Meridian Star

December 25, 2013

TSOUKALAS: Looking back at the top 5 of 2013

Tony Tsoukalas
The Meridian Star

—     With this being my last column of 2013, I decided to have a little fun and look back at what was a terrific year for area sports teams. With that being said, I have comprised a list of the five best teams from the past year. For my list, I will be using the year in which the season ended. Therefore, teams that competed in both 2012 and 2013 still qualify. Okay, now let the madness begin.

    Starting out at No. 5 on our list is the Newton County baseball team. While the Cougars are the only team on this list that did not win a state title, it is impossible to forget their wild playoff run this season. After losing back-to-back games to rival West Lauderdale to conclude the district season, the Cougars went on a tear. Newton County won its next 13 games, including a sweep of St. Stanislaus in the 4A South State championship series. The Cougars dropped Game 1 of the 4A state championship series to Lewisburg but rallied for a 2-0 win in Game 2. Eventually the magical run came to an end in the deciding Game 3, as the Cougars fell 7-2. Newton County finished the season 31-9.

    At No. 4, we stay on the diamond but move to the girls, as Trae Embry led the Neshoba Central softball team to its first fast-pitch crown since 2006. The Lady Rockets outscored East Central 26-5 in both games of their state-championship sweep. Neshoba Central followed up the feat with a by sweeping Wayne County in the 5A/6A slow-pitch state championship in the fall to give Embry his third title since joining the team less than two years ago. Neshoba finished 31-6 in fast-pitch and 36-1 in slow-pitch.

    Similarly, the No. 3 team on our list also won two state titles in 2013. The Newton County softball team continued its storied success on the diamond, wrapping up titles in both slow-pitch and fast-pitch this year to bring the school’s tally to 15 total softball championships. The Lady Cougars swept past Houston in fast-pitch before whipping Amory in slow-pitch to finish out the year. Newton County finished 30-4 in fast-pitch and 28-4 in slow-pitch.

    The No. 2 team on our list comes from right here in Meridian. Who can forget the job Mac Barnes and the Lamar football team did this year? The Raiders earned their third state title in football, beating Magnolia Heights, 28-21, in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools AAA Division II championship. Defensive lineman Jonathan Young’s stop on fourth-and-1 to clinch the title might be the biggest play of the season for the Raiders. But, let’s not forget Davis Harrison, a freshman quarterback, led Lamar to the championship. Lamar finished the season at 11-3.

    There was little doubt who the No. 1 team of 2013 was. Blowing through competition en route to a 32-2 record, the Southeast Lauderdale girls basketball team served as the queen of the Queen City in 2013. Led by seniors Crystal Clay, Denisha Knight, Jasmine Bush and Tay Ruffin, the Lady Tigers took home the 3A state championship with a 63-59 win over Charleston. Bush stepped in front of a Charleston pass in the game’s closing seconds and hit both free throws to clinch the title for Southeast. She was later named MVP of the game, scoring 21 points and eight rebounds. Clay also showed a heroic effort in the state championship, battling a injured knee en route to 10 points and 10 rebounds on the game. The title was head coach Joe Miller’s fourth with the Tigers, as he previously won at Southeast in 2008, 2006 and 2001.

    There you have it, 2013 will certainly be hard to top. But then again, in an area as rich in sports as ours, every year is full of excitement. Here’s to hoping 2014 will be just as great.