TOP 10 HOWARD COUNTY SPORTS STORIES OF 2012

The Western Panthers baseball team was the Sports Journal's top story of 2012.

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

State champions! That title is enough to earn the Western Panthers baseball team the honor of the Sports Jouranl Top Story of the 2012 sports year.

On June 15, at Victory Field in Indianapolis, the Panthers stunned Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School with a dominating 8-1 victory to claim the school’s second-ever team state championship and first in baseball.

“What can I say; we are elated,” Western head coach Ty Calloway said after the game. “I give credit to these kids because they really battled. We got off to a rocky start this year, but we battled back and we are now playing as a team.”

The Panthers started the season 6-7, but they regrouped and stormed through the state tournament to claim the IHSAA Class 3A state baseball championship. In the title game, Western grabbed a 4-0 first inning lead thanks to a lead-off walk by Marcus Singleton, a single by Adam Bolen, a two-run double by Evan Warden, and an Austin LaFollette two-run double.

Then it was all Ronnie Smith, who fired five innings of two-hit, no-run baseball to earn the victory. It was his 10th win of the season, and he was so dominating that 52 of his 85 pitches were strikes. Warden pitched the final two innings to secure the state championship – he also added a triple to his hitting exploits.

“This is for all of the boys in the past who have come close and couldn't get the brass ring,” said longtime assistant coach Dwight Singer. “This fulfills a lot of dreams and was a long-time coming.”

After the season, Adam Bolen was named an Indiana All-Star – the 12th Panther to be so honored.

The following is a recap of the top stories in the Howard County area during the 2012 calendar year. Do you agree, disagree, or did we miss something? Email your comments to the Sports Journal (editor@indianasportsjournal.com) and we will consider them for publication next week.

#2 NEELEY TWINS RUN THROUGH INDIANA

The MIC champion Eastern girls track and field team, led by Bethany and Brittany Neeley, were crowned Kokomo Sectional champions as they outscored Kokomo 115-92. Both Neeley’s and Sarah Wagner qualified for the state finals in Bloomington thanks to strong regional finishes – Wagner scored a third place in the high jump, Brittany won the 800 meter run and Bethany won the 1,600 meter run.

At the state finals on the campus of Indiana University, Bethany did what only one Eastern Comet had done before – she was crowned an IHSAA state champion in track and field. In a dominating win, Bethany crossed the 1,600 meter run finish line with a time of 4:54.95, nearly four second ahead of the second place finisher. Neeley joined Jeremy Ashcraft, the 1994 pole vault state champion, as the only Comet to stand at the top of the IHSAA podium.

Bethany placed third in the 800 meter run as a freshman and second as a sophomore, but moved up to allow sister Brittany run the 800. And Brittany did not disappoint as she finished third in the state (2:14.26) to help lead the Lady Comets to a 10th place overall finish – by far the smallest school among the top 10 finishers.

“For a school of 450, this is a big deal,” said Eastern track coach Michael Goodspeed.

The Neeley twins have recently announced they will attend Indiana University and will run for the Hoosiers this fall.

#3 UCT DOMINATES

UCT entered the Cal Ripken Baseball Ohio Valley Regional as the underdog thanks to the presence of Scott County, Ken. – a team that won the 10-under World Series in 2010. But on the back of a no-hitter tossed by Jack Perkins in the championship game, UCT won the OVR and packed their bags for the Cal Ripken Major/60 World Series in Winchester, Mass.

“He has nerves of steel,” said UCT assistant coach Scott Perkins, Jack’s dad. “He can accomplish anything and he wants to win do badly. To no-hit this Scott County team is unbelievable. No one does that.”

At the World Series, the UCT squad showed they belonged as they reached the Final Four. Unfortunately, Burlington, Mass., ended the dream and knocked the local squad out of the tournament with a 4-1 loss. UCT’s Zach Cavazos (catcher), Jack Perkins (shortstop), Luke Cameron (outfield) and Brian Harding (second base) earned World Series Gold Glove awards. A national semi-finalist finish is something this squad of 12 young men will always remember – and they made Kokomo proud during the process.

Also during the World Series festivities, UCT’s Nate Hemmerich hit 13 dingers to win the Home Run Derby. UCT is the second Kokomo squad to play in the World Series. The 1995 Southside All-Stars finished as national runners-up.

#4 LADY PANTHERS BANNER SEASON

It was a long time coming for the Western girls basketball team. For the first time since 1989, and under first-year head coach Chris Keisling, the Lady Panthers were crowned sectional champions after they downed Twin Lakes 58-28 in the title game.

The following week the Lady Panthers defeated South Bend St. Joseph 36-34 to claim the program’s first regional title – and in the process advanced to the Class 3A Final Four.

