Top sports stories of 2013
No. 1 — Local Little Leaguers make it to the World Series
RUTHERFORDTON — What an unforgettable summer it was for a group of young men from Rutherford County.
On July 13, 2013 the Rutherfordton-Chase IM 50/70 All-Stars played their first game in the state tournament. And 14 days later with state and regional title banners in hand, they shipped off to the Intermediate World Series in Livemore, Calif.
"They've already passed anything that District 1 has ever done and accomplished more than I could ever ask for," District 1 Little League Administrator Terry Cobb said before the team left for California. "I'm just proud."
As the Southeast representatives in the World Series, the team had all expenses covered for the players and coaches. However, parents and fans were left to foot their own bill.
And after county-wide fundraising efforts, a large group of supporters from Rutherford County was able to witness this once in a lifetime opportunity for this group of boys.
"It means a lot to these kids to have this support group. And for the parents to share this experience is exciting and we feel so blessed," said Jill Crowe, mother of third baseman Jace Crowe.
After a powerful sendoff Saturday, July 29, the team dropped its first two game to teams from Texas and Michigan but ended on a high note with a 10-7 win over the representatives from Canada.
"Everyone wants to come here and win at least one game," head coach Curtis Snethen said after the win. "I'm happy we were able to get a win and go back and tell all those folks who raised all this money to get our parents here. Without [the parents] this experience wouldn't have been so memorable for these kids."
The team was given a hero's welcome upon its return to Rutherford County before parading around the county collecting countless honors from local government officials.
The journey this team took across the country as representatives of Rutherford County, North Carolina and the Southeast corner of the country will be long remembered and is undeniably the top sports story from Rutherford County in 2013.
No. 2 — Chase's Stephens closes out prep career with a state title at 145 pounds
GREENSBORO - Chase High School's Josh Stephens told his mother Tammie Stephens he was going all the way in 2013.
After falling short of state wrestling titles during the last three years, Stephens fulfilled his own prophecy by going unscathed to claim the 145-pound 2A state wrestling title on March 2, 2013 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Stephens cruised through the 145-pound bracket, giving up just eight points en route to the title.
In the first round, he pinned Swansboro' s Corey Hall in 56 seconds.
Stephens followed that up with a 9-1 win over Dalton Clark of Eastern Randolph, putting him in the championship semi-finals.
There, he defeated East top seed Nate Fallon, of Croatan by pin at 3:48.
That put him in the championship finals against Midwest No. 1 seed Michael Elliott of Ashe County. Elliott came into the match with just one loss on the year.
After three periods, Stephens came out with a 10-8 win and a state title in the weight division.
With the win, Stephens improved to a perfect 52-0 on the season while posting an impressive 195-16 record for his career.
No. 3 — Carlos and Tray Watkins meet on college gridiron
CLEMSON, S.C. - Brothers Carlos and Tray Watkins (both alums of Chase High) spent their entire lives in the same house, the same schools and on the same football teams. But on Saturday, Sept. 8 the two were separated by 53.3 yards (the width of a football field) as Carlos' Clemson Tigers welcomed Tray and the South Carolina State Bulldogs to Death Valley.
"It felt good," Tray said of playing against his brother. "Of course I'd love to still be playing with him but it's a good experience to see him on the other side and play against him on the collegiate level."
"It was kind of strange going against him for the first time," Carlos added. "But growing up we always played with each other and wanted to beat each other at everything so it was still a competitive thing."
Clemson won the game, 52-13, but the two teams will meet again in 2014.
"We got them next year," Tray said.
One thing is for certain, 2014's matchup has a lot to live up to.
"Today was one of the best moments of my life," Carlos said. "My brother and I played each other in college, it's crazy, not many guys experience that."
No. 4 — Chase and Thomas Jefferson soccer claim conference titles
HENRIETTA — The 2013 season was a great year for Rutherford County soccer . Three of our four teams made it to postseason play and two of those, Chase and Thomas Jefferson, won conference titles.
Thomas Jefferson head coach Brian Espinoza is continuing to build a soccer power down in Avondale with players like Alain Colnot, Nathan Mackey, Joseph Pate and Mathias Talbert.
Colnot followed his stellar junior season with a senior season that included 16 goals and nine assists landing him on the 1A All-State team. Mackey led the team with 14 assists while adding six goals.
