Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
Jaw-dropping victories. Improbable upsets. Heartbreaking losses. Historic individual performances.
2019 had it all and then some.
Here at Southern Ohio Sports Authority, we’re counting down the top twenty moments — in four segments — from the year that was, whittled down from an original list of hundreds.
With numbers 5-1, we take a look back at a dramatic game-winner, a cross country team that rewrote school history, four district champions, a David and Goliath sized upset, and the most improbable of wins we covered this past year.
5. Pirates advance to regional final with game-winning 3 via Lani Irwin
Lani Irwin didn’t see her shot go in the basket back on March 6, but she surely felt the pandemonium it produced just after it touched nylon. Irwin, who scored three points all night long, received a pass from Ellie Kallner with the Pirates trailing McConnelsville Morgan by a 55-53 score and just three seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a Division III regional semifinal. And, with ice in her veins, she used the backboard to send ‘Burg into a regional final. After the game, Irwin said, “I honestly didn’t see it go in. I saw it hit the backboard and I heard everyone scream. So I figured I should start jumping. It was crazy.” The word “crazy” to describe the shot is also a candidate for the understatement of the year. It was a game Wheelersburg had no business winning — the Pirates were outscored 20-8 in the second quarter — and it was a game that, after three quarters, they trailed 42-35 in. But Irwin didn’t seem to care, and neither did any of her teammates. The win, and the shot, will be remembered for years to come.
4. Unioto XC finishes as state runner-up, posts perfect score at SVC meet
Coach Matt Paxton has coached an abundance of talent at Unioto. That’s no secret. However, this past year’s group of boys might just top that list. After an incredible regular season, the Shermans’ first noteworthy postseason feat was posting yet another perfect score in the SVC Meet … meaning their top five runners finish in the top five spots. It was the third time in the past four years that’s happened, and the program’s 18th title in the past 19 years. Then came a district title at Rio Grande, which they won rather easily, and after claiming a Division II regional title with 65 points, 44 better than any competitor, the Shermans traveled to Hebron for the 2019 State Cross Country Championships … and continued to be excellent. At National Trail Raceway, led by 23rd and 26th place individual finishes from Gabe Lynch and Corey Schobelock, the Shermans grabbed a state-runner up trophy with a team total of 115. It was the highest finish at a state meet the program has ever had, and it’s competed at the level 16 times.
3. Four local teams win district boys basketball titles, three of which hadn’t done so since at least 1980
Sometimes, you’re lucky to have one team win a district title in your area. This past winter, we had four do it … each coming with a historic element, one in Division III, two in Division III and one in Division IV. Wheelersburg beat Alexander by a 53-43 margin, claiming its 20th district crown in program history. Adena beat Chesapeake by a 53-40 final to win its first district crown since 1980. Zane Trace topped Fairfield Union by a 51-45 score to earn its first district title since 1970. New Boston beat Trimble, 64-53, to seize its first district championship since 1960. All of that happened in a four-day period in Athens. For Adena, ZT and New Boston, the historical significance is obvious. 39, 49, and 59 years is a long time to wait to hoist up a district trophy. For Wheelersburg, number twenty continues to reinforce the program’s successful identity.
NOTE: To read stories on Adena and ZT’s district titles, scroll down on the linked page.
2. Paint Valley plays David, beats Goliath-sized Clay in sectional softball final
If you needed to know just how big of a win Paint Valley had just earned back on May 9, all you had to do was listed to a choked up Ryan Smith after the game … which, by the way, is the unanimous interview of the year. Smith’s Bearcats had just upset top-seeded Clay by an 8-5 final in a Division IV sectional final in a game that — let’s be clear — nobody but Paint Valley itself thought they could win. The No. 9 seeded Bearcats beat a Clay team that entered with a 22-2 record, a No. 8 ranking in the state, and winners of 13 straight sectional crowns. It marked just the third time in Clay’s history that it hadn’t advanced to the district level. Paint Valley took a 3-0 lead in its first at-bat and later led 4-1. Clay fought back to make it 4-3 but the Bearcats made it 7-3 in the sixth when Lea McFadden hit a three-run homer, the dagger. When pitcher Abbi Stanforth recorded the final out in the seventh, Bainbridge erupted in celebration as PV sealed a win over a senior class that had won 99 games in its four-year tenure. In terms of upsets, it was absolutely the game of the year. And, of course, it led to Ryan Smith’s memorable interview.
1. Wheelersburg wakes from the dead, rallies to defeat Hiland in regional volleyball final
Down to their last point in what could’ve been the final serve of the final set of its season, Wheelersburg absolutely refused to lay down and die. Playing Berlin Hiland in a Division III regional final, the Pirates trailed 2-0 in the match and 24-23 in the third set. But it was at that point where destiny decided to intervene. With a trip to the final four on the line, the Pirates rallied to win the third set by a 26-24 final and then breezed to two more wins of 25-20 and 15-5 in the fourth and fifth, punching their tickets to the Nutter Center. It was the program’s first-ever regional title and one that they certainly had to work for. Hiland came into the match at 26-1 while Wheelersburg entered at 26-0 and a 73-set winning streak intact. After the first set against the Hawks, the latter streak was snapped. Then the Pirates dropped a second set. But in the face of adversity and with the weight of the world resting on their shoulders, seniors Alli McQuay and Mallory Bergan led a comeback that will be talked about for quite some time. It was improbable, it was unbelievable and it seemed impossible. That’s why it sits at No. 1 on our countdown.