Top local sports stories of 2017

Published 3:00 pm Friday, December 29, 2017

There never seems to be a year that goes by where the local sports scene is completely uneventful and 2017 was no different. From coaching changes to impressive victories, 2017 had its fair share of suprises.

Below are the top five local sports stories of the year:

Honorable mention: Lions win second straight 13th Region All A Classic

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Returning a loaded roster to the floor for the 2016-17 season, expectations were high for the Pineville boys basketball team. They didn’t disappoint as they won their second straight 13th Region All A title and advanced to the All A State tournament in Frankfort for a second year in January.

It took a fourth-quarter surge, but Pineville defeated Harlan 83-73.

In what was a shoot out in the final period, Pineville outscored Harlan 33-24 in the fourth to secure the 10-point victory.

The trio of Josh Lawson, Cody Carnes and Trent Lefevers led the way for Pineville against Harlan. Carnes finished with a game-high 27 points.

Lawson, who was awarded tournament MVP, scored 23 points while nailing three 3-pointers. He went 12-for-14 from the charity stripe as well.

Lefevers scored six baskets from the field en route to a 19-point outing. Tucker Woolum tallied eight points on the night, and Will Adams added six points to the scoreboard.

No. 5: Morris heads to Middlesboro

Nearly a month and a half after resigning as the Bell County boys basketball coach, Lewis Morris took his talents 11 miles south to Middlesboro High School. Morris was officially named the new Yellow Jacket head coach during a press conference in June.

Morris replaced Isaac Wilson — who accepted the vacant girls basketball position at Corbin. The Jackets combined for six wins under Wilson while boasting a young core group of players that saw only one senior graduate.

Morris resigned as the Bell County boys coach in April citing personal reasons for his exit. He finished his tenure at Bell County with a 163-133 career record. During that stint, he advanced to the 13th Region Tournament six times, won the district title three times and delivered a region title once.

No. 4: Union mens basketball wins NAIA Division II national championship

With dogged tenacity, Union College battled its way to the top and was rewarded with the 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship, defeating Cornerstone (Michigan) 72-69 in March.

All season Union (35-3 overall) and Cornerstone (34-4 overall) seemed to be the true heavyweights of NAIA Division II, and that played out to be true as both squads delivered blow after blow. In the end, the Bulldogs were left standing as the national champion.

The score was tied nine times, and the lead changed hands on 14 occasions. And no lead was safe.

The Bulldogs led for much of the second half, yet the Golden Eagles did not quit until the final horn sounded.

Tied at 45-all, Union reeled off nine straight points to open a 54-45 advantage. At the 9:02 mark, Paul Stone drained a 3-pointer from in front of the Bulldog bench, upping the margin to 56-47.

Still, Cornerstone would not bow out.

Cory Cox capped a 7-0 spurt with a 3-pointer from the wing, pulling the Golden Eagles within 66-63 with 2:46 to play. But like they’ve done all tournament, the Bulldogs answered as Lance Blakely hit a jumper in the lane to make it a five-point game with 2:08 on the clock.

Cornerstone never got it back to a one-possession game until Michael McLaughlin hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final 72-69 Union.

No. 3: Middlesboro baseball advances to All A state tournament

For some time, Hazard has been a road block for Middlesboro on their journey to the All “A” Classic state tournament. That streak ended in April as the Yellow Jackets ran through the barricades in the form of a 2-1 victory over the Bulldogs to earn a trip to the small school state tourney.

Tyler McCullough picked up the win as the junior ace threw a complete game. He tallied seven strikeouts and allowed only four hits and one run.

McCullough also paced Middlesboro at the plate going 2-for-3 with one run. Jacob Mike ended the game with one hit and one RBI. Joshua Arnold and Jacob Spurlock also earned hits during the game.

While Brennan Hale didn’t register an official hit, his sacrifice fly in the fourth inning gave the Jackets the run they needed to take and hold on to the lead.

Hazard got on the board early in the top of the first. Andy Baker reached first on a single before stealing second and reaching third on an error. He scored on the Smith RBI to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.

Middlesboro responded in the bottom half of the inning. With one out on the board and McCullough on second, Mike hit a RBI double to right field to tie the game at 1-1 at the end of the first.

The Jackets were able to claim the lead in the fourth. A RBI by Hale scored Spurlock to give Middlesboro the one-run lead. Arnold reached third but was left stranded on base at the end of the inning.

No. 2: Edwards resigns as Lady Jackets head coach

After three and a half seasons, Ron Edwards resigned as the head basketball coach for the Middlesboro Lady Jackets. The veteran coach submitted his resignation in December following a loss to Knox Central where several players decided not to participate in the game. The team played with seven players.

“I resigned because my views and certain team values are more important than individual values or goals. It’s a team game,” said Edwards in a phone interview. “When people understand that, it’s going to be a better society. We play to win the game.

“It’s a team sport. Every night, your number is not going to be called. We’re in a society (where) technology has ruined this generation. There’s instant gratification. Gone are the days where you have to pay your dues and work for something.

“Everything is not going to be given to you. Life is full of ups and downs. You have to deal with adversity. These kids are going to find this out as they get older.”

During Edwards’ tenure at Middlesboro, the Lady Jackets combined for a 28-60 record. The team went 4-20 during his first year before making a big leap to 13-17 his second season.

An injury to Hannah Warren derailed what looked like a successful 2016-17 season as the team started out 5-4 but finished 9-18 following the injury. This season, the team has struggled out of the gate and amassed a 2-5 record prior to Edwards’ resignation.

No. 1: Hilton returns to Bell

It was 2010 when Dudley Hilton last stepped onto a Bell County football field. The team had finished the season with a 13-1 record with an exit in the state semifinals against Boyle County. Fast forward just under seven years later, and Hilton has made his way back to the place where he delivered two state titles.

In March, Bell County High School Principal Richard Gambrel introduced the Hiltons back to the Bobcat family during a press conference held inside the gymnasium. His return comes on the heels of a 4-8 season that saw Bell eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.

If history shows us anything, Hilton may be the coach to take Bell County back to the promised land. During his first stint as coach, he delivered the county a state title. He did the same thing during his second stint that lasted from 2001 to 2010.

During the nine-year stretch, Hilton and the Bobcats amassed a 111-20 record with the most losses in a season capping at four during the 2001 campaign.

During three of those years, Bell County reached the state semifinals. In 2004, the Bobcats were eliminated in the semifinals by Highlands. In both 2009 and 2010, Bell fell in the state semifinals to Boyle County.

The climax of Hilton’s second stint was the 2008 season. That year, the Bobcats went a perfect 15-0 and defeated Bullitt East 15-13 in the state championship game.

Hilton returns to Log Mountain after stints with Taylor County and the University of Pikeville. At Taylor County, the Hall of Fame coach increased his win total each year. In his first season, he went 4-7 with the Cardinals before ending his tenure at the high school with a 7-4 record.

At UPike, he took the Bears from a 2-8 record the year before his arrival to a 7-4 record by the time he decided to part ways with the program.