Gilbert's Chris Owings
Chris Owings turned a spectacular senior season into the fortune of a lifetime last spring and summer.
The Gilbert High senior batted .493 with six home runs and 36 RBIs, earning All-Area Class 2A player of the year honors. But that was merely the beginning.
The Arizona Diamondbacks made Owings the 41st overall pick in the June Major League Baseball draft. Owings, the first S.C. high school or college player drafted this year, turned down a scholarship offer to South Carolina and accepted a $950,000 signing bonus to turn professional in August.
"This is what I wanted to do, but I wasn't 100 percent sure it was going to work out," Owings said after agreeing to terms with Arizona. "We kept saying, 'They picked me for a reason.'"
A 5-foot-11, 170-pound infielder, Owings led Gilbert to Class 2A state championships in 2006 and 2008.
Dutch Fork girls track
The Silver Foxes survived the closest team race in SCHSL state meet history to claim the school's first girls track state championship in May at Lower Richland High.
Dutch Fork tallied 62 points, edging Northwestern by one-half a point to snare the Class 4A state title. Three-time defending champion Spartanburg placed third with 61 points.
"It's an unbelievable feeling to be the state champion," Dutch Fork first-year coach Brian Mencil said. "I knew we had the ability but, at the same time, there was a part of me that didn't know if we would do it. It makes me happy that the girls believed in what we were doing and that made them state champions."
Senior Niki Klasnic (3,200) and sophomore Taina LaPorte (high jump) won individual championships for the Silver Foxes.
But it was Monique James' sprint in the final 25 meters of the 1,600, where she passed two runners to place fifth, that netted the points that made the Silver Foxes champions.
"We all went out," James said, "and left our hearts on the track ."
Heathwood Hall girls track
The Highlanders won their second consecutive SCISA Class 3A state championship, beating rival Hammond by 18 points at the state meet.
Heathwood Hall had four first-place finishes, led by a state-record throw from Arayael Brandner in the discus.
Coach Willis Ware said his team's depth made the difference. The Highlanders placed in 13 of 17 events.
"One of the things that has really helped us win the state this year was just the amount of balance that we had," Ware said. "We didn't have as many first-place finishes as we had last year, but we had more seconds and thirds than we had last year. We placed in 13 of 17 events. That balance helped us to win by three times as many points we did last year."
A 10-7 loss to rival Heathwood Hall in the regular season appeared to show Hammond's vulnerability.
Instead, it revealed the Skyhawks' perseverance.
That loss made Hammond an underdog in the state final rematch with the Highlanders, but Hammond logged a 50-30 win to claim its fourth consecutive SCISA Class 3A state championship.
"I think it brought out the urgency of it and that brought out the best in our guys," Hammond coach Erik Kimrey said of the loss, Hammond's first at home since 2005.
"It was really rewarding to see guys like Aaron Walters, Dave Nidiffer and B.J. Bennett have the best games they have had in that game. It was just one of the most enjoyable games I've been a part of."
Hammond (12-1) returned three seniors from the 2008 state champions, but young players learned fast.
"I think some of them maybe bought into the idea that we were supposed to have a down year," Kimrey said. "But at the end of the day they surprised a lot of people, maybe even surprised themselves."
Lexington girls golf
New coach, same outstanding result.
Lexington High welcomed first-year coach Brandon Smith to its golf program, but that did not stop the Wildcats from winning their sixth consecutive Class 4A state championship in October.
The Wildcats took an 11-stroke lead into the final three holes on a day when heavy rain nearly wiped out tournament play. But senior Maureen Dunnagan, who won the individual medalist honor, parred her final three holes in the approaching darkness to seal title No. 6.
Dunnagan has been part of all half-dozen wins.
"Our girls worked extremely hard, knowing that really the only tournament that mattered was the last one," Smith said.
"We struggled a little bit at some other events, coming in third and fourth, and were really an underdog this time. Dorman and Wren had both beaten us at another tournament, so it was a different position, but we were able to come through and that was great."
