Lake, Smith, tennis teams top storiesBy ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
It was a year of championships and surprising moves this past season.
From Lake’s resurgence on the football field to Newton County’s dominations on the public and private school tennis courts, it was an interesting year in sports in the Newton County Appeal’s coverage area.
Here is a look at the top stories from 2017:
• Lake football: It was a whirlwind year for the Lake football program. After a 1-9 season, first-year coach Lee Martin resigned to be a position coach at Clinton. Just a few weeks later, Lake hired Tate Hanna as its new head football coach. After a last-second loss to Pelahatchie to open the season, the Hornets went on to win six games in a row. After a loss to rival Scott Central, the Hornets pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season as they beat top-ranked and unbeaten Philadelphia 34-30. The Hornets went on to finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Division 4-2A race and lost in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs, finishing with an 8-3 record.
• Smith leaves, then comes back: Newton coach Ryan Smith completed a turnaround season in his first year at Newton, leading the Tigers to a first-round playoff game. Then this spring, Smith announced that he was leaving to be the offensive coordinator at his college alma matter, Southwest Assemblies of God. Newton even went through a search process but somewhere along the way, Smith recanted on his earlier decision and came back for a second season.
• Newton County wins first tennis title: Newton County reached the pinnacle of Class 4A tennis, winning its first-ever state championship in tennis. After finishing as runners-up in nine out of the last 12 years, Newton County finally reached the top as they beat five-time defending state champion New Albany 4-3 in the state finals at Parham Bridges. With the match tied at 3-3, it was senior Ethan McMullan who delivered the state championship with an ace in a third-set tiebreaker. A week later, McMullan and Joel Hill beat teammates Zack McMullan and Dylan Barnett to win the Class 4A boys doubles championship.
• Newton County Academy sweeps MAIS titles: A year after Newton County Academy won the Class A girls state championship, they did one better the next year. Led by strong singles play, NCA swept both titles as they won the girls title for the second straight year. The Generals cruised to the title as Chase Rigdon cruised to the No. 1 boys title while Micah Douglas had tougher work in winning the No. 2 boys single title. The Generals more than secured the title as Ethan McDill and Sage Gunn won the No. 2 boys double title. It was a big tighter on the girls side as Bethany Wellerman repeated as the No. 2 girls single champion. The surprise of the day was at No. 2 girls doubles as Piper Rose and Marla Graham took a straight set win to capture their first state championship.
• Newton County softball wins another state championship: Newton County continued its dominance in slow-pitch softball with its fifth straight state championship and 12th overall. Newton County entered the championship series with a 29-game winning streak before losing Game 1 of the series19-13 to Nettleton. But just as they did the year before, the Lady Cougars responded with two straight wins, beating the Lady Tigers 18-6 and 16-9 to take the title.
• Newton County football: It was a rough season for Newton County football. With just three starters returning, the Cougars struggled out of the gate and lost their first four games. After a mid-season win over an injury-riddled Union, the Cougars lost the last six games, finishing the season with a 1-9 record. It wasn’t long before coach Gene Mitchell stepped down, citing health problems after being diagnosed with cancer before the season started. A search is underway to find his replacement, which isn’t expected to be named until after the new year.
• Porter resigns at East Central: Perhaps one of the more shocking news stories of the year was the sudden resignation of East Central Community College women’s basketball coach Crandal Porter. Porter was just a year removed from leading the Lady Warriors to a South Division title and a berth in the Region 23 tournament. Porter gave no concrete reasons for leaving other than to spend more time with his family. No replacement was hired but men’s basketball coach Robert Thompson assumed the role and has the Lady Warriors undefeated.
• Union wins state powerlifting championship: Led by East Central football signee Hunter Little, the Yellowjackets dominated the Class 2A powerlifting championship, scoring 50 total points, 18 points ahead of second-place Bruce. Four Yellowjackets, Cody Rogers, Kalem Rogers, Austin Rivers and Little all won individual state championships. Little had a monster day with a record-setting deadlift of 670 pounds for a total of 1,595 pounds.
• Lake’s Towner dies in car wreck: The Lake community was shocked when rising senior Dontavious Towner was killed in a car wreck in a head-on collision on Old Highway 80 outside of Forest. Towner was a starting guard on the Lake basketball team and a member of the school’s band.
• Johnson makes Mississippi-Alabama football game: East Central Mississippi’s lone representative in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star football game was Newton’s Zackariah Johnson. Johnson was the only Class 2A player in the game and capped off a stellar senior season with a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter.