2017-18: A Year in Review for Americus and Sumter County sports
Published 11:14 pm Monday, May 21, 2018
AMERICUS – What a tremendous year it has been for area youth and high school sports. Both the Americus-Sumter high school girls and boys’ basketball teams had tremendous seasons. The Lady Panthers finished with a 24-8 record, making it all the way to the GHSA Class AAAA state semifinals before losing to Henry County 51-38. Senior guard Jy’kiera Long was named Region 1-AAAA Player of the Year. Sophomore DeAsia Ford made Third Team All-Region, and sophomore Brianna Pope made the All-Region honorable mention list.
“The girls’ basketball team had another outstanding season,” ASH Head Coach Sherry Harris said. “We got into an end of the year slump, and then decided to play our best basketball in the region tournament and the state playoffs. The seniors decided they didn’t want to lose their Senior Night game, and came out and erased a 19-point deficit. Harris went on to say that she had an outstanding group of players, but an even better group of young ladies. “Each of the four seniors had been a part of the 2016 State Championship Team, and knew how to win and work,” Harris said. “It was a matter of getting everyone on the same page. The amazing thing about the Lady Panthers’ run in the state tournament was that they only had seven players. This made conditioning extremely important, and it was something Coach Harris made sure would not be a problem. “We will always be well-conditioned. That will never be a reason or an excuse for losing,” Harris said.
The ASH boys’ basketball team had an equally impressive season. The Panthers finished 25-4 on the season, and reached the “Sweet 16” of the GHSA Class AAAA State Playoffs before losing a heartbreaker 6 to Baldwin 60-59. Junior forward Joshua Lusane received All-State and All-Region honors. Senior guard Eric Hall made it on to the Atlanta Journal Constitution All-State Team and also was named to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA) All-State Team. Hall would later sign a scholarship to play at Georgia Southwestern State University.
“This season was a very successful one,” ASH Head Coach Michael Hoffpauir said. “We finished the season at 25-4. We were regular season champs, region tournament runner-ups, and made a Sweet 16 appearance in the GHSA state playoffs.” Hoffpauir went on to say that ASH signed four players to continue their opportunities to play on the next level. “We started the year off strong, starting with a seven-game winning streak before dropping a close home region game to Northside,” Hoffpauir said. “That game was a wake-up call for us that began an eight-game winning streak with a tournament championship in the Lee County Roundball Christmas Tournament.” Coach Hoffpauir went on to say that the Panthers put together another nine-game winning streak before losing in the region championship. The Panthers lost to Westover in the region championship to Westover 67-57 on Friday, February 9. Hoffpauir went on to describe his team’s performance in the GHSA Class AAAA State Tournament. “We won the first-round matchup against Spalding High and lost the subsequent round against Baldwin High,” Hoffpauir said. “One of the highlights of the season was a six-overtime thriller at home in which we defeated Carver High 125-122.” That game took place on Friday, January 12, at Americus-Sumter. It was one of the longest overtime games in high school basketball history.
“I have been very pleased with the success of the program over the last four years,” Hoffpauir said. “I know the guys that have moved on from the program have gained some knowledge and insight that can provide a source of encouragement and comfort as they proceed in life.”
Coach Hoffpauir went on to say that they look to continue the success of the program with the changing of the guard. “We have some key returning players in Trae (Traveon) Brown, Joshua Lusane, Joshua Moore, A.J. Banks and David Sumlin to name a few,” Hoffpauir said. “They are already in the gym improving for next season.”
The Americus-Sumter Football Team finished the 2017 season at 9-3 and won the Region 1-AAAA Championship. Head Coach Erik Soliday won his 200th game as a head coach on Friday, October 28, 2017, when the Panthers defeated Columbus 33-9. They fell to Thomson in a heartbreaking 35-34 overtime loss in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA State Playoffs. It would be Soliday’s last game coaching the Panthers, as he decided to retire from public school teaching and coaching in order to move on to teach and coach football at Tiftarea Academy, a private school in Chula, GA.