Midlands basketball teams dominant at state finals
As the 2008-09 season started, basketball fans in the area were expecting big things from several schools. Spring Valley, Lower Richland and Eau Claire girls' teams were at or near the top of their respective class rankings.
Spring Valley, with a starting lineup of five underclassmen, handily defeated a bigger, more experienced Orangeburg-Wilkinson team, 53-22. With guards Asia Dozier and Briana Robinson combining for 33 points, the Vikings victory sparked talk of a dynasty much on the order of ....
Lower Richland, which won its fourth consecutive championship, this time defeating Darlington for the Class 3A crown. The win capped a 26-1 season and marked the final high school game for McDonald's All-American Morgan Stroman. Stroman, Stephanie Hayes and Jasmine Harrison each posted 17 points in the 68-42 rout.
Then the Camden Bulldogs boys team pulled off the program's first championship since 1958. Coach Ron McKie's team finished 23-2 after defeating Greer 77-62 in the 3A title match. Robert "Josh" Council scored 34 points, 11 shy of the state final record, and Evrik Gary posted 23 in front of a stadium full of black-and-gold-clad fans.
"Fifty-one years is a long time," McKie said. "The whole community came out, and that has been tremendous. It's an unbelievable group of kids. It's just been a thrill ride."
Eau Claire's heartbreak
One conspicuous absence at Colonial Life Arena on championship weekend was Eau Claire.
The Shamrocks had started the season ranked No. 1 in their class after moving into 2A. With Eboni Ross and Janae Stevenson in the post and Amelia Carrie running point, Eau Claire powered undefeated through Class 2A competition with two non-conference losses.
The Shamrocks seemed to have dibs on a state championship when they rolled into Strom Thurmond for the Upper State semifinal. But the Rebels made Eau Claire sweat. The Shamrocks led by four points with 33 seconds left, and with 1.7 to go their lead was trimmed to one.
And that would not stand.
The Rebels then got the chance to inbound the ball at the baseline and a turnaround jumper ended the Shamrocks' season in heartbreaking fashion.
Columbia's All-American sprinter: Brandon Sanders
Brandon Sanders had a national reputation before he even stepped onto the campus at Dreher High.
The freshman sprinter arrived having already won several National Junior Olympics gold medals, but he was in a whole new world when it came to high school competition.
Sanders said early in the season that his success in age-grouped summer competition would have little bearing on how he fared in S.C. High School League events, that he was not sure how he would stack up.
Sanders wound up on top here, too.
Sanders won gold medals in both the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the Class 3A finals.
He followed with strong showings at the Nike Outdoor Nationals, where he finished second in the 100 and sixth in the 200 as the youngest entrant in the field. And at Junior Olympics, Sanders cleaned up with gold in the 200, silver in the 100 and helping his 1,600 relay team to gold.
All the success has not changed the task at hand for the 2009 S.C. Gatorade runner of the Year.
"I'm just going back into the training with the same mindset as last year. I'm going in staying focused on all the same right things, and I'll be ready when the season comes around again," he said.
It takes three Diamond Hornets to win Class 3A title
When Mark Jones, Kevin Shields and Devin Wannamaker were the only Diamond Hornets to qualify for the Class 3A finals, coach Cedric Ritchie began formulating a plan.
"It's all about quality, not quantity," second-year LR coach Cedrick Richie said. "We knew we'd have a chance if everyone performed at a high level. We spent all week training hard, getting motivated, and it all paid off."
Jones and Wannamaker were each entered in three events; Shields in four.
The key was for them to place above their seeding in each of the events, and the Diamond Hornets had little trouble with that.
Shields posted 29 points by winning the long jump, finishing second in the 400, third in the triple jump and fourth in the 200. Wannamaker's three silver medals netted the team 24 points. Jones produced 22 points by sweeping the 110- and 400-meter hurdles titles, and he placed seventh in the long jump.
It was the 400-hurdles race that put Lower Richland over the top. Jones and Wannamaker, seeded fourth and eighth respectively, took first and second.
"My hat goes off to those guys for going out there and getting the job done. They represented for the whole team," Richie said.