Clay Cannon (8) and Landon Reed of White Hall hug each other after crossing home plate in the top of the 10th inning. (Commercial file photo)
UAPB wide receiver Isiah Ferguson kisses the trophy while celebrating beating Jackson State in the Dec. 8 SWAC football championship (The Birmingham News/Tamika Moore)
White Hall’s Sydnee Clark winds up to deliver a pitch against Vilonia. She pitched a complete-game victory. (Commercial file photo)
White Hall’s Jeremy Sprinkle signs his letter of intent with the University of Arkansas. (Commercial file photo)
The voters have spoken. Loudly.
By a shocking landslide, White Hall’s 5A state baseball championship victory over Watson Chapel was voted the top sports story of 2012 in Southeast Arkansas by the readers of The Commercial. During the latter part of November, readers had an opportunity to select 10 moments from the year as the most memorable, and White Hall’s baseball championship garnered 57 percent of the votes as of 4 p.m. Monday.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s overtime win in the SWAC football championship game was a distant second with 11.8 percent of the vote.
1. Bulldogs beat Wildcats in 10 for title
(368 votes, 57 percent)
Call it Dog Heaven.
White Hall and Watson Chapel took to the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium on May 18 to determine the 5A state baseball champion. Watson Chapel (27-7) swept the Bulldogs 3-2, 3-0 in a doubleheader earlier in the season on its way to the 5A-Southeast championship and was the favorite to win state behind eventual Southeast Arkansas Pitcher of the Year Zach Bradford.
White Hall (18-12), which won its only other state title in 1980, warmed up its bats in the state tournament, however, after going in with a five-game losing streak. But the Bulldogs had to endure a pitching battle in the title game.
The Wildcats had runners on first and third in the bottom of the eighth with one out and the score tied at 2, but Justin Dardenne lined out to shortstop Hunter Hale, who threw to first base to double up Landen Colson and end the inning.
In the top of the 10th, freshman Kirk Baugh hit a double to the right-center gap to drive in two runs, putting the Bulldogs ahead 4-2. The Wildcats did not respond in their half of the inning.
Landon Reed, who batted 3 for 5 with two runs scored, was named the game’s most valuable player.
2. UAPB wins SWAC football title with heroics
(76 votes, 11.8 percent)
The Golden Lions’ backs were against the wall when they took over possession from their own 4 with 2:37 remaining and Jackson State leading them 21-14 on an overcast Dec. 8 day at Birmingham, Ala.’s Legion Field.
They needed a miracle to stay alive. Two plays later, they got one.
Willie Young pulled down a pass up the middle from Ben Anderson near midfield and sprinted all the way for a 95-yard touchdown play to even the score.
In overtime, UAPB stopped Jackson State thanks to a sack, batted pass and deflected field goal by Sean Robison. It was the Lions’ turn on offense, and coach Monte Coleman’s team would not come up short.
Justin Billings broke a 20-yard run to the 5 for a first down, and on fourth down, Tyler Strickland booted a 26-yard field goal to give UAPB its first outright SWAC championship.
Anderson and linebacker Bill Ross were named offensive and defensive players of the game. Ross recovered a fumble and returned it 73 yards to cut UAPB’s deficit to 21-14 before halftime.
UAPB (10-2) finished the with its first 10-win season and a seven-game winning streak. The Lions also were ranked second in the black college national championship poll.
3. White Hall wins 5A softball title
(53 votes, 8.2 percent)
White Hall’s fun weekend in Fayetteville didn’t end with the baseball team’s championship.
On May 19, the White Hall softball team won its first state championship 5-2 over Vilonia. Haley Baugh, Kirk’s sister, went 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI for the Lady Bulldogs, and Sydnee Clark scattered seven hits in a complete-game victory.
White Hall finished 26-8.
4. Sprinkle becomes a Razorback
(36 votes, 5.6 percent)
The highlight of the college football signing period in Southeast Arkansas was Jeremy Sprinkle’s commitment to Arkansas.
Sprinkle signed his letter of intent in front of a large student body inside the White Hall High gymnasium on Feb. 1. While most of the state reacted to Springfield, Mo., wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham passing up the Razorbacks for the Missouri Tigers, Sprinkle made his mark as the only Division I signee from a Southeast Arkansas high school in the offseason.
5. Roaf enters Pro Football Hall
(18 votes, 2.8 percent)
Only two men from Pine Bluff ever have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Willie Roaf became the second on Aug. 4 in Canton, Ohio.
The 1988 Pine Bluff High graduate was introduced by his father Clifton at the hall’s induction ceremony. It culminated a 13-year career that saw him earn the NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year award twice and be named to 11 Pro Bowls.
Roaf played for the Saints from 1993-2001 and the Chiefs from 2002-05.
Don Hutson is the other Pine Bluff native in the Hall.
Star City wins 4A girls basketball championship
Becky Brown finally won her first state championship as a coach on her third try.
Star City finished a 32-1 season by dominating Farmington 56-34 on March 10 at Summit Arena. Juquecia Chaney scored 13 points and earned the game’s MVP award.
The victory was Star City’s 25th in a row.
Star City wins 400-meter, 4x800-meter 4A girls state titles
Brown was a part of two more state titles for Star City.
She coached Octavian Reedy to the 400-meter dash championship and the 4x800-meter team of Reedy, Alexis Bullard, Abby Walker and Kindra Redix at the 4A state track meet on May 3 in Nashville. The 4x800 team dropped the baton during the race, but it stayed in their lane.
Stuttgart wins 4A state football championship
The Ricebirds returned to prominence this past season.
The same day UAPB won the SWAC football title, Dontrell Brown racked up 277 total yards of offense in leading Stuttgart to a 28-7 win over Ozark for the 4A championship in Little Rock. It’s the Ricebirds’ first title since 2002.
Stuttgart finished the season 13-1.
(14 votes, 2.2 percent each)
Pine Bluff reaches 6A football title game
For the second time in four years, Pine Bluff played for a state football title, but it could not keep up with Greenwood in a 51-44 shootout on Dec. 1 at War Memorial Stadium. Pine Bluff, the 7A/6A-South champion, finished the season 12-2.
Pine Bluff wins boys 300-meter hurdles and girls 4x100 state titles in 6A
DeAndre Gridley added to Pine Bluff’s already loaded track and field trophy case with his victory in the 300-meter hurdles on May 4 at Lake Hamilton. In that same meet, Pine Bluff’s Ashley Gragg, Ma’Ryma Stewart, Ty’Chiana Murray and Endya Allen won the 4x100-meter hurdles in 50.13 seconds.
(12 votes, 1.9 percent each)