Unfortunately, the dream run ended in the North Semi-State in Warsaw. A nine-minute scoring drought by the Lady Panthers helped Ft. Wayne Concordia Lutheran sting the Panthers with a 46-35 loss. The Panthers finished with a school record 19 wins against six losses.

“I am proud of these kids,” said Keisling after the loss. “To see the effort they gave, knowing the adversity they had (five coaches in five years), it really moved me as a coach.”

Nicole Rogers, a four-year starter and IUPUI recruit, left the school as the programs all-time leading scorer. Her 1,593 points left the sharp-shooter as the second most prolific scorer in Howard County history behind Kokomo Lady Wildkat legend Tiffany Longworth’s 1,936 career points.

#5 KENNEDY A NATIONAL CHAMPION

Kokomo’s Kory Kennedy won the 800 meter run at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field Trials and surpassed the London Paralympics “A Standard” in the process. He was also crowned national champion in the 1,500 meter run, but unfortunately, was not selected to represent the United States at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Kennedy, 22, is a Northwestern High School graduate and is legally blind, injuries he sustained in an automobile accident at the age of eight.

#6 TONY MOSES FLIES AROUND TRACK

Tony Moses continued a strong Kokomo High School track and field tradition by finishing as the state runner-up in the 400 meter dash. Moses was named an Indiana All-Star after claiming titles in the North Central Conference, Kokomo Sectional and Kokomo Regional.

#7 MAJOR COACHING CHANGES AT WESTERN

In a surprising and controversial move, Alix Engle resigned as the head football coach of the Western Panthers. Engle originally turned in his resignation around Christmas 2011, asked for the letter to be rescinded, but was told it would stand. On Jan. 17, Superintendent Randy McCracken recommended the resignation go through and the school board accepted the resignation letter – despite numerous football players supporting Engle – due to corporation policy not allowing for resignation letters to be rescinded.

Engle left the program with a record of 58-23. His 58 wins are second-best in school history and his .716 winning percentage is the best in Panther football history. He led the Panthers to a sectional title in 2007 and his final squad was co-Mid-Indiana Conference champions. Nate Andrews of Lapel High School was named Engle’s replacement.

In addition to Engle leaving, boys basketball coach Andy Weaver accepted the same position at Plainfield High School. In 15 seasons, Weaver won 207 games and six sectional championships – including back-to-back Sweet Sixteen berths in 2011 and 2012. In 2004, Weaver lead the Panthers to the Class 3A Final Four and was the District 2 Coach of the Year. Longtime Western assistant coach Bart Miller was named Weaver’s replacement.

#8 LINDLEY'S STELLAR SEASON

Western senior golf standout Allison Lindley, a University of Iowa recruit, dominated the local girls high school golf scene in 2012. She was low medalist in five of the first six tournaments of the prep season. She captured her third sectional championship, finished fourth in the IHSAA state girls golf championships and was named to the all-state team for the third time. She is tied for the school’s 18-hole record (68) and nine-hole record (33).

 #9 LADY COMETS HARRIERS PERFECTION

The Eastern Lady Comets cross country team was a force to be reckoned during the 2012 season. They were crowned four-time champions of the Mid-Indiana Conference and the IHSAA Logansport Sectional and recorded perfect cross country scores of 15 in the process. Bethany Neeley was crowned the individual sectional champion for the fourth time.

They also won the Culver Academies Regional for a second consecutive season and were the New Prairie Semi-State runners-up – a finish that qualified the squad for the state finals. At the state meet, the Lady Comet harriers finished a very respectable seventh against the biggest schools in Indiana. Bethany Neeley earned a fifth place finish. Both Bethany and Brittany Neeley were named Indiana All-Stars.

#10 McPIKE RUNS THE TABLE - AGAIN

58-0. That is the two-year record for H.P. McPike as they dominated the youth baseball scene for the second consecutive year. On June 21, the two-time UCT league champions were officially crowned a dynasty after they beat Russiaville’s Lions Club 4-2 for its second consecutive Davis A. Kasey Memorial Howard County Youth Baseball Tournament championship. They finished the season a perfect 29-0 and became the first back-to-back Howard County champions since Schwinn of Southside accomplished the feat in 1989-1990.

“This is what our 12 year-olds wanted – to go out on top,” said McPike head coach Jason Hurlock.

During its two-year tournament run, McPike outscored its competition 148-15 in 12 games. The squad won its first 23 games of the season by the 10-run rule.

For more on this story, including a complete list of the Top 19 stories, coach of the year and athletes of the year, see the Jan. 1 edition of the Sports Journal.

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