What a run it was. It started with a 10-game winning streak to begin the season, witnessed a North Central Conference title in the middle, and ended in heartbreak at Conseco Fieldhouse. But any way that you look at it, the Kokomo Wildkats boys basketball team thrilled not only the city, but all of Howard County as they enjoyed a memorable run that culminated with an IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up finish. It marked the fifth bridesmaid honor in the 108-year history of the program but the first trip to the finals since 1997.
Kokomo’s historic run started with easy wins in the Logansport Sectional over Harrison (60-47), Lafayette Jefferson (68-51) and the host Berries (92-57). The Kats then downed Jay County 44-37 in the semi-final game of the Marion Regional, then won a thrilling double-overtime game against Pendleton Heights 58-55 when LaBradford Sebree beat the horn with a 3-pointer from deep in the corner of the Bill Green Athletic Complex. Next up was a trip to the Final Four in the Lafayette Semi-State against No. 1-ranked and undefeated Munster, and it took a last second 3-pointer by D.J. Balentine to send the 10th-ranked Kats to the state finals against No. 4 Bloomington South.
Unfortunately, the run ended as Kokomo was ice cold from the field and South downed the Kats 56-42 on the biggest stage of the high school season. Kokomo’s normally solid shooting squad only hit 1 of 15 from beyond the arc in the heartbreaking loss.
Regardless, the run was a thrill ride for the Wildkat Nation. Thousands of fans followed Kokomo throughout the tournament and it was apparent this group of Red and Blue uniformed Kats won the hearts of a community. Names like Balentine, Swain, Sebree, Persons, Tinder, Moses, Bridgeforth, Salinas, Bowen, Meriwether, Collins, Burnett, Fowler and Clark will be remembered for a long time. No doubt – this was the top sports story in Central Indiana for 2011.
The Kokomo boys basketball team became the darlings of the community as they made a run to the IHSAA Class 4A state finals (see page 9 for the story). After the season, head coach Brian McCauley was named as a coach for the Indiana Junior All-Star team and University of Evansville recruit D.J. Balentine was named a core-five member of the Indiana Junior All-Star team.
#2 BEACHY STRIKES OUT THE SIDE
Northwestern High School graduate Brandon Beachy took the Major League Baseball world by storm this year. After being called up to help the Atlanta Braves close the 2010 season, Beachy headed into the 2011 Spring Training with one goal – make the Braves rotation. He did and became a stalwart in the rotation. By the time he dusted off his Braves uniform for the final time of 2011, he had a record of 7-3 in 25 starts, with an ERA of 3.68 in 141.2 innings.
He also recorded 169 strikeouts to set the Braves franchise rookie strikeout mark, breaking the previous mark of 156 set in 1950. The righties 10.7 strikeout rate was second best in the Major Leagues and fourth best in MLB history for rookie pitchers. That is why he is the Sports Journal co-Athlete of the Year for 2011.
#3 GO SPARTANS!
For the next four-and-a-half years, Howard County will become fans of the Michigan State Spartans as two area players are friends with Sparty. Kokomo graduate Brandon Wood has done what few Wildkat basketball players have done before, break into the starting lineup of a Big Ten school. After being named to the All-Horizon League First Team and graduating from Valparaiso University with eligibility left, Wood chose to play one season for the Spartans and has made an immediate impact – even starting the Carrier Classic game in front of President Barack Obama.
Once Wood graduates this spring, Howard County residents will tune into Spartan football to watch soon-to-be Eastern graduate and three-sport standout Josiah Price play on the gridiron for MSU head coach Mark Dantonio. Price finished his high school football career by leading the Comets to within one win of an improbable Mid-Indiana Conference title. He was named Associated Press Class 2A First Team All-State and the Indiana Football Coaches Association placed him on its Top 50 All-State Team. Maybe a berth on the All-Big Ten Freshman squad is next.
#4 LET’S GO COUGARS!
It sounded ambitious – maybe even unattainable – when it was formally announced in early 2011. IU Kokomo Chancellor Dr. Michael Harris proclaimed that he wanted to start an athletic program and have a women’s volleyball team on the court by the start of the season in the fall. Never mind the fact that there were no coaches, players or facilities.
But when the fall season started, there was Dr. Harris standing in the Northwestern High School bleachers proudly cheering on his IU Kokomo Cougars volleyball team and head coach Kristen Snoddy. At the same time, Jace Thompson was busy signing players and forming a college basketball team – and when they took the court for the first time just two months later – the Cougar men promptly won its first game on the road in Gary against IU Northwest.
So congratulations to Dr. Harris and the new Cougar Nation on setting the bar high and going for broke. We hope the NAIA application is approved and more sports are added in the future. Let’s go Cou-gars (Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap)!
#5 AVERTING CATASTROPHE
On Dec. 3, 14 members of the Kokomo High School girls swim team found themselves on a bus with a driver who would eventually be tested with a blood alcohol concentration of .20-percent. According to the Howard County Sheriff Department, bus driver Theresa Mast was arrested for driving while intoxicated, but thanks to the quick thinking of the head coach and a parent following the bus in a privately owned vehicle, Mast pulled the bus over before anyone was hurt.
According to police reports, a witness said, “it was the scariest thing she ever witnessed.” Mast pled not guilty to the charges and is now awaiting a court date after being charged with three counts, including a D Felony Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated Endangering a Minor. The Kokomo-Center School Corporation terminated Mast.
See the January 3 edition of the Sports Journal for the whole list of top stories. Digital subscriptions are free!