Talbert, a junior, looks to be in line as the next great Gryphons senior after recording 10 goals and five assists during the regular season.
And let's not forget about senior goalie Stephen Maimone keeping the ball out of the Thomas Jefferson net.
The Gryphons lost to North Moore, 2-1, in the western region final and ended the season 19-2-1.
Just up the road in Henrietta, Chase head soccer coach Greg Deshommes and his Trojans claimed the program's first conference championship in just it sixth year.
The Trojans are led by freshmen scoring machines Nube Jimenez and Preston Walker while sophomore midfielder Jose Vasquez leads the conference in assists with 14.
However, lost in the shuffle is the Trojan defense that allowed only eight goals the entire regular season led by senior goalkeeper and team captain Ansoni Jimenez.
The Trojans were bounced from the state playoffs in the second round on a golden goal against Shelby, a team they beat twice in the regular season.
Deshommes was tabbed as the conference Coach of the Year while Chase's Omar Jimenez was named the SMAC Offensive Player of the Year.
No. 5 — R-S Central football rebounds
RUTHERFORDTON - R-S Central football ended its season with a 46-8 loss to Monroe High School in the first round for the state playoffs, but that doesn't mean 2013 wasn't a success for the Hilltoppers.
R-S Central went a combined 6-27 from 2010-2012 before posting a 5-6 record in 2013.
"I'm excited about our season but I think we could have won a lot more than five games," Central head coach Mike Cheek said. "The 20 seniors we had worked hard for four years so I was happy to see them back in the playoffs."
It looked as if the Hilltoppers (5-6, 4-4 SMAC) were headed for another dismal year after losing to McDowell, 8-7, to open the season.
"The first game was heartbreaking," Cheek said. "We turned the ball over six times but we out-rushed them by 150 yards and still had a chance to win the game. That was hard."
Then with a 1-4 record, another loss proved to be the turning point for R-S Central as they took a lead into the half against Crest, a team that went on to finish the regular season undefeated.
"In the Crest game everything kind of changed," Cheek said. "We got better and better from that point."
Following the 33-17 loss to Crest, Central rattled off four straight wins, including wins over Chase and East Rutherford to capture the county championship. This was Cheek's fourth county crown since joining the Hilltoppers.
"We were 1-4 and our kids didn't give up on us. They battled back and ended up in the playoffs," Cheek said. "And any time you can win the county championship is great. That's huge bragging rights for all of us."
No. 6 — Owls miss Petitt Cup playoff
FOREST CITY - In case you missed it, and by the looks of the attendance numbers you might have, the Forest City Owls had a rough 2013.
A heap of struggles and close losses sent the Owls to a 17-32 record, the worst in the team's six-year history. It was also the club's first losing record and the first year it missed the Petitt Cup Playoffs.
"It was a tough season and it felt like everything was going against us," former head coach David Tufo said. "We would get hot and then the rains would come and washed us out and we couldn't get it going.'
Return All-Stars Nate Chong and Jake Padgett, whom were expected to be the anchors of the 2013 team, struggled with poor performance and injury throughout the season.
Chong saw action in just 17 games and batted.224 while Padgett finished with a 1-5 record and a 7.62 ERA.
Offensively, Forest City had just three regulars finish with batting averages.280 or higher.
The Owls will have a new general manager and head coach n 2014 as they look to return to the Petitt Cup playoffs.
No. 7 — Thomas Jefferson football continues winning ways
AVONDALE - In the three years before Jerry Cash become head football coach at Thomas Jefferson, the Gryphons had one victory. In the two years since, TJCA has garnered an impressive 14-10 mark, including an 8-4 season in 2013 that ended with a first-round playoff loss to Andrews.
"I know everybody is pretty pleased and excited with our record," Cash said. "I know it's a program record and all that, but it's like I said last year after we went 6-6, we can get better. The fans may be excited, but this team is very disappointed. Overall, we are still pleased, but they know we could have done better."
Statistically, the Gryphons were led by quarterback Mason Martin and wide receiver Efrim Borders. The duo combined for 26 total touchdowns and they gained 3,068 yards from scrimmage in 2013. Borders also excelled on special teams, taking three kickoffs back for touchdowns and averaging 11.33 yards per punt return. As a result, Borders was the Gryphons leading scorer on the year, with 9.3 points per game.