However, the Panthers still had a season to remember and reflect fondly upon. According to the AJC, Americus-Sumter Offensive Lineman Malcolm Mercer was named to the AJC 2017 All-State high school football team. New Head Coach Larry Harold was recently hired as the new head football coach of the Panthers. Harold is poised to lead the 2018 Panthers to a state championship at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta in December, 2018. He told the team that on Monday, May 1, the first day of Spring Practice.
It was an impressive year for the 2017 Schley County football team as well. The Wildcats finished 8-4 on the season and made it to the second round of the GHSA Class A Public State Playoffs before losing a 22-21 heartbreaker to Mitchell County. The Wildcats tried to go for two to win the game, but the attempt failed and their season ended. Head Coach Darren Alford’s first year was the 2016 season. The Wildcats went 4-6 that year, but since then, the Wildcats have improved, and even better things are expected in 2018.
For Southland Academy, the Raider football team had a tremendous year in 2017, going 10-2 on the season and making it to the second round of the GISA Class AAA State Playoffs before losing in a turnover-plagued game to Trinity Christian-Sharpsburg 35-0.
For Southland girls’ and boys’ basketball, they also had tremendously successful seasons. The girls, coached by Ty Kinslow, finished the 2017-18 with a record of 22-5 and reached the second round of the GISA Class AAA State Playoffs before losing to Holy Spirit Prep 52-43. There were some tremendous individual performances from the Lady Raiders. Senior Cassi Bass set a school record with 51 three-point baskets in a year.
Senior Kathleen Kinslow set the school record with 114 three-point baskets in a career. Sydney Payne scored 202 points, grabbed 108 rebounds and tallied 58 assists for the Lady Raiders. Macy Williams scored 174 points, grabbed 140 rebounds and blocked 34 shots. Savannah Banks also had a good year for the Lady Raiders. Banks scored 119 points, grabbed 137 rebounds and blocked 38 shots.
The Southland Boys also had a tremendous year in basketball. The Raiders finished the season at 19-7 and made it to the second round of the GISA Class AAA State Playoffs before losing to eventual-state champion Holy Spirit Prep. Several players garnered All-State and All- Region honors. Senior Saige Batten set a school record with 153 free-throws made.
Batten also made All-Region for the second year in a row, and also made All-State his senior year. Batten was also selected to the All-State Senior All-Star Game. Batten averaged 21 points and six rebounds a game.
Batten wasn’t the only Raider that excelled. Senior Alex Roach set a school record with 164 three-pointers made. Roach also made All-Region his senior year, earning that honor two years in a row. Senior Harrison Bell leaves Southland with 106 three-pointers made in his career. Bell was All-Region this year, having earned the honor a year ago as well. He also tied the school record with seven three-pointers made in a game.
It was a great year for the Southland wrestling team as well. Having won their eighth-straight region wrestling title, the Raiders finished state runners-up in 2018. Senior Morgan Youngdale won the state championship in the 182-lb. weight class.
Cole Landreth was the state runner-up in the 145-lb. weight class. Five Raiders finished in third place in the GISA Class AAA State Tournament: Cayce Joyner (106 ib.), Landon Griffin (113 lb.), Brody Shattles (152 lb.), Stephen Barnes (195 lb.) and Ragan Norman (285 lb.). Tyler Kennedy finished in fourth place in the 138-lb. weight class. Colman Fort (132 lb.) and Riley Parker (170 lb.) finished in fifth place, and Sam Copland finished in sixth place in the 160-lb. weight class).
In baseball, Schley County was poised and ready to defend its Class A Public state title. The Wildcats lost their season-opener to Shaw 9-8 on Thursday, February 15, but proceeded to win eight-straight games before losing at Brookstone 12-2 on Thursday, March 15. According to Schley County head coach Chuck Cheek, the region has, for many years, been fought between Schley County and Brookstone. The Wildcats didn’t let that setback stop them.
Since that day in Columbus, the Wildcats reeled off 16-straight wins, making it to the state quarterfinals, in which they hosted Bowdon. In the midst of that winning streak, they exacted revenge against Brookstone by defeating them 8-3 to win the Region 4-1A Championship. They then swept Pelham in the second round of the state playoffs 6-5 and 15-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the Bowdon Red Devils ended the Wildcats’ bid to repeat, sweeping Schley County 6-5 and 5-3. It was still a fantastic season for the Wildcats. They went 24-4 on the season. One thing is for sure, however. The bar has been raised.
