on their home floor.
Greenbrier's boys spent most of the season ranked No.1 in AAAA and finished the season 20-2. However, their success was just one of the many great stories in boys soccer in the county. Lakeside surprised many by making it to round 2 of the state tournament. Also, Harlem had a great year making a state playoff appearance. Evans was one of only two teams to beat Greenbrier all year, and Augusta Prep was solid once again as they made the GISA state quarterfinals.
On the girls side, five county teams made the state playoffs. Also, Greenbrier star Stephanie Fransoso closed out an incredible career. The Auburn signee went over the 100-goals-scored mark for her career and was an easy choice for county player of the year.
Lakeside gets it done
After a terrific showing in 2005, the Lakeside golf team had a fire in their belly when the 2006 season got underway. Despite playing a team of six underclassmen, the Panthers made another great showing at the state tournament, and this time they were left holding the trophy as the 2006 Class AAAA state golf champs. Also, freshman Brian Carter fired a 3-under 69 on the final day for the second-lowest round of the tournament.
ACS wins state title
The Lions baseball and football team had been getting all the attention following their state titles, so the Lady Lions track team knew what they had to do to get a little recognition: win a state championship of their own. Well the ACS track team did just that. Led by Casey Brush and Jordan Little, ACS claimed the SCISA Class AAA crown for 2006.
ACS tries for crown
The 2005 football season was a magical one for Bruce Lane and the ACS lions. They captured the SCISA Class AAA state title with a dominant run in the state playoffs. However, an encore seemed unlikely with the graduation of several key players including county Player of the Year Lee Banks. No one expected 2006 to be a huge year, well, no one except Lane and his team. The Lions fought their way back into the state championship game before losing to Hammond. Lane's coaching job might have been better in 2006.
Marshall leads Wofford
Former Greenbrier star Eric Marshall went down with a horrific knee injury that ended his junior season in 2004-05. But the two-time county Player of the Year worked hard to be ready for his senior season in 2006. Well, the hard work has paid off. Marshall is off to a hot start in 2006 averaging more than 16 points per game including an important game recently versus national power Cincinnati. The 6-4 guard poured in 27 points as Wofford pulled off the huge upset of the Bearcats.
Obviously there were many big sports moments over the last 12 months, but these are the ones that stood out to me. If you have any moments you think should have made the list, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be sure to mention them in an upcoming column.
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