No. 8 — East Rutherford inks three Division I basketball players
FOREST CITY — East Rutherford's most prolific female basketball player in program history, Rachel Camp, will take her talents to the ACC in 2014.
The Cavaliers guard who has already well over 2,000 points in her high school career - with her senior season underway - verbally committed to Virginia Tech in September 2013 and signed her letter of intent in November.
Camp was also considering offers from the likes of East Carolina, Furman and Gardner-Webb, but the chance to play ACC hoops was too much to pass up.
"It's always been my dream to play in the ACC," Camp said. "I had the opportunity and I didn't want to give it up."
Senior point guard Devonte Boykins made his verbal commitment to Georgia Southern in early September and signed alongside Camp to become an Eagle in 2014.
Despite being largely unfamiliar with the school at the start of the recruitment process, Boykins saw enough in two visits to the campus to make Georgia Southern his college destination.
"I didn't know much about the school when I first went down there, but when I got there they really made me feel welcome," Boykins said. "I got along with the players well and the coaching staff made it seem like they really needed me."
Travis Waldroup-Rodriguez was the first of the Cavalier trio to verbally commit when he told West Point in August of 2013 that he wanted to be an Army Black Knight.
Waldroup-Rodriguez, who has over 2,000 career points on the high school level, chose Army for many reasons.
"I just like their style of basketball," he said. "They are very up-tempo like East and I feel comfortable in their system. Also, the top scorer will be graduating, so I feel like I can come in and have an impact as a freshman."
No. 9 — Local wrestlers eclipse 100 career wins
FOREST CITY — Rutherford County saw two top-flight wrestlers earn their 100th career victory in 2013 with East Rutherford's Cody Hall and Thomas Jefferson's Will McCraw.
Hall recorded his 99th high school victory on Jan. 29. Since then he had a much-anticipated match on Jan. 30 against R-S Central's Colin Cope who eventually denied Hall of win No. 100. Hall didn't waste his next opportunity on Feb. 6 in front of his home crowd with a 7-1 decision win over Burns High School's Gavin Mode.
"I'm really, really joyful," Hall said after the victory. "It feels great to have a lot of teachers and staff from the school behind me. There aren't a lot of people who come out to the match anyway, but I know most all of them because they come out to support me."
Anticipation filled the gym Tuesday, Jan 29 at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy as their own Will McCraw (195 pounds) sat at 99 career wins going into the night's match with Madison.
However, at the end of the night, 99 wins became 100.
"It was a long road to get here," McCraw said after the match. "I was pretty nervous knowing it was coming up. I knew this would come one day but it's still unreal to have it happening here."
After being recognized before the match as the first and only wrestler to be a part of the program throughout all four years of its existence, the match finally got under way. But everyone knew what the highlight of the night would be. The anxious crowd waited through 12 matches before McCraw shed his hoodie, strapped on his headgear and ran onto the mat.
After one round where he came dangerously close to a pin on several occasions, he finally managed to hold down his Madison opponent long enough to earn the pin and his 100th career victory.
Fans and teammates shot confetti cannons into the air and it rained down as McCraw walked off the mats and into his father's arms.
No. 10 — Varsity and JV Cavaliers play a classic in Easter Tournament
FOREST CITY —In a battle of young and slightly older East Rutherford Cavaliers, the JV Cavs (a late addition to the tournament) proved to be a tall task for their varsity counterparts Wednesday night at McNair Field in the 2013 East Rutherford Easter Tournament semifinals. But in the end, the older bunch came away with the 6-5 win in eight innings.
"This was awesome," JV head coach Preston Allen said after the game. "It just shows the level of talent that we have in this program ... nobody expected that we would do this."
The JV team led the varsity, 5-4, in the bottom of the seventh when Chase Jenkins scored on a passed ball with two outs in the frame to tie the score and send the game into extra innings. Allen argued the questionable call to no avail.
The varsity Cavaliers won the game in the bottom of the eighth of an RBI single by James Hunt, but the game that went well past 11 p.m. was certainly memorable.
"I was worried that they could beat us by 10 runs but we battled and I think we had a bad call at home," Allen said. "But I'll just leave it at that ... I'm just so proud of my team."