“The Schley County baseball team has put itself in a unique and difficult position,” head coach Chuck Cheek said. “Winning two of the last three GHSA Class A state championships, even a good season doesn’t seem good enough, at least not to the coaches and players at Schley County.” Cheek went on to say that 2018 was supposed to be a down year for the Wildcats, but someone forgot to tell the Schley County baseball players that.
“There were many memorable moments along the way,” Cheek said. “Early in the season, Ashton Goodin’s two-hit dominating performance vs Taylor County at home, and back to back extra-inning games on the road: a 12-inning thriller in a win at Westfield, and a nine-inning win at Crisp County were obviously games to remember.” Cheek went on to say that the Wildcats’ third straight region championship and fifth in the last six years was special, especially how they had lost to Brookstone in Columbus earlier in the year. “When the season ended against Bowdon, it was tough,” Cheek said. “These Cats still have a lot to be proud of.” Cheek went on to say that Schley County established the longest home winning streak in school history, spanning over two years. According to Cheek, Schley also showed that even with key departures due to graduation, the program always has younger players ready to step up and play at a high level to keep the team in contention year in and year out.
For the Southland baseball team, while their record wasn’t quite as good as that of Schley County, the Raiders till had a successful season. The Raiders finished the season at 7-8-1, but qualified for the GISA Class AAA state playoffs.
The Raiders traveled to Bellville, GA to face Pinewood Christian in the first round. Unfortunately, the Raiders lost both games in heartbreaking fashion: 2-1 and 11-6. Several players distinguished themselves throughout the season for the Raiders. Harrison Bell, who has signed a scholarship to play baseball for the University of South Carolina Beaufort, finished the season with a batting average of .310. Bell led the team in RBIs with 13. He scored 18 runs, hit four home runs, four doubles, and drew 10 walks. Bell was also a starting pitcher for the Raiders. On the mound, he pitched 36 2/3 innings, striking out 54 batters and only walked 10. He finished the season with a 2.29 ERA.
Hunter McCain batted .380 for the Raiders. McCain scored 17 runs and had four doubles on the season. He also walked a team-leading 11 times. George Wall led the team in hitting with a .425 batting average. Wall also had a .683 on base percentage, which also led the team. Wall drove in 11 RBIs, scored 13 runs. Tyler Kennedy had a .362 batting average, with an on base percentage of .552. He scored 14 runs and drove in nine RBIs. Landon Law batted .317 for the Raiders. Law had four doubles, a triple, one home run, 12 RBIs and scored 13 runs. Clay Owens batted .315 on the season for the Raiders. Owens belted four doubles and scored 13 runs. He also led the team with stolen bases with 14. Landon Law’s brother, Luke Law, batted .313. He had 12 RBIs and stole nine bases for the Raiders. Ross Minick was another starting pitcher for the Raiders. Minick pitched 41 innings and struck out 48 batters.
As far as the colleges are concerned, it was a great year for the South Georgia Tech Women’s Basketball Team. The Lady Jets finished 29-6 and made it into the second round of the NJCAA Division I Women’s national tournament.”Anytime we make the national tournament, we consider it a good season. We have exceptional support from our administration and our community, so there is a level of expectation for our program to contend for a national championship every year,” Lady Jets Head Coach James Frey said. “We were disappointed losing the way we did in the Sweet 16, but being there was an accomplishment for this team. ”
The Men’s team also had an excellent season. Though they didn’t make it to the national tournament, the Jets still had a solid season at 20-12 overall and finished in fourth place at 11-5 in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Conference (GCAA).
The Georgia Southwestern State University Men’s Golf Team qualified for the NCAA Regionals and finished in 15th place in a loaded field of excellent teams. The Men’s Basketball Team finished the season at 13-14 during the 2017-18 season, but junior guard R.J. Sessions made Second-Team All-Conference and was second in the conference in three-pointers made (69-195).
While the GSW Women’s Softball Team didn’t have the year they wanted to have in 2018 (18-34), junior Hayley Tierce was named to the National Fast Pitch Coaches Association 2018 NFCA Division II All-Region Second Team.
The Southland Academy boys and girls track and field teams had some str4ong individual performances at this year’s GISA State Meet Thursday through Saturday, April 26-28, in Albany. In boys’ pole vault, Brody Shattles was looking to defend his state title. However, he was beaten out by Jackson Tennyson of Deerfield-Windsor. Tennyson jumped 12-09 to take the state title. However, even though Shattles finished in second place, he vaulted 12-06, breaking the school record of 12-03 set by Brooks Kitchens back in 1992.
Clay Owens finished in third place in the boys’ long jump competition. Owens jumped a distance of 20-02.00, setting a personal record. His old record was 19-05.00. Southland hurdler Bennett Carey finished in fourth place in the finals of the GISA Class AAA Boys 110 Meter Hurdles with a time of 17:35. Southland’s Savannah Banks finished in second place in the girls shot put competition with a distance throw of 34-11.
The Schley County boys and girls track and field teams also excelled in the GHSA State Track & Field Meet held Thursday through Friday, May 10-12, in Albany. Several male and female athletes finished on the podium for the Wildcats. On Saturday, May 12, Dasani Minter finished in seventh place in the Girls 100 Meter Dash in a time of 12.69 (The top eight finishers make the podium).
Nyiah Kelley finished in sixth place in the finals of the Girls 10 Meter Hurdles with a time of 17.84. She also finished in fifth place in the Girls 300 Meter Hurdles in a time of 51.29. Furlow Charter had their only athlete, male or female, in the GHSA State Meet.
Maya Wynn finished in fifth place in the Girls 1600 Meters and finished in second place in the Girls 3200 Meters. Wynn was able to do this in the 95-degree heat of Albany, coupled with the difficulties of having asthma. “The more in shape I get, the less it affects me,” Wynn said. When I’m running and I feel like I’m having asthma, I just try to stay calm.”
For the boys, Schley County’s Jackson Fulks finished third in the state in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump. Fulks also finished in third place in the 200 Meter Dash in a time of 22.26. He broke the old record of 22.76 set by Dominic Morgan back in 2012.
For the Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department, it was a record-breaking year in 2018. For the first time in Sumter County history, all four of the Sumter County All-Star basketball teams qualified for their respective state tournaments. The 12u Boys, 12u Girls, 10u Boys and 8u Boys teams all won their district tournaments and qualified for their respective state tournaments. Dwight Harris, who heads up the basketball program at the SCPRD, said that something like that rarely happens anywhere in the country. “That’s a phenomenal, I mean a phenomenal achievement,” Harris said. “It’s good when you can get one team to go to state, but when you can get all four teams to go to state, that’s absolutely remarkable.”
On Friday and Saturday, March 2-3, all four teams competed in their respective state tournaments. The 10u Boys advanced to the state championship in Carrollton, but were defeated by Thomaston-Upson County by nine points. The 12u Boys went to Murray County for their state tournament. They made it to the state semifinals before being defeated by Baldwin County. The 12u Girls made it all the way to the state semifinals at their state tournament in Bremen, but were eliminated by Liberty County. The 8u Boys, who went to Effingham County for their state tournament, were eliminated in the state semifinals.
For Sumter County Gymnastics, it was a successful year as well. In a span of three months, Sumter County produced three state champions. On Saturday, March 17, Madison Smith won the state championship in her age group at the Level 6 Meet in Lawrenceville, GA. Smith won the state title in the floor exercise. Two months later, on Sunday, May 6, Sumter County gymnasts competed in the AAU State Meet in Carrollton, GA. In the Xcel Silver Division, Angel Cobb won state on the uneven bars, the floor exercise and was first overall with an all-around score of 37.975. The program’s third state championship was earned by Carley Codner. Codner won a state championship by scoring 9.35 in the floor exercise competition.
From the young athletes and teams at the Sumter County Parks and Recreation to the college athletes at Georgia Southwestern State and South Georgia Tech, 2017-18 it has been a banner year for Americus and Sumter County sports. This coming year should bring even more exciting moments and higher achievements from SCPRD teams, middle school teams, the high schools and the colleges. The sky is the limit for Americus and Sumter County area sports.